Faith and the Flag

A letter written by 10-year-old William Gobitas

A letter written by 10-year-old William (“Billy”) Gobitas to the Minersville, Pa., school directors explaining why his faith did not allow him to salute the flag. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division/Courtesy the Gobitas family)

In 1935, Billy Gobitas refused to recite the pledge of allegiance, stating his religion did not allow the support of “graven images.” His teacher tried to pull the ten-year-old’s hand out of his pocket; a test of his First Amendment rights. He wrote a letter to his school, and it later became a major case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today, religious freedom is still ever present in the news. On June 25, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, based in Jacksonville, Fla., awarded the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute a $200,000 grant.

The grant will help support the launch of the “Religious Leadership in a Pluralistic Democracy” initiative, a learning curriculum designed to educate emerging and current religious leaders about the principles of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 75-student program — the first of its kind — will begin in Spring 2016 and will feature a combination of online video courses, forums and on-site workshops at the Newseum. The class will consist of adult learners who are enrolled in an accredited graduate theological program or who currently are serving a religious community. Students who complete the four courses in the program will earn a Certificate of Religion in Public Life.

“We are proud to support the work of the Religious Freedom Center of the ,” said Cheryl Tupper, vice president for programs, religion and health care at The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, in a press release. “The blended learning curriculum on religious freedom and religion in American public life is poised to equip leaders with an understanding of the First Amendment so that they can foster mutual respect for religious beliefs and traditions.”

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