Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church/State Separation

Excerpts from the article:
Public reaction to Gobitis v. Minersville School District bordered on hysteria ….. Some vigilantes interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision as a signal that Jehovah’s Witnesses were traitors who might be linked to a network of Nazi spies and saboteurs. In Imperial, a town outside Pittsburgh, a mob descended on a small group of Witnesses and pummeled them mercilessly. By the end of the year, the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that 1,500 Witnesses had been assaulted in 335 separate attacks. In the wake of all the violence against Witnesses, three Supreme Court justices—William O. Douglas, Frank Murphy and Hugo Black—publicly signaled in a separate case that they thought Gobitis had been “wrongly decided.” When Barnette reached the Supreme Court in 1943, Harlan Stone, the lone dissenter in Gobitis, had risen to chief justice. The facts of the two cases mirrored each other, but the outcome differed dramatically. Most important, in ruling that Witness children could not be forced to recite the pledge. The “very purpose” of the Bill of Rights, wrote Justice Robert Jackson, was to protect some issues from the majority rule of politics. “One’s right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, may not be submitted to vote….Fundamental rights depend on the outcome of no elections.”

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