Canaries in the Coal Mine of Human Rights: Seventy-Five Years After West Virginia v. Barnette

The Robert H. Jackson Center is pleased to announce a two-day event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote the majority opinion in the Barnette case, which held that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects students from being forced to salute the American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance in public school. The case was a profound legal victory for Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose religious convictions prevent them from saluting or pledging to symbols, including symbols of political institutions.

The Jackson Center will invite Professor Robert L. Tsai of American University’s Washington College of Law, Philip Brumley, General Counsel for the Jehovah Witnesses, and Marie Barnett Snodgrass, one of the named petitioners in the Barnette case. The program will begin on Tuesday, October 16 with an open house at the Jackson Center from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. that includes a docent-led historical exhibition of various visual and interactive presentations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ struggle for religious freedom leading up to the Barnette decision. A formal program will begin in the Cappa Theatre at 6:45 pm. The program will include a 15-minute stage play, “The Faithful Do Not Yield,” which was originally presented for National History Day at the 2017 National Contest. After the performance, Professor Tsai will deliver the lecture “What Might Have Been.”

On Wednesday, October 17, the stage play “The Faithful Do Not Yield,” will be performed again in the Cappa Theatre at 9:30 a.m. Two illustrated presentations will follow the performance, tracing the events surrounding the two major U.S. Supreme Court cases, Minersville School District v. Gobitis and Barnette. A roundtable conversation will follow with Marie Barnett Snodgrass and Louise Blanton about their school-age experiences as Jehovah’s Witnesses during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Judith Gobitas Klose, daughter of Lillian Gobitas, will join in the discussion, which will be chaired by Phillips Lytle attorney Gregory L. Peterson, co-founder of the Jackson Center.. At 11:15 a.m. the Center will welcome keynote speaker, Philip Brumley, to deliver his lecture “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Canaries in the Coal Mine of Human Rights.”

At 1 p.m., the event concludes with a Skype conversation between the interviewees and Simone Liebster of France, who experienced Nazi persecution as a child. The entire event will be live-streamed at —https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34u5mXSgO2I