West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

This 1943 case marked the first time the Supreme Court ever conceded students had First Amendment rights. During World War II, the West Virginia State Board of Education passed a law requiring all students to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Several students and their parents who were members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses challenged the policy, arguing their religion prevented them from swearing allegiance to anyone but God, and so they could not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Su preme Court decided the students were in the right, and on First Amendment grounds struck down the West Virginia ordinance as violating the right of free expression.

“Educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of constitutional freedoms of the individual,” said the Court, “if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.” The Court determined that students had the right not to be coerced by school administrators to doing something that disagreed with their religious beliefs. Free speech in this case meant the right not to say something, in this case, the Pledge of Allegiance.


Inside West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette