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West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

United States Supreme Court
319 U.S. 624 (1943)


Facts

In 1942, the West Virginia State Board of Education (WVSBE) (defendant) adopted a resolution that ordered the salute to the American flag during activity programs in all public schools. All public school teachers and students were thus required to extend their right arms, palms upward, and recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag and the United States of America. The refusal to salute the flag was regarded an act of insubordination, and offending students were expelled and denied readmission until they complied with the statute. Meanwhile, expelled children were considered unlawfully absent and their parents or guardians could be prosecuted, fined, and imprisoned. Barnette and others (plaintiffs) filed suit on behalf of public school children and teachers in federal district court alleging that the compulsory salutation of the flag under the West Virginia statute violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Barnette specifically asked for an injunction to restrain enforcement of the law against Jehovah’s Witnesses, as their religion prohibited them from swearing allegiance to the flag. The district court agreed and enjoined enforcement of the statute. The West Virginia State Board of Education appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Jackson, J.)

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Dissent (Frankfurter, J.)

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