On Oct 22, 1935, William (Billy) Gobitas (not Gobitis), 10, refused to salute the flag with the rest of his primary school class. The next morning, his sister Lillian, 12, followed his lead. On Nov 5, 1935, Billy wrote this letter:
On November 6, 1935, the two children were expelled. The Watchtower sued on behalf of their father, Walter, who was put in the position of having to pay for private schooling.
Billy Gobitas grew up to be an insurance executive and piano tuner. He died in 1989 at age 64. Lillian married a Mr. Klose; no record of her death (as of 10/6/01).
The children and their father prevailed in the first two courts; the school appealed to SCOTUS. Both the ACLU and the ABA testified on behalf of the Gobitas children. But an 8-1 decision against the children and their father was issued by SCOTUS on June 3, 1940
NEWSWEEK noted the decision in the June 10, 1940 issue with a brief note that said: “Adjourning on a patriotic note, the court …
The mood of the country was despondent. Georgia had suspended most rights of non-citizens. NEWSWEEK, 5/27/40, editorialized “Don’t know who is going to win (the war), and on 6/3/40 posed the question “Suppose the Allies are defeated?” The National Review was even more pessimistic, writing about the same time that “Likely the Allies will lose.” Poland, invaded Sept 1, 1939, had surrendered 26 days later. Finland lasted longer, from the war declaration Nov 30, 1939 until the following March 12th. France, invaded on May 10th, would fall to the Nazis on June 22nd, and had transformed itself into a virtual dictatorship on March 18th; England did the same on May 22nd. Denmark, Belgium, Norway, and the Netherlands were under attack, and would fall before the end of June. Dunkirk was on June 5th, Italy would join the Axis on June 10th and Paris would fall four days later. It was assumed that England would be invaded and, most likely, conquered. Plans were in place to bring as many English children to the USA as possible.
The National Review, on June 17th, noted the decision, commenting that “too much was going on – discuss later.” In their June 24th issue, however, they wrote that SCOTUS was a victim of hysteria; the decision was clearly wrong, reprinting the full decision and dissent. A reader commented in the July 15th issue that the decision was “worse than Dred Scott
Bad days followed. On June 16th, the Attorney-General of the USA went on the NBC radio network, nationally, to call on American citizens to stop their persecution of JWs. Eleanor Roosevelt likewise asked the American public for rationality and civility. These appeals were not very effective. Hundreds were abused, bullied, beat up, and, in one case, one man was castrated by a mob of “patriotic citizens.”It was not long before some of the SCOTUS justices publically spoke of their poor decision. It would take three years, though, before the wrong was made right. In 1943, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, SCOTUS reversed the Gobitis decision on a 6-3 vote.