FIRE Celebrates Anniversary of Barnette Opinion

By June 14, 2006

Today marks the 63rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). Oft-cited by FIRE, Justice Jackson’s majority opinion lyrically and forcefully articulated, during the darkest period of World War II, the rights to freedom of speech, religion, and conscience for all Americans.

So declared Justice Jackson:

Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

And, just as presciently:

[F]reedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

I implore all readers of this blog to reread (or read for the first time) Justice Jackson’s majority decision. It is magisterial. And it serves as a lodestar for all those seeking liberty—especially those seeking liberty on America’s campuses.