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Supreme Court Briefs - West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

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October 10 2017

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Want a specific SCOTUS case covered? Your idea gets picked when you donate on Patreon: Mr. Beat's band: Mr. Beat on Twitter: In episode 19 of Supreme Court Briefs, a bunch of Jehovah's Witnesses don't salute the American flag nor say the Pledge of Allegiance, and almost everybody else freaks out about it. Produced by Matt Beat. Music by Matt Beat (Electric Needle Room). All images found in public domain or used under fair use guidelines. Check out cool primary sources here: Other sources: Germany The 1930s The Nazis arrest thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses across the country who refuse to salute the Nazi flag. Why didn’t they salute the Nazi flag? Well, for starters, it’s against their religion to salute a flag, as they believe by doing so idolizes the state rather than God. After these German Jehovah’s Witnesses were thrown into concentration camps for not saluting the Nazi flag, leaders of the church in the United States called for an end of participation in daily flag salutes that had become mandatory in American schools. Anyway, because the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to salute the American flag and refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance, they got in a lot of trouble. Some administrators even threatened to send these kids to juvy or have their parents arrested. In Minersville, Pennsylvania, a dad named Walter Gobitas had his children not participate in the Pledge. By doing so, the entire family was actually breaking a local law, and they all became marginalized and were straight up attacked by the other citizens of Minersville. Residents boycotted the Gobitas family store, and the kids were bullied at school. One of them had rocks thrown at her. Another one was hurt after his teacher tried to force his hand out to salute the flag during the Pledge. The kids, of course, were eventually expelled for their Pledge boycotts. But their dad, Walter, fought the law that forced students to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance. Gobitas based his argument on the fact he thought the law violated both the First and Fourteenth Amendments. His case ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court. That case, announced on June 3, 1940, was called Minersville School District v. Gobitis...yeah, a clerk misspelled Gobitas’ name on court records. Details, right? Anyway, the Court ruled against Gobitis, arguing that the law that forced students to say the pledge was NOT a violation of religious freedom. It was an 8-1 decision, with Justice Felix Frankfurter, one of the dudes who started the American Civil Liberties Union, ironically, giving the majority opinion. So yeah, things were not looking so good after this case for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially since now they were huge targets for continuing to refuse to say the pledge. Nearly 1500 Jehovah’s Witness were physically attacked in over 300 cities across the country. In Wyoming, one was tarred and feathered. Some were lynched. Others were forced out of town after having their homes burned to the ground. This made Supreme Court justices like Frank Murphy feel guilty. Murphy actually said he regretted his decision in the Gobitis case and wanted an opportunity to revisit the issue. Sure enough, that opportunity came fairly quickly, as Jehovah’s Witnesses boldly continued to defy the Pledge and flag salute. On January 9, 1942, the West Virginia State Board of Education ordered all teachers and students in the state to salute the flag and say the Pledge. Well, this story sounds familiar. Another dad, this one named Walter Barnett, had his kids not salute the flag nor recite the Pledge. And again, the principal expelled those kids, whose names were Marie and Gathie Barnett. However, on the advice of a lawyer, Walter sent his kids right back to school, where they were called “Nazis” and “Japs” by fellow classmates. And….each day, the school would send them right back home. The Barnetts sued the State Board of Education, taking them to the United States District Court for themselves and other families who were fighting the same thing.

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