On Why I Don't Wear a Tie in Court by Scott Holmes
[Editor's note: Scott Holmes posted this on his Facebook and graciously granted permission to reprint it. He practices law in Durham, NC]
I've received lots of questions, emails, phone calls from people curious about why I don't wear a tie in court. Here is a more lengthy discussion of my reasons for not wearing a tie.
This is an email I recently wrote to an attorney who took over one of my cases after i was dismissed by my client.
This is probably more than you wanted to know about the removal of my tie, and my own spiritual journey. Feel free to enjoy or disregard ... as the Spirit moves you...
I have been a Quaker and a member of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Conservative) for about 13 years. In that time, I have been familiar with Friends who have undertaken the testimony of "plain dress." A refusal to wear certain fashions is a testimony for simplicity and equality. Wearing a tie in Court has weighed upon me as a Quaker for many years, but I have not felt led to take off the tie in Court until I attended the 312th Meeting of the North Carolina Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Conservative) in Wilmington, North Carolina from July 9 through July 12, 2009. During that Meeting I engaged in discussions with other friends who have undertaken the testimony of "Plain Dress," and I have been convinced to take on this testimony in a more restrictive form in my own spiritual and professional practice.
The origin of Quakers in "plain dress" goes back over three hundred years when Friends refused to take part in certain societal fashions and practices as a testimony to simplicity and equality of the Spirit. Friends refused to take oaths, they refused to take off their hats to nobility, and they wore traditional dark clothing with suspenders, and no tie. These testimonies demonstrated a spiritual commitment to simplicity and equality, and a rejection of outward materialism, inequality, and pride. In 1669, William Penn wrote in favor of plain dress, that simplicity that the pride of one could support the needs of ten. Friends also refused to participate in war as a part of the peace testimony.
In the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), Faith and Practice, there is a statement on simplicity that reads, "The heart of Quaker ethics is summed up in the word 'simplicity,' Simplicity is forgetfulness of self and remembrance of our humble status as waiting servants of God. Outwardly, simplicity is shunning superfluities of dress, speech, behavior, and possessions which tend to obscure our vision of reality. Inwardly, simplicity is spiritual detachment from the things of this world as a part of the effort to fulfill the first commandment: to love God with all our heart and mind and strength. The testimony of outward simplicity began as a protest against the extravagance and inequality that marked English society in the 1600s."
Later Quakers realized that the wearing of plain dress had become a habit and had lost the spiritual significance of original Friends. Quakers gave up plain dress and plain speech when those practices became ritualistic habits that no longer reflected a spiritual expression of Truth in the world. The “Plain Dress” itself became a uniform that was a symbol of status, and did not reflect the original spiritual significance of the testimony. Since then different Quakers have been led to adopt different aspects of “Plain Dress,” in their appearance. You are not likely to see many ties in our Durham Friends Meeting for Worship. There are some Quakers that have adopted the traditional black and white plain dress, with no tie and suspenders; there are others who simply refuse to wear a tie. There are still others who do not adopt any measure of plain dress.
Quakers also have a testimony about equality. For more than three hundred years Quakers believed that all human beings are equal, and have a divine spark in them. As a result, there were Quaker women ministers in the 1600s, and women Quaker meetings cultivated the early feminist movement. (Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott...) Quakers opposed slavery, worked for abolition and were a central part of the Civil Rights Movement. As a part of the testimony for equality, Quakers in the 1600 and 1700 refused to take off their hat in court, or in the presence of nobility. Hundreds of Quakers were imprisoned and died as a result of their refusal to remove their hats, and their refusal to take oaths. Quakers believe and work for equality. One favorite quote is from an early Quaker Abolitionist, John Woolman:
"Oppression in the extreme appears terrible: but oppression in more refined appearances remains to be oppression; and where the smallest degree of it is cherished it grows stronger and more extensive. To labour for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world." John Woolman, 1763
For me, the leading back to Plain Dress, in the form of not wearing a tie to court, signifies a commitment to the belief in simplicity and equality. I regard the tie as a symbol of class difference, gender difference, as separation between professionals and non-professionals. As a fashion, it often marks a man as a professional in contrast to women. It can symbolize division among people. I have felt led to take off the tie as an expression of my commitment to unity, simplicity and equality. I have not been led to put on my broad rim Quaker hat and engage in the historic protest against "hat honor," (a tradition of refusing to take off a Quaker's hat that landed many a Quaker in jail). I continue to stand at the rise of Court and when addressing the Court. I do not address all people by the first name, and use honorific titles such as "Judge." I have a great deal of respect for the Court. I am honored to get to be an attorney and advocate in these important cases, and take my obligations to my client and the court very seriously. However, by dispensing with the tie, I am being true to the leading of the Spirit within me to testify about the unity and equality of all people and the simplicity of the Spirit. Following the leadings of the Spirit is a constant process of testing and discernment.
This has been some spiritual journey and experiment and it continues to unfold in strange and unexpected ways.
In some ways, my refusal to wear a tie has brought me into conflict with the Court system. My world view is horizontal, regarding all people as equal and aspiring to treat all people equally. The Court system is hierarchical, and it is important to many judges to have those in participate in Court dress in a way, and sit in their place, in order to mark their role in the hierarchical system. When I appear as an attorney without a tie, I am clashing with the expectations of that hiearchy. I still participate in that hierarchical system in 99.9% other ways - and am complicit in that hierarchy.
I have been struggling mightily with a comment one judge made to me when he was explaining why he could order me to put on a tie. He said that if a transgendered person came into Court wearing a dress, that person could be ordered to dress appropriately because "those people are not protected by the Constitution." I asked why not? If that is who they are, and they are otherwise qualified, why should they be prevented from appearing in the Courts of our country wearing a dress? Aren't there a lot of people already wearing dresses in Court?