On May 18 my legal team filed a 20 page brief to respond to the complaint filed against me by David Sachar, executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC), arising from my actions in practicing my faith as a follower of Jesus on Good Friday, April 14, 2017. I am pasting a link to that brief to this blog post so everyone will know that people in this society -- including judges -- are free to hold and follow religious beliefs. People in this society -- including judges -- are free to hold and express their views about disputed social and political issues. People in this society -- including judges -- are free to assemble peacefully.
I have no obligation to conceal my faith or my political viewpoints because I am a judge. Concealing one's faith or political views does not make a judge ethical, nor does expressing one's faith or viewpoints make a judge unethical. The freedom to express one's faith and social perspective lies at the core of our democracy.
I am not a stranger to this issue, nor is this the first time I have been threatened for exercising my freedoms of religion, religious expression, and speech.
On September 27, 2007, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission dismissed two similar ethics complaints that were filed against me in 2005, twelve years ago.
- Those complaints were filed after I remarked during a banquet speech delivered to the Arkansas NAACP that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina revealed the scab of racism and classism in the United States.
- I had earlier criticized the nomination of John Roberts to become Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court during a public meeting of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
- I joined other Arkansas clergy in a January 2006 statement supporting a ballot proposal to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas.
- In October 2006 during a speech in Fayetteville, Arkansas I publicly opposed the war in Iraq and denounced politicians who villify persons who are homosexual and immigrants.
- Later that month, I authored an opinion editorial that criticized some of the policies of President George W. Bush.
I battled the staff of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for almost two years before the Commission decided in 2007 that my comments amounted to "protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." In that 2007 decision, the JDDC declared that "[t]here is no Arkansas Canon that expressly prohibits a judge ... from publicly discussing disputed political or legal issues. The Canons ... cannot be used as a basis for a finding of judicial misconduct if the alleged misconduct is solely related to a public discussion of disputed political or legal issues."
I mention the 2007 experience to emphasize that my determination to live according to my faith and exercise my rights as a free person to express my views about social and political issues is unwavering. I will not shrink from behaving like a free person no matter what actions are taken or threatened against me. I will not flinch, blink, back down, or be bullied by anyone, including politicians who dislike or disapprove of the way I understand and practice my faith and fulfill my duties as a judge.
None of us should do so. Tyranny is defeated by bold exercise of our freedoms. Tyranny is defeated by standing up to and resisting bullies and tyrants, not by silent or timid acquiescence to their demands and dictates.
This is what I have written about in The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press, 2017). In the second chapter of my book I quote the following words written by Dr. Cornel West in his book Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism:
To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely--to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet keep stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away. This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire.
Freedom requires that we hope fiercely and love boldly. If we believe in freedom we must protect and uphold freedom for all persons. This means we must fight the tyrannical efforts and views of those who fear or despise freedom.
I am determined to engage in that fight with all my being. I will do so as a follower of Jesus and as a Baptist pastor. I will do so as a judge elected by voters who believe in freedom and who know what it means to have others try to deny freedom.
During the January 2, 2017 investiture ceremony to begin my current six-year term of office I made the following comments:
I will never forget that you elected me to do justice. You did not elect me to show favoritism to the powerful, to cut corners, or to give an advantage to the powerful over the weak. You did not elect me to be a black-robed spectator while popular passion and prejudice threaten the human dignity and freedom of individuals, people who are unpopular, and persons who are less favored. You did not elect me to protect the interests of the wealthy, privileged, and powerful at the expense of those who are less fortunate. You elected me to do justice. I intend to do that work every day as well as I am able.
I meant those words. I remember those words. I know, both as a follower of Jesus and as a judge, that freedom must always be boldly exercised, and that threats to freedom must always be fiercely confronted. I will not dishonor myself, my faith, and the trust that has been placed in me as a judge by allowing myself or anyone else to be bullied, threatened, or intimidated by agents of imperial politics, imperial commerce, or imperial religion.
Hope Fiercely! Love Boldly! Stand up for freedom and justice!
Here's my response to the latest judicial discipline complaint.