In 1873, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed a criminal conviction against William Linkhaw, a Methodist, who “sang so poorly in church that a grand jury indicted him for disrupting the church’s services.”A 1906 poem published in the legal magazine, The
Green Bag, included these lines:
And that, although the proof did show
That Linkhaw’s voice was awful
The judges found no valid ground
For holding it unlawful.
Linkhaw’s singing was so bad, members of the congregation asked him to cease singing. Linkhaw, on the other hand, was so deeply religious, he felt, in good conscience, he couldn’t stop. Once, the Methodist pastor refused to lead a song at all lest Linkhaw join in! During the trial, a witness threw the court into convulsions of laughter when he imitated Linkhaw’s singing.
“All parties agreed that Linkhaw did not mean to disturb the service, but trial judge Daniel L. Russell ruled that he could nonetheless be held responsible because he ought to have known that his acts would result in a disruption of the congregation. The jury found Linkhaw guilty, and Russell fined him one penny. Linkhaw appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which unanimously vacated the conviction. In an opinion by Justice Thomas Settle, the court ruled that Linkhaw could not be found guilty when he was genuinely trying to worship. Settle suggested that the matter was more appropriate for church discipline than for the courts of law.”
Judge Daniel L. Russell went on to be elected governor of North Carolina, but history doesn’t tell us if William Linkhaw ever learned to sing. All of these troubles could have been avoided if only the congregation remember the Scriptures only encourage us to “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Psalm 95:1)