• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling and established that children could not be required to salute the flag in school ceremonies.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Minersville School District v. Gobitis[case]Minersville School District v. Gobitis[Minersville School District v. Gobitis] (1940), in which the Court upheld state-required flag salutes in school even over the religious objections of some members of the Jehovah’s WitnessesJehovah’s Witnesses, some people attacked members of the group and their meeting places. Others, including members of the American Legion and many scholars, found the compulsory flag salute to be contrary to the U.S. tradition. Some of the justices who had voted to sustain compulsory flag salutes in Gobitis took the opportunity in another case to say they would change their votes if another case arose.Religion, freedom of;West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette[West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette]

It did not take long for members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to challenge a compulsory flag salute law in West Virginia. The Court’s reversal occurred in record time. Just three years after the initial decision, the Court, by a vote of six to three, reversed Gobitis and overturned state laws mandating compulsory flag salutes. The Court did not use the religious speech theory of the Gobitis decision but instead regarded a refusal to salute as a form of speech, thereby anticipating the symbolic speech concept of later cases.

Brandenburg v. Ohio

Cohen v. California

First Amendment

Minersville School District v. Gobitis

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

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