chapter  17
16 Pages

The Case of the Conscientious Schoolchildren

The Flag-Salute Cases (1940 and 1943)
WithMelvin I. Urofsky

The modern school flag-salute ceremony dated from 1892, and the first statute making the salute mandatory passed the New York legislature in 1898 on the day after the United States declared war on Spain. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) emphasized that the right “to entertain the belief, to adhere to the principle, and to teach the doctrine, that the act of saluting the flag contravenes the law of Almighty God, is a part of the liberty referred to in the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Bar Association committee in its brief claimed that no public need existed for the compulsory flag salute “as to justify the overriding of the religious scruples of the children.” The flag salute could hardly compare to the repression practiced in Nazi Germany, but it did strike many people as a needless intrusion on personal liberty in the name of the state.