West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
319 U.S. 624 (1943)
West Virginia required that
all students salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance. Failure to
do so made the student subject to disciplinary action.
Barnette, a member of a
religious group, the Jehovah's Witnesses, challenged the law, saying that compelled
speech was an unconstitutional
violation of their right to free speech and freedom of religion under the 1st Amendment.
Jehovah's Witness doctrine
forbids saluting flags. They consider it a form of idol-worship.
The Trial Court found for
Barnette. West Virginia appealed.
West Virginia pointed to the
recent case of Minersville School District v. Gobitis (310 U.S. 586 (1940)) (also involving the
children of Jehovah's Witnesses), in which the Court stated that the
proper recourse was to try and change the school policy through the
political process and not through the courts.
Aka Judicial Deference.
The Trial Court concluded
that even though there was a US Supreme Court precedent set by Gobitis, changes in the makeup of the Supreme Court
and comments made by Justices implied that Gobitis was no longer good law.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court
overruled Gobitis and found that
the 1st Amendment
prohibits compelled speech.
The Court found 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."
The Court based this
decision more on the freedom of speech aspects of the 1st Amendment, and less
on the freedom of religion
aspects. Perhaps that's what made the decision different than the very
similar case of Gobitis, where the decision focused on freedom
You don't have to have a
religious objection for not saluting, you can chose not to salute for
Basically, this case says that
the 1st Amendment not
only means that you are free to say whatever you want to, but you are also
free to not say anything you don't want to.