West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

Facts of the case

In 1942, the West Virginia Board of Education required public schools to include salutes to the flag by teachers and students as a mandatory part of school activities. The children in a family of Jehovah's Witnesses refused to perform the salute and were sent home from school for non-compliance. They were also threatened with reform schools used for criminally active children, and their parents faced prosecutions for causing juvenile delinquency.

Question

Did the compulsory flag-salute for public schoolchildren violate the First Amendment?

Conclusion

decision 1 of 1

In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court overruled its decision in Minersville School District v. Gobitis and held that compelling public schoolchildren to salute the flag was unconstitutional. In an opinion written by Robert Houghwout Jackson, the Court found that the First Amendment cannot enforce a unanimity of opinion on any topic, and national symbols like the flag should not receive a level of deference that trumps constitutional protections. He argued that curtailing or eliminating dissent was an improper and ineffective way of generating unity.

Justices Black and Douglas concurred to repudiate their earlier opinions in First Amendment decisions. 

Justice Frankfurter dissented. He believed the Court was exceeding the scope of the judicial role and was taking on a legislative function in striking down the law. 

Cite this page

"West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette." Oyez, www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1955/319us624. Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.