The Separation of Church and State

By Darien A. McWhirter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER five
The Right to Speak and Raise Money

DISCUSSION

Having decided in the 1930s that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution applicable to state and local government, the U.S. Supreme Court had to face a number of difficult questions in the 1940s. Many of these cases involved the question of what the First Amendment means by "the free exercise" of religion.


THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

One of the most difficult issues, the question of whether or not public schools can force schoolchildren to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, came to the Court in the 1940 case of Minersville School District v. Gobitis (see p. 84). In this case, a group of children who were members of the Jehovah's Witnesses refused to salute the flag because they believed that their religion prohibited the worship of "graven image" and that the American flag qualified as a graven image. These children were willing to be expelled from public school rather than violate the teachings of their religion.

Eight of the nine justices agreed that these children did not have the right under the Constitution to refuse to to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. In writing the majority decision, Justice Frankfurter pointed out that government had the power to force people to join the military in times of war and to require students at public colleges to take instruction in the military arts. He argued that "national unity is the basis of national security," and that being the case, surely government also had the right to force schoolchildren to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag as a way of creating unity.

-76-

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