Against the ‘Coercive Elimination of Dissent’

Yet the Barnette court rightly rejected the Gobitis demand for national cohesion at the expense of the First Amendment. As Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote for the majority in Barnette, “to sustain the compulsory flag salute we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individual’s right to speak his own mind, left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind.” Even in times of global war against aggressive fascism, Jackson explained, the First Amendment was paramount. Why? Because “those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

The Gobitis decision led to increased and intense persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, an error that was corrected only by the decision in Barnette. And the world would soon see the devastating result of such “unanimity” on black-and-white newsreels.

Today, in their zeal to press a popular political agenda, aggressive though well-meaning government officials can do great damage to the Bill of Rights. Popular opinion may not be on the side of people like our clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein, but the Constitution protects their right to differ.

Read the entire commentary, co-authored with Michael Berry, at NationalReview.com.

Jeremiah DysComment