Do You Have to Say the Pledge of Allegiance? | West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

Do You Have to Say the Pledge of Allegiance? | West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

Mr. Beat presents Supreme Court Briefs 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. Yes, those are real photos. It’s called a Bellamy salute. Look it up. Yes, it really existed, and yes students don’t do that anymore because of, you know, the Nazis. 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 1935, the principal of a school in Lynn, Massachusetts expelled a 9-year old named Carlton Nichols for not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the local authorities arrested his dad. This case made headlines across the country, and inspired many other Jehovah’s Witnesses to also sit down during the Pledge. 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 after that case. In Wyoming, one was tarred and feathered. Some were lynched. Others were forced out of town after having their homes burned to the ground. A Southern sheriff explained it all by saying “They’re traitors; the Supreme Court says so. Ain’t you heard?” 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. The 3-judge district court panel agreed with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, arguing it wouldn’t normally go against a Supreme Court decision, but that recent developments across the country made them reconsider the Gobitis case. The persecution of and violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses surely had an effect on them. The Barnett sisters returned to school, although now a half a school year behind their classmates. The West Virginia State Board of Education appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing they clearly had the Gobitis decision backing them up. The Court heard oral arguments on March 11, 1943. That’s right, this was all happening smack dab in the middle of World War Two. The justices were much more conflicted on this one, with perhaps the exception of Frankfurter, who stood firm with his decision in the Gobitis case. Oh yeah, and there were two new dudes with the Barnett case that weren’t there for the Gobitis case- justice Wiley Blount Rutledge, and justice Robert Jackson. Both had taken the place of two justices that voted AGAINST Gobitis three years prior, and both seemed more sympathetic to the arguments of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. On June 14, 1943- that’s right…FLAG DAY, oh snap justices well played. Anyway, yes on Flag Day they announced their decision. They sided with the Barnettes, with a 6-3 vote, overturning the Minersville School District v. Gobitis ruling decided just three years prior. Three justices had changed their minds with the Barnett decision: Hugo Black, William Douglas, and Frank Murphy, who was a big reason why this case even saw the light of day. What a turn of events. The Court relied heavily on the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment this time, as opposed to the Free Exercise Clause referenced for the Gobitis case. Justice Robert Jackson, still a relative newbie in the Court, wrote the majority opinion. “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.” West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, hold up…BarnettE? Are you telling me a clerk misspelled a Jehovah’s Witness’s name for the court records again? It’s supposed to be B-A-R-N-E-T-T. Geez, what are the odds. Details, right? Anyway, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette was a huge victory for Jehovah’s Witnesses across the country. To this day, because of this case, students have a right in school to not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance nor be forced to salute the American flag. Are kids still bullied over it? Likely, but this case set a big precedent that it’s quite ok to have a minority opinion. Dissent should be protected. I’ll see you for the next Supreme Court case, jury!

68 thoughts on “Do You Have to Say the Pledge of Allegiance? | West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

  1. Can you do a discussion videos about the origins of the swastika because there's actually a whole different meaning behind it because there's a conspiracy theory saying that Hitler and the swastika from and your actual Indian empire from India or from the religions of Hinduism Buddhism and Judaism

  2. The pledge has always been a weird one for me. The fact that we demand that kids – who have no idea what it means – recite it every morning before school is just bananas. It just seems like one of those rites of passage… you have to do it because I had to do it. But actually pay attention to the words. What is pledging allegiance? Undying, unwavering, unquestioning loyalty. Really? We're going to force little kids, who again have little idea what that means, pledge undying loyalty to something? Imagine if we made kids recite the Night's Watch oath every morning – and hold them to it.

  3. How do you feel about sitting down during the Pledge of Allegiance or kneeling during the National Anthem? For those of you outside of the United States, are you surprised at how fired up Americans are getting about this issue?

  4. I think this is one of the most interesting Supreme Court cases to be honest.I am glad you did it especially since most people still believe that reciting the Pledge is mandatory.I don’t agree with the Jehovah’s Witness faith,but no one deserves to be treated unequally because they choose not to do something for themselves due to their beliefs.

  5. I moved to the US from Canada as a kid, and during my first day of school, after PA announcements, everyone in my new classroom stood up and started a bizarre chant that I'd never heard before. I was befuddled that a bunch of bored kids blandly spat out some words in unison like it was a chore.

    Anyway, I was still sitting, and the teacher asked me, "why aren't you reciting the pledge like the rest of the class?" And she was really pissed about it. I'm like, "what pledge?" and she goes on about the Pledge of Allegiance being recited everyday and how it was "patriotic" to recite it at school. (This was in Upstate NY, which is like Alabama minus its single virtue of good southern cooking.) I told her I had no idea what this Pledge of Allegiance was, had never heard it before, and having lived in Canada had never done a daily pledge to anything. Her response: "well that's no excuse! Learn it by tomorrow morning or else."

    Years later, after I'd graduated high school, I come to find out that the Pledge nonsense is completely optional. Oh well.

  6. I think you should sing the national anthem and say the pledge but should not salute the flag but they can sit down if they are not feeling well.Which means I have a neutral opinion!

  7. I remember my first time seeing a kid not stand for the pledge or allegiance. I was in 1st grade (2006 about) and this kid was the son of a diplomat from another country. We all thought it was weird, but I don't remember anyone making fun of him for it.

  8. I'm a senior in high school, and I've relatively recently started sitting during the pledge. I don't sit idly though; during the pledge I fold my hands and pray for the future of the US. I do this for a few reasons:

    1) I haven't liked the pledge for a long time. I think the pledge is nationalistic and feels a little brain-wash-y, like something you'd expect in North Korea. I consider myself a patriot, but not a nationalist, and I think that distinction is important. To me, patriotism is an often quiet but deep love for one's country, while nationalism is a belief in national superiority. Patriotism is good, but nationalism is dangerous, and there are a lot of nationalists out there who have claimed the word "patriot" for their own nefarious purposes.

    2) I think that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of American freedom, and I don't think that our president has any respect for that. Like many others, I was disgusted by the actions of the Alt-Right in Charlottesville, but I understood their right to protest. I was also angered and disappointed by our president's lukewarm condemnation of white supremacy, but, since they did indeed have a right to protest, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt with what he meant. That ended when he tirelessly attacked NFL players for peacefully protesting police brutality during the national anthem while he had far more important things to address. The primarily black NFL players were peacefully protesting, and the president was outraged, but white supremacists protested and killed people, and the president had almost nothing to say. This exposed for me the racist double standard on which he judges a group's First Amendment right to protest.

    Following that, I began sitting and praying for the Pledge and the Anthem in solidarity. The minute our president apologizes for his response to Charlottesville or the NFL protests, I will stand. I strongly dislike Mike Pence, but if he became our president tomorrow I would stand. Until then, I refuse to tolerate a president who clearly doesn't value the cornerstone of our democracy.

  9. When I was a kid, I rarely recited the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of class because doing so would make me yawn uncontrollably, causing my eyes to water real badly. It was embarrassing, so I would simply stand and not say anything. I had no idea what the words we were reciting meant anyways. The whole exercise was worthless, but I suppose that statement could apply to most of what I did in school.

  10. "Dissent should be protected." Right on!
    It's also nice to be reminded that today's flag-worshiping nationalism isn't something with sudden momentum, but rather just something seeing increasing media coverage.

  11. Wow, this court case is crazy. I personally do not stand up or recite the pledge of allegiance because I don't think America tries to withstand what the pledge is saying. To say that everyone has equal liberty and justice is not true and saying that it is "under god" is very offensive to me, considering it's a country with freedom of religion. In my opinion, forcing kids to recite this is unconstitutional and offensive.

  12. Your Nazi soldiers rifles appear to be MAS 36's. A French rifle. I never heard of the Bellamy salute before, very interesting.

  13. To check whether you live in a free country, you go to a pub and shout "Fuck X" where X is the name of the sitting president or the name of the country.

    If you can do so without fear of repercussions, you are free.

    This has been my standard for years.

    Evidently, the USA is not a free country.

  14. The supreme Court should undo that. We shouldn't be the only country in the world were people get to disrespect our flag and protest our national anthem.

  15. Jehovah's Witnesses – a great example of how suffering through the consequences civil disobedience makes a positive difference!

    There was a difference from the Bellamy Salute and the Nazi one, BTW. At the end of the pledge, the hand is turned upwards

  16. As someone who lives in WV, I never say The Pledge or salute. Yeah I get bullied for it, and my teachers roll their eyes at me, but I'm an atheist and since one of the lines relates to god,I have an excuse.

  17. At my school (a high school) its far more likely to be bullied FOR actually saying the pledge though they dont care either way.

  18. I grew up in a fairly rural part of the country, and it didn't even occur to me that such an act was even reasonable until some of my more liberal classmates stopped doing it in late 2016, which was in the middle of my senior year of high school. I had grown up in a very conservative home, and my father was the son and older brother of members of the military, so patriotism was always expected of me. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you see this), since I was raised in a very conservative place, the idea didn't even dawn on me until a particular person was picked to preside over the country (i.e. Mr. Trump). As far as I'm aware, the time for the pledge to be recited is still around in my school, but no one enforces whether you say it or not, for pretty obvious reasons.

  19. I am surprised how often local teachers are at the very least unfamiliar with this US Supreme Court ruling. Witness children in the US are regularly persecuted for their neutral stance

  20. Highly Educational. Of great public interest. Landmark case we'll explained. Great job sir.

    Daymond Chief Jones
    Police Accountability Expert
    On YouTube

  21. It is a first amendment right to sit during the pledge. It is Authoritarianism to force anyone to stand for the pledge.

  22. I always enjoyed the quality of your videos, it's a shame that you don't get more exposure for the high quality videos you make!

  23. I find it interesting how different countries' citizens feel in terms of patriotic emotions about their flag. Here in the UK for example, there is no law that says people must salute the Union Jack, nor pledge an allegiance

  24. History a little bit repeating itself now in the case of Kaepernick. It's unpatriotic to crap on players who take a knee on account of the country ain't yet fulfilled "justice for all". Supreme Court said so, ain't you heard?

    Also, I have 100x more respect for Jahova's Witnesses now.

  25. When I was in 7th grade my band teacher noticed that I wasn't saying "under god" when everybody had to stand up and say the pledge (I actually wasn't saying anything, i just mouthed it but wasn't mouthing "under god" because I thought the pledge was stupid and cultish), I didn't cuz it felt weird since I had become an atheist several years earlier. He ordered me to stand up and say the entire pledge intact in front of the whole class and I refused which got me sent to the principles office. When I STILL refused I either got detention for a week or suspended, I honestly dont' remember. I really wish my parents had sued the crap out of the district.

  26. I went to elementary school with a Jehovah's Witness. She sat during the pledge of allegiance. Then came the Vietnam War and many of us sat or stood silently. I still feel uncomfortable around the pledge of allegiance. All that flag waving during the Vietnam War.

  27. I believe pledging an oath is against the Word of God. Flag n state worship is also idolatry. Reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach n Obendigo being forced to worship the kings statue. Its no different.i am not a Jw, but I believe in the bible and the 10 commandments are the law I follow.

  28. I'm surprised that all these Conservative consitutionlist are so ignorant of history. Whenever I see football players kneeling for the flag, I am reminded that we are different people and should not all conform to a single close minded set of beliefs.

  29. Have you done Lawrence v. Texas? Hernandez v. Texas? Planned Parenthood v. Casey? Furman v. Georgia & Gregg v. Georgia? Kennedy v. Louisiana? Kelo v. City of New London? Heath v. Alabama? Clinton v. City of New York? Gonzales v Raich? Arizona v. United States? Miller v. Alabama?


  31. I am a cali public school teacher & I NEVER force my students say the pledge, given that they have no idea what it means! Its stupid unethical !

  32. In Canada, only in elementary schools do we stand and sing the national anthem, although it still happens occasionally after elementary due to school assemblies

  33. I was called to the vice principal's office because I refused to stand up for the pledge of allegiance (specifically the "god" section of the lines I have to say). All of that happened in either 2012 or 2013.

  34. When I was in 3rd grade my teacher grabbed my hand trying to make me salute but I didn't because we believe saluting the flag is like worshipping the flag but we only worship the living god Jehovah and know one will make me period

  35. I had a lot of classmates get suspended for long periods of time because they wouldn't stand for the pledge.  As a kid, I always stood up and said the pledge until one day a bunch of parents were in the classroom and my mom didn't say the pledge like everyone else.  My teacher was very confused by this and my mom said she was just exercising her rights.  from then on I realized it wasn't required.

  36. I was a Teacher and I think we were required. But because of my religion, I'd rather not. But I did as a Teacher, I just did not like it. I also believe its idolatry but I'm not JW.

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