Jehovah's Witness schoolchildren Lily and Billy Gobitis had no idea that they were about to set the stage for one of the worst cases of religious persecution in America and a series of Supreme Court rulings regarding the constitutional right for free speech when they refused to raise their hand in salute of the American flag.
It was pre-war 1938 and Hitler and his Nazi regime were not only persecuting Jews, but anyone else they felt "inferior" to their superior race and nation. This included gays, the mentally ill and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Walter Gobitis, the children's father wanted to do something in solidarity with the German Witnesses who were being severely persecuted.
At this time, Americans didn't recite the Pledge of Allegiance with hand on heart, rather they performed a ritual that eerily similar to the Nazi salute. It was called; "The Flag Salute."
After a discussion with his family, Mr. Gobitis decided that his children should not participate with the flag salute as a daily ritual at their public school as a show of respect to the German Witnesses who were suffering.
These were patriotic times in America, so this did not set well with the MinersvilleSchool District, who immediately contacted Walter Gobitis informing that this would not be tolerated.
The Gobitis children continued and soon other Jehovah's Witness children joined them with this "protest."
They were all expelled.
But this was not the end of it and as things do, this snowballed into a national movement of Jehovah's Witnesses.
By the 1939 annual conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses hosted by The Watchtower Society around the nation, it was moved and adapted that no Witness should perform the flag salute, because all government is of Satan, not of God and so no true Christian could pledge allegiance to both.
For Biblical evidence of this they pointed to Mathew 4-8--- the third temptation of Christ;
"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Jehovah's Witnesses are a very practical and analytical religion, so to their minds it makes perfect logic that Satan would not offer anything that was not already in his possession. Because He had offered all of the kingdoms of the earth to Christ, they therefore reasoned that Satan and not God presently controlled all of the governments of the world and Jehovah's Witnesses should have no part of it.
Given this move, not honoring the flag was now a matter of religious freedom and not just a symbolic act in solidarity with the German Witnesses.
Let me back up a minute here to mention that Jehovah's Witnesses have always had the knack to navigate around established American law and customs.
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