Minersville School District vs. Gobitis (1940) - SCOTUS-Case

Minersville School
By Jesse Colon
Constitutional Issue
The decision interfered with the First
Amendment by making a law that violates
someone’s religion.
“Congress shall make no law respecting
an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise…” – First Amendment
Litigant 1 description
Minersville School District: 90% of school
district was Roman Catholic, which already
had high tensions with Jehovah’s
Witnesses. Also around this time there was
going to be a World War so people thought
that not saluting the flag was unpatriotic.
Litigant 2 description
Walter Gobitis: He had just become a
Jehovah’s Witness around this time. He
was inspired by other Jehovah’s Witnesses
stories of challenging the system and didn’t
want his children to pledge the flag
because the Watch Tower Society
president, Joseph F. Rutherford, stated in a
witness convention that to salute an earthly
emblem, ascribing salvation to it, was
unfaithfulness to God.
Background of Case
Lillian and William Gobitis were expelled
from school because they did not salute to
the flag. Their father then had to pay for
them to enroll in private school. The case
was argued on Thursday, April 25, 1940
and was decided on Monday, June 3, 1940.
Majority opinion: key points
The court decision was 8-1 because the court ruled that the
school’s interest in creating national unity was sufficient to
allow them to require students to salute the flag.
With Justice Frankfurter writing the majority opinion he
“ Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long
struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from
obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or
restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of
religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns
of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the
discharge of political responsibilities….” – Justice Frankfurter
Other Court opinions
In Justice Stone’s dissent, he argued that the
court ruling represented a gross violation of he
children’s religious liberties.
“This law does more than suppress freedom of
speech and more than prohibit the free exercise
of religion, which concededly are forbidden by the
First Amendment and are violations of the liberty
guaranteed by the Fourteenth…”
- Justice Stone
The decision the court made described the
case as a balancing of conflicting claims of
liberty and authority. In their opinion, the
school’s interest in creating national unity
was more important than the rights of the
students’ refusal to salute the flag.
My response to this case
I did not agree with the decision the court
made because it was unconstitutional and it
violated the First Amendment which states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion…”
Sources of information