Minersville School District V. Gobitis

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At times in schools, there could be disagreements and disputes between the decisions of government and the rights of individuals. Students attend school in order to become well-educated young adults. The schoolteacher’s main objective is to make sure that students are receiving the maximum amount of learning to prepare them for future endeavors. Schools educate students on citizenship and what it means to live in a democracy. Public schools are under the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives citizens protection of their individual liberties from governmental interference. Public school officials must obey the demands of the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that school officials violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments when they punished students and their parents for the students’ refusal to salute to the American flag.

During the 1940s, the United States Supreme Court discussed two cases in which the majority disputed with the rights of individuals. In the first case, Minersville School District v. Gobitis, the court ruled that all students had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance while saluting the flag in the classroom. However, the Supreme Court faced the same issue three years later in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette and was against a state school order that public school students must participate in a patriotic ceremony.

The issues of the Barnette case came from the decision of the Minersville School District v. Gobitis case. Lillian and William Gobitis came home from school and told their parents that they had been expelled from their school in Minersville Pennsylvania because they did not salute to the American flag during the morning announcements. The Gobitis family belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which bans any act that is like worshipping an image or idol, which is an offense against God. Walter Gobitis, Lillian and William’s father, asked the Minersville School Board to excuse his children from the flag-salute requirement. When the Board refused, Gobitis removed his children from the public school and enrolled them into a private school, which did not require the patriotic requirements. He then sued in the federal district in Philadelphia to stop the school board from requiring children to salute to the flag. Gobitis argued that his children’s rights to religious liberty under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution were violated. The lawyers of the Minersville School Board disagreed that the flag-salute requirement was a way to teach good citizenship and that it was a “secular regulation” that had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with patriotic education. They also argued that if they let students opt out of the patriotic ceremonies, it would conflict with the school’s responsibility to promote national loyalty and unity. However, the Court voted 8-1 to uphold the school district’s requirement that students take part in the daily flag-salute exercises.

The Court agreed to overturn their decision within the Gobitis result. They stated, “Since we joined in the opinion of the Gobitis case, we think this is an appropriate occasion to state that we now believe that it was also wrongly decided.” There were many negative responses to the Gobitis decision. Over 170 newspapers throughout the country opposed the Court’s decision. For example, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated: “We think this decision of the United States Supreme Court is dead wrong.” Also, the Gobitis decision caused Jehovah's Witnesses to become regular targets of harassment and cruel treatment. The persecution of these people concerned the justices. Two years after the Gobitis decision, the justices publicly stated that they changed their minds about the requirement of flag salutation in schools.

After declaring the change in flag-salute requirements in 1942, public school officials in...
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