Some vigilantes interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision as a signal that Jehovah’s Witnesses were traitors who might be linked to a network of Nazi spies and saboteurs.
In Imperial, a town outside Pittsburgh, a mob descended on a small group of Witnesses and pummeled them mercilessly.
In Rockville, Md., Witnesses were assaulted across the street from the police station, while officers stood and watched.By the end of the year, the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that 1,500 Witnesses had been assaulted in 335 separate attacks.The reversal of Gobitis in Barnette just three years later was remarkably swift considering the typical pace of deliberations in the Supreme Court.In the wake of all the violence against Witnesses, three Supreme Court justices—William O.He even claimed Social Security numbers were the “mark of the beast” foretold in Revelations.
The Catholic Church, said Rutherford, was a “racket,” and Protestants and Jews were “great simpletons,” taken in by the Catholic hierarchy to “carry on her commercial, religious traffic and increase her revenues.” Complaints about unwelcome public proselytizing by Witnesses led to frequent run-ins with state and local authorities and hundreds of appearances in lower courts.But in Nazi Germany, no group was too small to escape the eye of new chancellor Adolf Hitler, who banned the Witnesses after they refused to show their fealty to him with the mandatory “Heil Hitler” raised-arm salute.(Many Witnesses would later perish in his death camps.) In response, Rutherford praised the German Witnesses and advised all of his followers to refuse to participate in any oaths of allegiance that violated (in his view) the Second Commandment: “Thou shall have no Gods before me.” With conflict looming around the world in the 1930s, many states enacted flag salute requirements, especially in schools.The Court rejected the Witnesses’ claim, holding that the secular interests of the school district in fostering patriotism were paramount.In the majority opinion, written during the same month that France fell to the Nazis, Felix Frankfurter wrote: “National unity is the basis of national security.” The plaintiffs, said Frankfurter, were free to “fight out the wise use of legislative authority in the forum of public opinion and before legislative assemblies.” In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Harlan Stone argued that “constitutional guarantees or personal liberty are not always absolutes…but it is a long step, and one which I am unwilling to take, that government may, as a supposed educational measure…compel public affirmations which violate their public conscience.” Further, said Stone, the prospect of help for this “small and helpless minority” by the political process was so remote that Frankfurter had effectively “surrendered…the liberty of small minorities to the popular will.” Public reaction to Gobitis bordered on hysteria, colored by the hotly debated prospect of American participation in the war in Europe.The Witnesses insisted that God’s law demanded they refrain from all pledges of allegiance to earthly governments.