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SUPREME COURT HISTORY
Expanding Civil Rights
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First Amendment v. Pledge of Allegiance: Free Speech 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Gobitis family, children recite the Pledge of Allegiance
Minersville School District v. Gobitis

In Minersville School District v. Gobitis, the question before the Court was whether public school students could be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, even against their sincerely held religious beliefs. Justice Felix Frankfurter, writing the decision for an 8-1 majority, held that the First Amendment's freedom of speech protections did not excuse students from reciting the pledge because the pledge represented an important symbol of national unity, which gave the state a compelling interest in enforcing the law.

Photographic Portrait of Justice Felix Frankfurter
"The affirmative pursuit of one's convictions about the ultimate mystery of the universe and man's relation to it is placed beyond the reach of law. Government may not interfere with organized or individual expression of belief or disbelief. Propagation of belief -- or even of disbelief in the supernatural -- is protected, whether in church or chapel, mosque or synagogue, tabernacle or meeting house." -- Justice Felix Frankfurter

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

Just three years after the Court's decision in the Gobitis case, indicating that public school children could be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Supreme Court, with Justice Robert H. Jackson writing for a 6-3 majority, overturned that decision. Justice Jackson argued that the First Amendment's freedom of speech protections applied to the compelled Pledge of Allegiance. The Court's sudden change of heart on the matter may have been directly related to the sudden increase of bias-based crimes directed against Jehovah's Witnesses, the primary religious group that claims that the Pledge of Allegiance is in violation of their religious beliefs.

Photographic Portrait of Justice Robert H. Jackson
"But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order." -- Justice Robert H. Jackson

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