Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities.
Students' father brought suit on their behalf after the students were expelled for refusing to participate in a flag-salute ceremony at school. The father maintained that the students' religious beliefs as Jehovah's witnesses did not permit them to participate in the flag-salute ceremony. The district court enjoined the petitioner from expelling the students. On certiorari, the Court reversed the order.
Did the requirement that the students participate in the flag ceremony, where their refusal to participate was based on religious grounds, infringe the due process right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal constitution?
In analyzing the case, the Court considered that the state legislature, instead of the school district, had directed the students to salute the national flag without any exemption for religious beliefs. The Court concluded that the courtroom was not the proper arena for debating issues of educational policy. The Court reasoned that the state legislature had as much of a role in protecting liberty as the courts did. We are dealing with an interest inferior to none in the hierarchy of legal values. National unity is the basis of national security. To deny the legislature the right to select appropriate means for its attainment presents a totally different order of problem from that of the propriety of subordinating the possible ugliness of littered streets to the free expression of opinion through distribution of handbills.