Patriotism, dissent & the American flag

The Supreme Court ruled in Minersville School District v. Gobitis in 1940 that public school officials were justified in ordering two Jehovah’s Witness children to salute and say the pledge — despite their faith’s prohibition against paying homage to what they viewed as a “graven image” as described in Exodus.

After the ruling, Seigenthaler recounted, Jehovah’s Witnesses across the country found themselves the target of 1,500 violent acts because they would not salute the flag. It was the eve of the United State’s entrance in World War II and the Court’s opinion “coincided with a gathering patriotic firestorm,” Seigenthaler said.

Horrified by the violence, in 1943 the Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.


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