RIP, Lillian Klose (nee Gobitis)

Hemant has a post about Lillian Klose, who was born Lillian Gobitis, who passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 90. Why should you know that name? Because she was one of the plaintiffs in Minersville School District v Gobitis, a 1940 Supreme Court case that ruled that children do not have the right to refuse to say the pledge of allegiance in school.

The Gobitis family were Jehovah’s Witnesses and their religion forbid them from making such pledges. Lillian, then 12 years old, and her younger brother William, refused to recite the pledge and were the victims of terrible harassment as a result. They had rocks thrown at them and were beaten up by schoolmates. JW churches were burned and attacked. Thankfully, the Supreme Court revisited the issue just three years later and reversed themselves in West Virginia v Barnette, one of the most famous rulings in the court’s history.

That ruling, written by my favorite Supreme Court justice ever, Justice Robert Jackson, contained two very famous and eloquent passages:

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections…

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Hemant also mentions Ellery Schempp, another brave young person who stood up against the oppression of forced student speech. And he’s absolutely right here:

The 1943 case (reversing the original ruling) was one of the first times the First Amendment was invoked to protect the rights of minority beliefs. It’s perhaps the sharpest tool in the atheist arsenal and we have Jehovah’s Witnesses to thank for it…

It’s worth reflecting on her incredible courage and everything she went through because of her convictions. We all want to believe we would’ve done the same thing in her situation… but that’s so much easier said than done. Klose may not have won her legal case, but she tipped one of the initial dominoes for a line of defense we still use today. That’a legacy that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

I feel that way about Jessica Ahlquist as well. Would I have had the courage and integrity at 15 years old to do what these young people did? Honestly, I don’t think so.

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  • chisaihana5219

    I can say I would have had that courage if I needed it about religion. At the time I had it about nationalism and politics. During a unit on communism in high school social studies, which was really a cold war anti-communist unit, I brought my Dad’s copies of the Communist Manifesto and another “red” booklet to class. I wanted to use them, but they were confiscated by the teacher and held in the prinicpals office year end. Instead, this led to a protest by myself and a friend against the “duck and cover” drills. We refused to particpate and were briefly detained by the principal. He could not argue with our statement that since we lived within the zone of total destruction, near NYC, that duck and cover was useless.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    chisaihana5219 “During a unit on communism in high school social studies…”

    That’s an awfully specific branch of communism.

  • Erk12

    When I was in grade 10 in the early 90’s, we got a new vice principal who re-instituted The Lord’s Prayer during morning announcements*. The first day of the new policy, I remained sitting quietly in my seat while the rest of the class stood, thinking I’d probably be sent to the office for it. Even my nominally Muslim friend stood and kinda gave me a “what are you doing?” look. As it turns out, my teacher didn’t do or say anything about it, and over the coming week fewer and fewer people stood. I was willing to get sent to the office and have them call my mom about it (who I knew would back me up), but I don’t think I could have gone though with a court case.

    *I live in Ontario. In 1988 the Ontario Court of Appeals found this to be a violation of religious freedom as guaranteed in The Charter, but I didn’t know that then.

  • Francisco Bacopa

    Even my nominally Muslim friend stood and kinda gave me a “what are you doing?” look.

    My first thought was that there’s nothing at all a Muslim should object to in the Lord’s Prayer. I did a quick poke around the net and found that a lot of Muslims like it and consider it an uncorrupted part of the gospels and is probably something Jesus really said.

    That being said, official prayer in the 90’s? That played even in Canada?

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Erk12 “When I was in grade 10 in the early 90′s…I live in Ontario….”

    “Dear Lord, let the Leafs win one, and bless Gilmour. Amen.”

  • moarscienceplz

    Wow, thanks for posting this, Ed. I had never heard of Minersville School District v Gobitis before. So, ol’ justice Frankfurter wasn’t always the shining knight of Liberty he has been made out to be. Yet another hero with feet of clay. Oh, my!

  • Erk12

    My first thought was that there’s nothing at all a Muslim should object to in the Lord’s Prayer. I did a quick poke around the net and found that a lot of Muslims like it and consider it an uncorrupted part of the gospels and is probably something Jesus really said.

    That being said, official prayer in the 90’s? That played even in Canada?

    Huh, and I thought it was an explicitly Christian prayer, but since he’s considered one of the prophets, I can see that.

    Anyways, yes official prayer plays even today. Like I said, it was ruled illegal in Ontario in ’88, (as well as BC in ’89 which used most of the Ontario ruling as it’s basis), but just like everywhere else there’s a Christian who has to stand up for Jesus and flout the law. It just depends on who’s going to do what about it. In our case, no one really did anything. Fun fact, Ontario has the only gov’t funded religious schools (Catholic), but Saskatchewan and Alberta are specifically given a constitutional exemption from challenges to mandatory prayer in their public school as a condition of them joining the Confederation in 1905. Canada is a weird mish-mash of odd laws and exemptions; but we mostly manage to not kill each other. Talk of re-opening the Constitution and normalizing things (and getting Quebec to actually agree) is met with immediate gagging while any politician within 100 km plugs their ears and hums.

    Modus, no god has ever been imagined by any religion who is powerful enough to help the Leafs win another Cup.