How the Democratic Party Left Traditional Believers Behind
by James Hitchcock
In 1943 the United States Supreme Court dramatically reversed itself on the matter of church and state. In the Barnette case it found that children could not be required (on pain of expulsion) to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public-school classrooms if that violated their religious beliefs. But Justice Felix Frankfurter dissented, passionately supporting the Court’s earlier decision to the contrary (Gobitis, 1940). He argued that a state could reasonably conclude that certain religiously motivated behavior (such as the refusal of Jehovah’s Witnesses children to participate in a mandatory classroom flag salute) tended to undermine national unity—an important social value. Frankfurter therefore held that public schools could expel children who refused (on religious grounds or otherwise) to participate.
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James Hitchcock is Professor emeritus of History at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He and his late wife Helen have four daughters. His most recent book is the two-volume work, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life (Princeton University Press, 2004). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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