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.
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.