Recollections of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
43 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2007 Last revised: 18 Nov 2007
During World War II, Gathie and Marie Barnett, along with their parents and other Jehovah's Witnesses, challenged the constitutionality of compelling school children to pledge allegiance and salute the American flag. Their Supreme Court victory, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943) (misspelling their surname), and Justice Robert H. Jackson's eloquent opinion for the Court in the case, is a constitutional law landmark.
In 2006, the Robert H. Jackson Center and the Supreme Court Historical Society cosponsored a Barnette event involving its protagonists. These proceedings, as edited and published here, begin with welcoming remarks by Mr. Peterson and Mr. Prettyman. Dr. Peters, author of a leading history of the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses and their litigation seeking judicial protection for constitutional rights, discusses the social and legal events leading to Barnette. In a roundtable discussion, the "Barnette" sisters and Mr. Boskey, who was Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone's chief law clerk from 1941-43, discuss personal, legal and historical aspects of "their" case. Professor Barrett, in closing remarks, discusses Justice Jackson and aspects of his background, including his upbringing in a region of free thought and belief and his experiences with religious difference, that seem relevant to the principles he articulated so well in Barnette.
Keywords: West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette; Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, Justice Robert H. Jackson; Justice Felix Frankfurter; Jehovah's Witnesses; flag salute; Minersville School District v. Gobitis.
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