• Last updated on November 11, 2022

In this case, the Supreme Court upheld a compulsory flag salute, but the ruling was overturned in a very short time because some justices in the original decision changed their minds.

Numerous states required compulsory flag salutes at the beginning of every school day. In Pennsylvania in 1936, two young Jehovah’s WitnessesJehovah’s Witnesses were expelled from school for refusing to salute the flag. Their parents politely sought an exemption but were refused. They sued in federal district court on free exercise of religion grounds but were turned down by the court. The Supreme Court, by a vote of eight to one, ruled that religious freedom did not exempt people from otherwise valid laws and governmentally imposed political obligations. Justice Harlan Fiske Stone dissented.Religion, freedom of;Minersville School District v. Gobitis[Minersville School District v. Gobitis]Speech, freedom of;Minersville School District v. Gobitis[Minersville School District v. Gobitis]

Although one might expect that patriotic sentiment would lead Americans to support the Supreme Court, amazingly, there was a broad and profound negative reaction to the ruling. Newspapers and journals strongly opposed the Court’s decision. In one of the more unusual happenings in Court history, some justices who had voted against the Jehovah’s Witnesses announced in open court that they had been wrong and were prepared to change their minds if they were given another opportunity. The Court reversed itself three years later in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette[case]West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette[West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette] (1943).

Brandenburg v. Ohio

Cohen v. California

Flag desecration

O’Brien, United States v.

Religion, freedom of

Speech and press, freedom of

Symbolic speech

Texas v. Johnson

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

Categories: History Content