Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940)
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In a decision later reversed by West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, the Court decided that mandatory ceremonial displays of respect for the flag were constitutional because of their critical role in preserving national unity. In 1935, two Jehovah's Witnesses, schoolchildren Lillian and William Gobitis, were expelled from a Pennsylvania public school after they refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag. Their religion forbade the children to show reverence to a symbol, regarding such a display as idol worship. The Gobitises argued that the school's policy infringed upon their First Amendment right to religious liberty. In an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled against the family, claiming that the secular purpose of the patriotic exercises outweighed any infringements upon religious practice. In the opinion delivered by Justice Frankfurter, the Court argued that mandated ceremonial respect for the flag was crucial to national unity and national security. If the children were allowed to refrain from this respect, their actions may sow seeds of doubt in their classmates.