Over the Hill

Honor what the flag represents

In 1942, we used to call it “saluting the flag.” Today, we call it “pledging allegiance.” In 1942, some Paso Robles school children refused to do it. That stirred up a ruckus that finally ended when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a related decision.

In October 1942, the Paso Robles school trustees expelled four high school students for refusing to salute the flag. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They and their parents believed they owed their allegiance to God. They wouldn’t salute any nation’s flag.

The parents had told the students to refuse to salute. That was especially controversial at that time. America was at war with Japan, Germany and Italy. Californians feared a coastal invasion. Patriotism was boiling over.

The vote to expel the students was 3-2. I would have expected 5-0, but trustees E.R. Griswold and Othello Linn voted, “No.”

Two weeks later, five more students were removed from Paso Robles schools and told not to return without their parents’ written permission to salute the flag.

One morning in the following week, two little boys walked into their elementary school room along with their mothers. The mothers squeezed into their seats beside them. The teacher called on the class to salute the flag. The two mothers and their sons didn’t participate.

The teacher asked them to leave. They explained their beliefs and refused. The teacher got the principal who got the superintendent who got the police. Two officers evicted the mothers and sons.

But a week later, the school trustees voted unanimously to rescind all the expulsions. They feared possible lawsuits. The children’s parents had presented long printed petitions saying they respected the flag and pledged to obey all United States laws that are consistent with God’s law. The trustees said the Jehovah’s Witnesses could show their respect for the flag by standing at attention during the flag salute.

But two weeks later, the trustees again voted 3-2 to expel the students. A state official had assured them the parents didn’t have grounds to sue.

A school-trustee election was held the following May. The two anti-expulsion trustees were replaced. Othello Linn chose not to run; E.R. Griswold was soundly defeated.

Two weeks later, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that eradicated all government power to force people to salute the flag. The majority opinion said, “No official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.”

That case was decided June 14, 1943 — Flag Day.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.