Students Participate in National History Day
THE phone calls began to come in to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York in April of 1991. They were from young people doing research projects about the Witnesses.
Each year in the United States, as part of the National History Day program, students from grades 6 through 12 enter school-sponsored contests related to an annual theme. This year’s theme, “Rights in History,” has to do with the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Bill of Rights. A list of related information was provided to assist students in selecting a topic to develop.
Some 500,000 students participated in seven contest categories. Of interest to Jehovah’s Witnesses were the entries of some eighth graders who were ultimately their states’ winners and who later made their presentations in Washington, D.C.
Two 14-year-old girls from Pennsylvania, Nicole DiSalvo and Gwen Naglak, who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, chose two flag-salute cases that involved the Witnesses in the 1940’s. In their research, they spoke with those involved in the Minersville School District v. Gobitis and West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette cases, and they visited the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses to learn more about the Witnesses’ beliefs.*
An Oral Presentation
Nicole presented an oral performance entitled “The Courage to Sit Down.” She portrayed Lillian Gobitas and brought the feelings and courage of the school-age Lillian to life as she related Lillian’s personal decision not to salute the flag in the face of ostracism from her schoolmates. She conveyed Lillian’s joy at winning each step in the legal process that led to the Supreme Court in 1940. Putting on a black robe to portray a justice of the Supreme Court, she delivered the Court’s opinion against Miss Gobitas. Although the case was lost, Nicole conveyed Lillian’s conviction that her decision was the right one for her.
A Written Presentation
Gwen Naglak’s paper, “One Nation Under God,” analyzed the world situation as it was in 1935 and the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to salute the flag. The reader feels the effect of this when first William, 10, and then Lillian, 12, were expelled from school.
In the court cases that followed their expulsion in Pennsylvania, all the judges decided in favor of the Gobitas family. However, the school board took the case to the Supreme Court. There, on June 3, 1940, the Court ruled against the Gobitases. One result was that thousands of abuses were heaped upon Jehovah’s Witnesses. Gwen then traced events to the Supreme Court decision in 1943, when the Court reversed the 1940 decision.
In her conclusion, Gwen wrote: “I admire Lillian and William for having the courage to do what they felt was right and fight for their beliefs. In my eyes, they are the ones who truly love their country.”
A Group Performance
“A Divine Command, a Constitutional Right,” was the title of a group performance by two other eighth graders, Robert Young and Stacey Wright, from Virginia, both Jehovah’s Witnesses. Robert portrayed a newspaper reporter interviewing Lillian Gobitas, portrayed by Stacey.
Robert and Stacey, with parental supervision, traveled over 2,500 miles [4,000 km] seeking information for their project. Among other facts, their research revealed that the flag salute in the United States originated during the 19th century. And they were surprised to discover that George Washington opposed oaths of allegiance to one’s country.
All these young people came to appreciate more fully the words of Professor C. S. Braden, who, in his book These Also Believe, said about Jehovah’s Witnesses: “They have performed a signal service to democracy by their fight to preserve their civil rights, for in their struggle they have done much to secure those rights for every minority group in America.”
See footnotes on page 23.