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Beware : Judges with a Vision


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Beware: Judges With a Vision

The Supreme Court’s historic role has been to slow, not accelerate, social reform.

Garrett Epps | September 19, 2011

In 1940, a small group of children, bullied by intolerant adults, sought the protection of the United States Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court spat in their faces. The results were so violent and tragic that the Court reversed itself three years later, trying to call a halt to the injustice it had spawned.

This story--the story of Minersville School District v. Gobitis and West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette--still teaches lessons today about the quality of justice, the character of judges, and the role of courts in spurring, or retarding, social change.

The issue was simple but explosive: Could school authorities require all children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag, even if their religious beliefs forbade it? The children at risk were Jehovah’s Witnesses; the head of their faith had declared that saluting the flag was idolatry, a violation of the Second Commandment’s injunction not to worship “graven images.” Thousands of Witnesses in Germany had been persecuted for refusing the Hitler salute, he said. American Witnesses should follow their example.

The Nazi parallel was disquieting. At the time, the prescribed form of taking the pledge, called the Bellamy salute, was a stiff-armed gesture that looked much like the fascist one. When fifth-grader Billy Gobitas and his sister Lillian (the federal courts, never overly concerned with individuals, spelled their name wrong) refused the salute and pledge, they were expelled from school.

Read More Here http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=beware_judges_with_a_vision

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