West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette

319 U.S. 624 (1943)

Overruling its decision in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, decided just three years before, the Court ruled in Barnette that elementary and secondary public school students have the right under the First Amendment to refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The Court reasoned that compelling school children to participate in the flag ceremony infringed their rights because it coerced them to accept and affirm political beliefs and ideas with which they might not agree. Writing for the majority of the Court, Justice Robert H. Jackson offered stirring support for freedom of thought:

“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.”

Barnette is important because it is the first case in which the Supreme Court unquestionably recognized that the First Amendment does, in fact, protect public school students.