The Stone Court (1941–46)

First Amendment

Did the Stone Court uphold a state law that made it a crime to urge people not to salute the flag?

No, the Stone Court ruled in Taylor v. Mississippi (1943) that the state of Mississippi could not imprison people who urged others not to support the U.S. government and salute the flag. The case involved three Jehovah’s Witnesses—R. E. Taylor, Betty Benoit, and a man named Cummings—who allegedly urged others not to salute the American flag. The state law in question provided that those who engaged in conduct that “reasonably tends to create an attitude of stubborn refusal to salute, honor or respect the flag or government of the United States. shall be guilty of a felony” and could be imprisoned for up to ten years.

Taylor allegedly told several women, whose sons were killed in World War II, that they should oppose the war effort. Benoit allegedly distributed a religious pamphlet that counseled against saluting the flag and Cummings allegedly distributed a book, called The Children, that contained a passage against flag salutes. All three were convicted in Mississippi state courts.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the convictions. It reasoned that if a state cannot force individuals to salute the flag, then it also cannot punish individuals for encouraging others not to salute the flag: “If the state cannot constrain one to violate his conscientious religious conviction by saluting the national emblem, then certainly it cannot punish him for imparting his views on the subject to his fellows and exhorting them to accept those views.”


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