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!