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GOBITIS v. MINERSVILLE SCH. DIST.

June 18, 1938

GOBITIS et al.
v.
MINERSVILLE SCHOOL DIST. et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARIS

This suit in equity was brought to enjoin the individual defendants from continuing to prohibit the attendance of the minor plaintiffs at the Minersville Public Schools because of their refusal to salute the national flag as required by the defendants. From the evidence I make the following special findings of fact:

Plaintiff Walter Gobitis is a citizen of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is a resident of the Borough of Minersville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs Lillian Gobitis (hereinafter called Lillian) and William Gobitis (hereinafter called William) are his children. Lillian was born November 2, 1923, and is now fifteen years of age. William was born September 17, 1925, and is now thirteen years of age. Both of them are citizens of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and reside with their parents in the Borough of Minersville where they have lived for many years.

 The Minersville School District is a public school district of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania embracing the territory of the Borough of Minersville. The individual defendants David I. Jones, Dr. E. A. Valibus, Claude L. Price, Dr. T. J. McGurl, George Beatty, Thomas B. Evans and William Zapf were at the time this suit was brought the duly elected and acting members of the Board of Education (hereinafter called the Board) of the Minersville School District having the management and control of the Minersville Public Schools. David I. Jones is no longer a member of the Board, having been succeeded by Dr. E. W. Keith. George Beatty is no longer a member of the Board having died January 30, 1938. Defendant Charles E. Roudabush is the superintendent of the Minersville Public Schools appointed by and acting under the direction and supervision of the Board. All of the surviving defendants are residents of the Borough of Minersville and citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and of the United States.

 The Minersville Public Schools were and are free public schools under the supervision and jurisdiction of the Board. William and Lillian were placed in the Minersville Public School by their father, Walter Gobitis, at the beginning of the school year 1935-1936 and attended the school until November 6, 1935.

 On November 6, 1935 at a regular meeting of the Board the following school regulation was adopted: "That the Superintendent of the Minersville Public Schools be required to demand that all teachers and pupils of said schools be required to salute the flag of our country as a part of the daily exercises. That refusal to salute the flag shall be regarded as an act of insubordination and shall be dealt with accordingly."

 Lillian and William and their father, Walter Gobitis, are members of an association of Christian people calling themselves Jehovah's Witnesses. Each of the plaintiffs as a member of that association has covenanted with Jehovah God to do His will and to obey His commandments. They accept the Bible as the word of God and conscientiously believe that a failure to obey the precepts and commandments laid down therein will in due time result in their eternal destruction. Each of the three plaintiffs sincerely and honestly believes that the act of saluting a flag contravenes the law of God because (a) it is a violation of the divine commandment stated in verses 3, 4 and 5 of the twentieth chapter of the Bidlical book of Exodus that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them * * *", in that such a salute signifies that the flag is an exalted emblem or image of the Government and as such entitled to the respect, honor, devotion, obeisance and reverence of the salutor, and (b) it means in effect that the person saluting the flag ascribes salvation and protection to the thing or power which the flag stands for and represents, and that, since the flag and the Government which it symbolizes are of the world and not of Jehovah God, it is wrong to salute the flag and to do so denies the supremacy of Almighty God, and contravenes his express command as set forth in Holy Writ.

 The refusal of Lillian and William to salute the flag in the Minersville Public School was based solely upon their sincerely held religious convictions that the act was forbidden by the express command of God as set forth in the Bible. Both they and their father, Walter Gobitis, are loyal American citizens who honor and respect their state and country and who are willing and ready to obey all its laws which do not conflict with what they sincerely believe to be the higher commandments of God. Their refusal to salute the flag was not intended by them to be disrespectful to the Government and it did not promote disrespect for the Government and its laws nor endanger the public safety, health or morals or the property or personal rights of their fellow citizens.

 The enforcement of defendants' regulation requiring the flag salute by children who are sincerely opposed to it upon conscientious religious grounds is not a reasonable method of teaching civics, including loyalty to the State and Federal Government, but tends to have the contrary effect upon such children.

 From the last week of December, 1935, to the end of May, 1937 (except for holidays and vacation periods), Lillian attended the Jones Kingdom School at Andreas, Pennsylvania, and from September, 1937 to the date of hearing, February 15, 1938 (except for holidays and vacation), she attended the Pottsville Business College. From the last week of December, 1935 to the date of hearing, February 15, 1938 (except for holidays and vacation periods), William attended the said Jones Kingdom School. Both the Jones Kingdom School and the Pottsville Business College are private schools whose patrons are required to pay for the tuition of the children attending them.

 Up to the present time Walter Gobitis has expended for the education of Lillian since November 6, 1935 a sum in excess of $600 and he will be required to expend for her education in the future during the period she is required by the Pennsylvania School Code, 24 P.S.Pa. ยง 1421 et seq., to remain in school a sum not less than $600, or $1,200 in all. Up to the present time Walter Gobitis has expended for the education of William since November 6, 1935 a sum in excess of $800 and he will be required to expend for his education in the future during the period he is required by the Pennsylvania School Code to remain in school a sum not less than $1,200, or $2,000 in all.

 Discussion.


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