Precedents

June 14, 1943

Flag Day Reversal

Posted Jun 1, 2008 8:00 AM CDT
By George Hodak

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Photo by Esther Bubley/Time
Life Pictures/Getty Images

Justice Harlan Fiske Stone once wrote that history should credit the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their part “in solving the legal problems of civil liberties.”

Though best known for their fervent proselytizing, the Witnesses have been involved in more than 70 Supreme Court cases.

In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the court overturned a state law compelling schoolchildren to salute the U.S. flag each morning. Jehovah’s Witness families had refused, citing their faith’s prohibition against the worship of graven images.

Announcing the decision on Flag Day during wartime, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared that no patriotic creed should usurp civil liberty: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.”

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