Flag Salute and Pledge of Allegiance

The urge to require citizens to perform acts that would signify their patriotism originated before the Spanish-American War. The original Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and published as part of the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. During the Spanish-American and First World wars, attempts were made to make daily performance of salutes and pledges mandatory for school children.

In 1935, Jehovah`s Witnesses began to assert their belief that the salute to a symbol such as the flag was contrary to their religious beliefs. Local school boards continued to require it, leading to a case pitting the school board of Minersville, Pennsylvania, against Walter Gobitas, a Jehovah`s Witness who instructed his children not to say the pledge. The school board expelled the students. Gobitas sued.

The case went to trial in 1938 and was initially decided in favor of Gobitas on the grounds that requiring the pledge violated his First Amendment rights. The District Court decision went next to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which unanimously confirmed the lower court`s position that the requirement was unconstitutional.

Undeterred, the school board appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in the spring of 1940. Its nearly unanimous decision in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, with only Justice Harlan Stone dissenting, declared that the school board was within its rights in requiring the pledge.

Following the decision, popular prejudice against Witnesses became more openly expressed, and incidents of violence became common. In 1942, the West Virginia board of education adopted ruled based on Gobitis and declared that failure to perform the pledge would be insubordination, which would lead to expulsion. Furthermore, the parents of the expelled students could themselves be prosecuted under the theory that their children were absent from school without sufficient reason.

The rules were objected to in court and the case worked its way up to the Supreme Court in 1943. This time, in the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the court explicitly reversed its ruling in Gobitis and declared by a 6-3 majority that demanding a symbolic act like the pledge violated the protections afforded by Amendment I to the Constitution.

Writing for the majority, Justice Robert Jackson, who had not been on the court when it ruled in Gobitis, commented: "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."

In 1953, the words "under God" were added. This has been challenged numerous times in court, and although the rulings have differed in their reasoning, the constitutionality of the words has been upheld.---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes regarding Flag Salute and Pledge of Allegiance.

By William O. Douglas
Neither our domestic tranquility in peace nor our martial effort in war depend on compelling little children to pariticipate in a ceremony which ends in nothing for them but a fear of spiritual condemnation.
Ruling in West Virginia Board of Education vs Barnette 1943