tv Jehovahs Witnesses on Mandatory Flag Salute CSPAN March 3, 2019 3:25pm-4:01pm EST
in a ruling that upheld mandatory flag salute. coming up, two jehovah's witnesses recall their experience when they were to saluteor refusing the american flag. this program is part of a theong event to commemorate 77th anniversary of the west virginia state board of barnett first amendment case. it is about 45 minutes. >> you are in for a treat. as the cofounder, we are thrilled to have this opportunity to commemorate one of justice jackson's foremost opinions, if not his number one, west virginia versus barnett. we have some history with these
individuals. in 2002, i tracked down the re-and -- i tracked barnettie and lillian in the charleston area. sudden, this guy with a camcorder track you down, we went to kingdom hall, and we had a chance to chat. you were gracious enough to put up with me. some of the interviews you just 2006, we had a chance to bring the barnett sisters here. we filled a presentation with professor barrett, a robert jackson biographer, and the law clerk for justice harlan stall during that case. a few years ago, had the privilege, together with phil donahue, to meet judith and to
interview lillian. that was a thrill for us. here we are today with an opportunity to revisit this special historical period of case which resulted in a legacy, tremendous jurisprudence extraordinaire. we will dive right into the interview. as has been mentioned, to my -- thete left his judas daughter of lillian, and was the stage manager when phil and i were in atlanta during the interview. next to her, i'm thrilled to blanton, member
of the jehovah's witness who -- you look terrific. i'm not sure i should have disclosed that. it as a member of the jehovah's witness when this case came down, having to go to a kingdom school and being there for 2.5 years and ending with -- with one ofe sisters whornett were part and parcel of the sisters. i will move over to this chair here, we will have a chance to get the story from those who lived it.
there is a reason for this order here. we saw this in this wonderful presentation that preceded this. perspective --l perspective, was this part of your mom or your mother's world? >> my grandmother side of the family was methodist and my grandfather's side of the family was catholic. when they started reading, my grandfather would sneak in the room and look at the literature. they would come home and say guess what i learned today? he felt very intrigued. mentionour mother ever when she got the word as to how they might react to the pledge
of allegiance that was prevalent in all public schools? >> she mentioned how concerning it would be that their whole world changed once the decision came down. how she viewed life and how life viewed her. >> in school at the time, they were expelled. herdid her classmates treat ? >> they really turned their back on her for the most part. mocked her, whatever they could do. she went from being one of the most popular girls in school to one of the most hated. >> how did that affect her sense of humor interfaith? >> it made her faith even stronger.
of takes away from the circumstances you are going through and it gives you strength. in newse, you were jersey. talk about your family's life path into the jehovah's witnesses. started studying the bible with jehovah's witnesses in 1938. strenuouslyjected to the teachings because he thought he knew the bible from end to end. see that there was so much in the bible he didn't understand.
from 1938 to 1939, we increased in our knowledge of the bible and what jehovah's witnesses stand for. in 1939, ibaptized decided i was going to make ,ehovah, the god of the bible my god, and i was going to live by his standards. normal3, and i was not a 13, because i was the oldest girl in a family of 10. i had a lot of responsibilities. when my parents saw i was serious, they let me get baptized. >> as a member of the faith and being of age in the public school system, when did the flag
salute become an issue in your life? certainly after i got baptized. my parents were giving us different discussions about bible characters. we were discussing daniel and his three companions. from that i drew the conclusion that i would have to make a choice too. and i chose to no longer salute the flag because to me, it was like bowing down to an image or a representation of a government other than god's government. >> so this is part of exodus, thou shalt not worship a graven image?
>> true, that's a part of it. >> and as you demonstrated that, at what point was there an a-ha moment when you had the class began every day with the salute, the pledge of allegiance. at one point, you chose not to salute. >> yes. to tell the truth, that morning, i was a nervous wreck. i didn't know exactly how the class would react because i had always been careful of my conduct. my parents demanded it. but when i did stand that day and not put my hand over my heart, the teacher immediately stopped the program and told me that i had not gotten into the right position.
so they started over again and i just stood there. and then she told me, "out. out of the class." so my brother and i, who were in the same grade, went outside into the hall where we waited until the class was finished with the exercise. she came out right after that and took us to the principal's office. and he was not nearly as pleasant as she was. >> now, then were you expelled? >> yes. that day. he gave us one more opportunity. he said, you go back in the class and salute the flag, and this is the end of it. but when i told him i couldn't do that, he said then you will be expelled.
so he gave me a note, my brother and i, he gave us notes to take home that they were demanding that our parents attend a meeting with the school board. and so that was i think a week later, we had a meeting with the school board, at which time the assistant to mr. covington, bill jackson, met with us and helped us in the procedure to explain our position.
>> and what was the decision of the school board? >> that we be expelled immediately. >> and what did you do for education? >> that was a difficult time because i think i mentioned before how much i loved school. school was a break for me. and because i was interested in learning new things, i felt crushed that i could no longer go to school. but when our society, the watch hour society learned of our situation, they sent legal help and they told us every day, go to school, because the school board had said if we were not going to school, the parents would be punished and we would be put in reform schools. that really frightened us. >> what time period was this, louise? >> this was 1940. and it was probably close to the end of the school term. >> so at that point, 1940 towards the end of the school, there had been a decision decided by the supreme court relating to lillian's mother and uncle. were you aware of that gobitis decision?
>> very much, our whole family was following the case. and like the gobitises, we were shocked. it caused jehovah's witnesses across the country to be amazed that such a thing would happen, but our choice had been made. we continued to be loyal to our faith and our desire to please our creator. and so we were willing to accept the consequences. >> the consequences were the creation of kingdom school. >> eventually. until that time, we had to
go to school every morning and be expelled every day from the classroom, in order that we would not be accused of being truants. so that was not very pleasant because we took the school bus to school, and on the school bus, they would start hitting us on the back of the head and calling us names of every description, and immediately after we got off the school bus, on the school grounds, before we could even get to the class, they would gang up on us and constantly we were being hit with sticks and stones and sometimes rocks. >> this is -- gobitis has been decided, you've been expelled from school, you have to go in every day, expelled, so that your parents aren't arrested for having truants.
in west virginia, marie, what was going on in your world? maybe i should back up to say, was your family raised as part of jehovah's witness? what was the entry point into the faith? >> my parents started studying when i was a baby. and my dad, his whole family came into the truth at the same time, about 1833-34. >> so you grew up in that environment. and what was going on -- you went to a public school, slip hill grade school as i recall. >> yes. >> so when you walked into schools at that time, was there a mandatory flag salute in west virginia?
>> in west virginia, that really didn't become a problem until after the war started in '41 and after that, then they began to require that there be a flag salute in the schools. and when we went to school, it was in the spring because probably february or march, and one day they were doing the flag salute and my sister and i stood up, but we didn't do the flag salute and the teacher leaving the room, she went and got the principal and so he asked us to come out of the room and we had to explain to him why we didn't and he wasn't very pleased with us. he was kind of upset. and he finally said, well, if you're not going to salute the flag then you'll have to go home. you can't attend school. so like louise, we went to school every morning, after the flag salute, the program was over, well then we had to go home. and that went on for several weeks. >> talk about the administration of the west virginia school board because, obviously, there was a legal aspect to all of
this. and did you see your parents engage lawyers or were lawyers provided to them? >> yes, there was a local lawyer who was -- he was not a witness, but he was favorable to our beliefs and his name was mr. meldo, and he took over the case and after the lawyers got into it and i'm sure that they conferred with brother covington, they finally told us don't go back to school. you don't have to go every morning. after that, they did send a truant officer to our home, wanted to know why we weren't in school and, of course, my mother said, you won't let her go to school. and my dad had to appear in a court and put up bond to keep from going to jail because they did take him to court for it. >> so what was the decision of the -- it went to the federal district court at that time, and kind of the winds of change.
we've learned a little bit about that today, where all of a sudden. that which occurred in gobitis lead to a lot of persecutions which louise and your mother lillian felt. and then kind of worked its way to 1942, where you are expelled and truant officers come knocking on your door and your dad has to post bail. but how were you treated? >> well in the area that we lived in, it was a rural area. the children weren't cruel to us. they were curious, they asked questions. we explained to them our stand. but they weren't cruel to us. i had some cousins who lived in different areas who were beaten up and really cruel to them, but we were very fortunate in that respect that the children were not cruel to the point that they
wanted to be mean to us or anything. just curious. >> were you aware of the gobitis case? >> i do not remember. >> did your dad ever talk about that? >> if he did, i don't remember it. i probably did because they were very aware of everything that was going on, but in my memory, i don't remember them talking about it, but evidently they had, they told us what we should do because when the time came we knew what we were supposed to do. we were taught what our stand was and what we were supposed to say. >> it worked its way up to a decision by the board of education which said you are expelled, and then it worked its way into the federal district court system and you actually won. >> yes. in the courts in west virginia, we did win. they said it was okay. we could go to school. in fact -- we did start back to school the next fall. and the teachers weren't real pleased with us, but they couldn't do anything about it because the court said you can go to school.
and we did. >> so the school board of education had an opinion, which is contrary to what the federal district court said, and then the board of education kept moving itself up, thinking probably with some reason, that there was a precedent. gobitis, that they probably would win the day. do you recall the circumstances under which you learned of the supreme court decision? >> not really. i just know that i can remember them talking about it, that we had won in the courts, and from now on there would be no question and we could go to school. i don't remember them being a big production about it at that time, except they were pleased, of course, that the courts had settled in our favor. >> when you went back to school with the supreme court order, did the students treat you any differently? did you sense any of that?
>> no. the school we went to, it was very calm. i don't remember any of them really even talking to us about the point that we didn't salute the flag at that time. evidently, by being in west virginia, that the courts had settled in our favor, the schools had been informed of that and we weren't treated badly, no. >> so your mother, we talked about that time period, 1940 when the decision, the gobitis decision -- until 1943. what was her sense of that? did she have some optimism about what might occur? do you recall her talking about that? >> it was more she was treating him on a day-to-day basis, doing what they had to do to keep the kingdom school going and just to keep out of reform school, which is one of those great fears they had and to keep things in alliance as much as they could with what was going on and doing
their part to keep the education going. >> and at one point in that barnette decision, finds its way into the knowledge base of your mother and uncle. what was her reaction, do you remember? >> they were very happy to hear that. they were too told to try to go back to school at that point, but other kids were encouraged to try to go back. some were accepted, some still weren't. it wasn't completely in the hearts of the schools to welcome them with open arms just yet, but some of them were allowed to come back. >> louise in your world, gee, you spent two and a half years in lakewood, new jersey, as i recall, at a kingdom school. while all of this was percolating through the court system, what was life like in the kingdom school? >> well, it was sort of like paradise compared to what we had been through.
but it was challenging in the sense that we had to be away from home. it was a boarding school. the society had purchased or leased a hotel for the purpose of housing the students and most of us lived some distance away. we were about 90 miles away. so my father would take us to school either sunday night or early monday morning, and we would stay until the weekend. during the course of the week, the curriculum was like most schools with the exception, of course, that we didn't have the flag salute in the morning. we did have a reading of a bible text on a daily basis and discussion of a particular verse of the bible. also, during the morning, we
talked about different bible texts that we were to memorize. it helped us to focus on the reason we were there. and to build on our knowledge of our creator. >> at some point in 1943, june 14, 1943, the barnett decision is decided. how did you learn about that? >> in school, we let out a hoot that could have been heard across the county. [laughter] we were so delighted. at the same time, shortly thereafter, it turned into groaning because a teacher told us this would be the last time we would be together in this school because now, you're free to go back to public school,
where you can exemplify the life of a christian before your fellow students. >> so you do go back to school, public school. this would be in the fall of 1943. >> i personally didn't go back. i was 16. my parents allowed me to enter the full-time service that i had already been participating in. and to take courses outside of the school system and finally pass the ged tests in order to get a diploma. >> we saw in the play earlier today about some of the persecutions that jehovah's witnesses incurred because they were also registered as conscientious objectors during the time of the war. clearly, the winds of war and
the war time period. how does that impact your family? >> pretty much. i had an older brother who was draft age and who had to serve time in prison for his conscientious objection. the brother next to him never had to go to prison, but he was brought before the board or whatever court in order to state his objection and he got a 4f classification because of his health, but my older brother did have to go. >> let me ask a question. i don't think we've ever asked this. but billy, was he subjected -- what did he do? >> i'm not aware of what he did during that time. that has never come up. >> just curious.
we are here commemorating the 75th anniversary of the barnette case and there would not have been a barnette case if there hadn't been a gobitis case. as you sit here and listen to those presentations that have occurred, what's your sense of this, judith? >> i love the fact that that i just learned this weekend that my mom and maria got to meet each other as children, as 13-year-olds. that just really pulled it all together for me. >> louise, you can tell the story, how did you meet lillian? >> the school in pennsylvania, the kingdom school in pennsylvania, and the kingdom school in lakewood had the same principal. it was a brother from watch
tower farms. his name was parkhurst. and shortly after kingdom school took off in jersey, he thought it would be nice for us to meet the students in the school in pennsylvania which had been in session long before ours had. and so on that occasion, i got a chance to meet lillian. >> well, at that point, if i would have early -- that would have been the early '40s. the gobitis case had already been decided. she was kind of notable. it was a gobitis. >> it was very exciting to meet her. even now, i feel so privileged to be between these two sisters who actually had the front row so to speak, in the battle, but i benefited because they stood firm and i'm so happy today to have this opportunity to get to
know these two sisters and her mother that i met on that one occasion. >> what's your sense of what's going on here today? >> it's just beautiful. to have this opportunity to have this many people in the room and this representation of this history. it's a beautiful experience. i never thought i would be a part of. it's a real privilege to be here and it helped me a lot to know what my parents both went through. my dad being in the concentration camp at the exact same time my mom was going through this, so it helped me be strong when i had my own situations at school come up where i was beat up in school for being a witness and they were just infuriated that i was different, that i was a witness. they flat out said it. but it was a way to build up my own courage for that. >> i'm going to cause for a sec. you threw out the line, that i'm not sure everybody is aware of, that your father being a jehovah's witness was subjected
to the persecutions in germany that that play depicted. want to give us a reader's digest of that? >> he went to his very first door, we go on our door to door ministry, he's not even baptized, and he was arrested at the first door. and he was the youngest in the camp. he was between 20 and 21. didn't get to see his family for 10 years. and i finally sat down with him one day and asked him how many times he had been put in jails or prisons or concentration camps and it was 11 times and he gave us the name of each one. and so he was wanted. his poster was in the post offices. he had to use disguises, fake names because he was smuggling the witness literature in the underground efforts so he was in danger a lot. but he really felt like jehovah and his angels helped that work go on. there was a lot of real close calls, but the stories he's
discussed, he spoke in 75 different classes in atlanta and he gave them an opportunity to have a first-hand experience of what it was really like. >> so this is a unique story because we read during world war ii a lot about the resistance, various nationals who resisted against the third reich. here in your case, your bad was really doing preservation of the jehovah's witness faith through some underground publications, etc. >> yes, he was. and it was interesting. he wasn't always helped by fellow jehovah's witnesses. there were some that simply hated hitler that would take him in, under great risk, in their home, just so he could have a place to sleep and sometimes, he would have to escape in the middle of the night if the ss came to the door, but they were some, amazing kindness that people did provide in various towns that he went to. >> what do you think the legacy
of the barnette cases? >> i think it's marvelous because it made such huge impact on the judicial system and how it impacted everyone in the united states. it's providing freedoms for all americans to practice their faith freely. and we know that that could change, but for now, it's something to enjoy and cherish. >> louise, do you have a sense of the legacy of what you lived in between gobitis and barnette and what the legacy of that is? >> i feel very privileged. i never expected to be this old, but for the rest of my life, i have been impacted by the experience that i went through in my youth. it has helped me to rely more on the creator, to appreciate the value of prayer, and to know when something is right, and you choose that to be a part of your life, that your love for the creator and for other humans can be enhanced by sharing what you know with others.
it's made a big impact on my life. >> there is no commemoration today if there wasn't a barnette and what your dad through your actions precipitated in that case in west virginia, we wouldn't have the decision. we wouldn't have the words of robert jackson. so i'll let you have the final word, marie, as to a sense of the legacy of your namesake case. >> well, of course, i'm very proud that i was able to stand up and answer the calls of the flag salute. i was taught that from youth on, of course.
and it's given me a lot of privileges over the years. i've had contact with different ones who have wanted to know the story, have called and asked questions. it's given me an opportunity to give a witness to many people. i've been asked, like this is the second time i've come here and it's been such a privilege. and i'm just proud that i was able to stand up for my beliefs and for the rights of others to be able to stand up, also. and i'm not very articulate in speaking, but i'm just overwhelmed at how much this has meant to me, and has meant to everyone, all the children over the years that have not had to fight the fight that we did. and i was able to help them in some way. >> ladies and gentlemen, from
gobitis to barnette. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] >> you're watching american history today, 48 hours of american history programming, every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter at c-span history for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. >> 50 years ago, on march 3, 1969, apollo nine blasted off for a 10 day mission to test systems that would be essential for the july 1969 apollo 11 moon landing. next on "reel america," "apollo 9: three to make ready." it details the lunar module docking test, spacewalks, and