Last Updated 10 Jun 2018

West Virginia State Board of Education

Category education
Essay type Research
Words 2093 (8 pages)
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It understandable that there are "certain unalienable rights" that we, as human beings, possess. These rights can"t be, or should never be, taken away from us. Of course, there have been many great crusaders who have fought with everything they owned to make sure that we kept those rights. The case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, is a case that really expresses the beliefs and interests of the time. The case reached the US Supreme Court after there was huge controversy on both sides of the debate.

It just so happened that three years before this case, in 1940, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of the Minnersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U. S. 586, that it was necessary for every school student to stand to salute and pledge allegiance to the flag. The act of saluting and pledging, along with the teaching of American history and ideals "for the purpose of teaching, fostering and perpetuating the ideals, principles and spirit of Americanism, and increasing the knowledge of the organization and machinery of the government. - 1 The justices voted 8 to 1 for the Minnersville School District to force teachers to salute and pledge to the flag, leaving only Justice Harlan Stone to dissent. Then on January 9, 1942, Minnersville Board of Education came up with a resolution.

This resolution contained recitals that were mostly from the Courts" Gobitis decision. The resolution said that every school student and teacher alike must salute and pledge allegiance to the flag, and if anyone disobeyed this law, it "would be regarded as an act of insubordination, and shall be dealt with accordingly. 2 This meant that they would be immediately be expelled from the school, and only be allowed back into the school if they denounce they"re acts and agree to honor the flag as stated in the resolution.

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And "any such child shall be treated as being unlawfully absent from school during the time he refuses to comply with such requirements and regulations, and any person having legal or actual control of such child shall be liable to prosecution under the provisions of this article for the absence of such child from school. 3 This parent or guardian is then in jeopardy of bein! g given a fine not to exceed $50 and jail term not exceeding thirty days. This, however, fueled a few sparks, especially among some relatively religious sect of people. Namely, the sect was the Jehovah"s Witnesses, which is a division between them and Catholicism.

The Witnesses believe in God, as do regular Catholic Christians do, but they strongly believe that the "obligation imposed be law of God is superior to that of laws enacted by temporal government. 4 Basically, they feel that laws made by mere mortals can"t be obeyed when a law of God contradicts it.

Their definition of laws from God comes from a very literal and precise interpretation of Exodus, Chapter 20, verses 4 and 5 5, which says: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt now bow down thyself to They feel that the flag stands for, or is a symbol, which directly contradicts their view of this message from God.

For this reason they refuse to salute the flag. The boy, Walter Barnette, was taken out of class when he refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance. He was accused of disrupting the class, of being obnoxious, and of being a threat to national security. No matter how much of an overreaction this was, we have to remember this happened in the year 1943, about the time the Second World War broke out and at a time nationalism in this country was running high. He belonged to a family of firm-believing Jehovah"s Witnesses.

His family pleaded to a District Court of three judges, and argued that they had a right to not stand if they did not want to. They also argued that it was a blatant denial of they"re First Amendment rights, including the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech, and that the laws were unconstitutional, violating their due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court restrained their enforcement of the resolution; the West Virginia State Board of Education took the case to the US Supreme Court by direct appeal.

Once in court by March 11th, 1943, the hearings began. The Board of Education argued that just three years ago the court had decided that the Board of Education could force the students to stand to salute and pledge to the flag. Since the court had already decided that they were allowed to do this, the people had to abide by the US Supreme Court"s decision. Also, the West Virginia State Board of Education argued that since the job of the schools was to teach them US History as well as Americanism, all they were doing was teaching the students to be good, honest Americans.

They argued that there was no difference between them teaching the students about great Abraham Lincoln and brave Stonewall Jackson then teaching them to the salute the flag-which would foster a healthy pride for their nation. They also argued that it was a matter of national security to keep the masses united. They felt that they had a duty to preserve the national unity, and the only way to make sure! this happened would be to make sure there is strong nationalism, which can be heightened be pledging to the national flag, which goes like this: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands; one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. "

The Board of education also argued that the boy"s parents had the option of sending them to a private school, instead of the public schools. They said that they didn"t have to go to a public school. And since the funds for the public schools come from the state, they had the right to raise the students as they pleased, which included teaching the students to be model Americans.

The Jehovah"s Witnesses argued back that the ruling in the Minnersville School District v. Gobitis was tremendously biased, and was blatantly unconstitutional, since it was an incredible violation of they"re First Amendment rights, which includes the freedom of worship. They felt that since it was in their religion to not salute the flag, they shouldn"t be forced to do so. They also argued that the ceremony was too much like the salute Hitler forced his people to do-the salute where the hand is outstretched a little above the heart.

Also, it was too much like the fascist compulsory salute. They argued that the idea of the gestures like that was extremely unconstitutional and takes away a lot of our rights that are seemingly guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. In the Minnersville School District v. Gobitis (1940), all but one of the Supreme Court Justices voted that the boards of education do have the right to impose the salute and pledge on the students. The only judge to dissent was the brave Justice Harlon Stone. However, in 1942, a year before the West Virginia State Board of Education v.

Barnette case, there was a very interesting turn of events. There was a US Supreme Court case, not involved with either of the two flag salute cases, where the court reversed its decision and held the compulsory flag salute as being unconstitutional. Three of the initial judges, Justices Black, Douglas, and Murphy, publicly recanted their decision, making the case alive again. The next year, however, they didn"t make the same mistake. The Court ruled in favor of Walter Barnette and his family, that forcing people to salute to the flag was unconstitutional.

However, their decision was based less on the Freedom of Religion clause under the First Amendment, but under the Freedom of Speech clause. They decided that it was a form of uttering that they were supposed to perform towards the flag, a symbol of the United States. In this manner, they were outlawing the enforcement of the resolution altogether-you didn"t have to have a religious conflict with saluting and pledging to the flag, you could just not agree with the idea of saluting and not do it all. On June 14th, 1943, Mr.

Justice Jackson, along with the other 5 Justices of the previous Gobitis case, voted that it was unconstitutional for any board of education, or anyone in the United States, to impose their ideas on anyone in that fashion. The Court voted 6-3 in favor of the Barnettes and the Jehovah"s Witnesses. Justices Frankfurter delivered the opinion of the dissenting party. He felt sympathy for the minority in this case, but couldn"t find any constitutional right in their favor. According to him, he warned that "minorities can disrupt civil society ... nd there is NOTHING in the Constitution which subordinates the general civil authority of the state to sectarian scruples. "

Because of the ruling of the court, a lot of questions and speculations were finally put to rest. It would be decades later before this type of flag case would need to be contested again. However, even in that ruling, the justices sided for the freedom of speech. The precedent was set and it has never been overturned. The West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, was an extremely important case.

Because of this case, people began to realize how much of a violation the enforcement of the resolution to salute the flag was. People realized such a practice can"t be enforced, but should only be done in a state of absolute pride for the country. Also, in a political sense, the people realized that it was still wrong to force people to salute the flag. The government thought it was doing the country such a favor by making every child in the nation patriotic, but since the utterance was done only because they were told to, it had no real meaning, and didn"t necessarily institute patriotism.

During the Second World War (1939 – 1945), the government was eager to make sure that the union was really united. The sign that someone was saluting the flag raised eyebrows for more than the said reasons. Not only did they disrespect the rules of this nation, but the Jehovah"s Witnesses were also thought to have double interests. They thought the Witnesses could easily have been a threat to national security because they could a stirred a revolt amongst those who didn"t support the war.

There are a lot of different sides to this case, and all the sides have really good reasons to support their case. That"s what makes this case so difficult to judge. However, I agree with Mr. Justice Jackson and the other judges who voted that Walter Barnette has "certain unalienable rights" that just can"t be taken away from him. He has the right to stand, sit, or do anything he feels like during the pledge. In his right to sit during the pledge, he is not hurting anyone or violating anyone else"s rights by doing so, so in my opinion, there shouldn"t be any reason to judge the case any other way.

The argument that the nation would not be united if they didn"t all salute the flag is outrageous. First of all, the students aren"t saluting the flag because of there incredible sense of pride, but merely because they have to. Second of all, if the government forced us to all stand straight at the same time and recite a national poem glorifying the nation at the national flag (sounds very Hitler-ish, doesn"t it), then the very reason that millions have so much love and pride for this country will vanish with that freedom.

We have to understand that we can"t force people to like something, they have to want to like it. In the case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, the judges decided that the board of education could not force any student to salute the American flag and recite the pledge of allegiance. This was a case where the very existence of the United States was at the hands of these fine justices as we know it. If it wasn"t for the extremely knowledgeable justices that judged the case, we would have lost something profoundly special.

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