Flag Salutes and Other Compelled Speech.

One question that has arisen is whether the government may compel a person to publicly declare or affirm a personal belief. In Minersville School District v. Gobitis,569 the Court had upheld the power of Pennsylvania to expel from its schools certain children—Jehovah’s Witnesses— who refused upon religious grounds to join in a flag salute ceremony and recite the pledge of allegiance. “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.”570 But three years later, in West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette,571 a six-to-three majority of the Court overturned Gobitis.572 Justice Jackson, writing for the Court, chose to ignore the religious argument and to ground the decision upon freedom of speech. The state policy, he said, constituted “a compulsion of students to declare a belief. . . . It requires the individual to communicate by word and sign his acceptance of the political ideas [the flag] bespeaks.”573 The power of a state to follow a policy that “requires affirmation of a belief and an attitude of mind,” however, is limited by the First Amendment, which, under the standard then prevailing, required the state to prove that for the students to remain passive during the ritual “creates a clear and present danger that would justify an effort even to muffle expression.”574

The rationale of Barnette became the basis for the Court’s decision in Wooley v. Maynard,575 which voided a requirement by the state of New Hampshire that motorists display passenger vehicle license plates bearing the motto “Live Free or Die.”576 Acting on the complaint of a Jehovah’s Witness, the Court held that the plaintiff could not be compelled by the state to display a message making an ideological statement on his private property. In a subsequent case, however, the Court found that compelling property owners to facilitate the speech of others by providing access to their property did not violate the First Amendment.577 Nor was there a constitutional violation where compulsory fees were used to subsidize the speech of others.578

Other governmental efforts to compel speech have also been held by the Supreme Court to violate the First Amendment; these include a North Carolina statute that required professional fundraisers for charities to disclose to potential donors the gross percentage of revenues retained in prior charitable solicitations,579 a Florida statute that required newspapers to grant political candidates equal space to reply to the newspapers’ criticism and attacks on their records,580 an Ohio statute that prohibited the distribution of anonymous campaign literature,581 and a Massachusetts statute that required private citizens who organized a parade to include among the marchers a group imparting a message—in this case support for gay rights—that the organizers did not wish to convey.582

The principle of Barnette, however, does not extend so far as to bar a government from requiring of its employees or of persons seeking professional licensing or other benefits an oath generally but not precisely based on the oath required of federal officers, which is set out in the Constitution, that the taker of the oath will uphold and defend the Constitution.583 It is not at all clear, however, to what degree the government is limited in probing the sincerity of the person taking the oath.584

By contrast, the Supreme Court has found no First Amendment violation when government compels disclosures in commercial speech, or when it compels the labeling of foreign political propaganda. Regarding compelled disclosures in commercial speech, the Court held that an advertiser’s “constitutionally protected interest in not providing any particular factual information in his advertising is minimal. . . . [A]n advertiser’s rights are reasonably protected as long as disclosure requirements are reasonably related to the State’s interest in preventing deception of consumers. . . . The right of a commercial speaker not to divulge accurate information regarding his services is not . . . a fundamental right.”585 Regarding compelled labeling of foreign political propaganda, the Court upheld a provision of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 that required that, when an agent of a foreign principal seeks to disseminate foreign “political propaganda,” he must label such material with certain information, including his identity, the principal’s identity, and the fact that he has registered with the Department of Justice. The Court found that “Congress did not prohibit, edit, or restrain the distribution of advocacy materials. . . . To the contrary, Congress simply required the disseminators of such material to make additional disclosures that would better enable the public to evaluate the import of the propaganda.”586


310 U.S. 586 (1940). back
310 U.S. at 594. Justice Stone alone dissented, arguing that the First Amendment religion and speech clauses forbade coercion of “these children to express a sentiment which, as they interpret it, they do not entertain, and which violates their deepest religious convictions.” Id. at 601. back
319 U.S. 624 (1943). back
Justice Frankfurter dissented at some length, denying that the First Amendment authorized the Court “to deny to the State of West Virginia the attainment of that which we all recognize as a legitimate legislative end, namely, the promotion of good citizenship, by employment of the means here chosen.” 319 U.S. at 646, 647. Justices Roberts and Reed simply noted their continued adherence to Gobitis. Id. at 642. back
319 U.S. at 631, 633. back
319 U.S. at 633, 634. back
430 U.S. 705 (1977). back
The state had prosecuted vehicle owners who covered the motto on their vehicle’s license plate. back
As to the question of whether one can be required to allow others to speak on his property, compare the Court’s opinion in PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 85–88 (1980) (upholding a state requirement that privately owned shopping centers permit others to engage in speech or petitioning on their property) with Justice Powell’s concurring opinion in the same case, id. at 96 (would limit the holding to situations where a property owner did not feel compelled to disassociate themselves from the permitted speech). back
The First Amendment does not preclude a public university from charging its students an activity fee that is used to support student organizations that engage in extracurricular speech, provided that the money is allocated to those groups by use of viewpoint-neutral criteria. Board of Regents of the Univ. of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217 (2000) (upholding fee except to the extent a student referendum substituted majority determinations for viewpoint neutrality in allocating funds). Nor does the First Amendment preclude the government from “compel[ling] financial contributions that are used to fund advertising,” provided that such contributions do not finance “political or ideological” views. Glickman v. Wileman Bros. & Elliott, Inc., 521 U.S. 457, 471, 472 (1997) (upholding Secretary of Agriculture’s marketing orders that assessed fruit producers to cover the expenses of generic advertising of California fruit). But, for compelled financial contributions to be constitutional, the advertising they fund must be, as in Glickman, “ancillary to a more comprehensive program restricting marketing autonomy” and not “the principal object of the regulatory scheme.” United States v. United Foods, Inc., 533 U.S. 405, 411, 412 (2001) (striking down Secretary of Agriculture’s mandatory assessments, used for advertising, upon handlers of fresh mushrooms). The First Amendment is, however, not violated when the government compels financial contributions to fund government speech, even if the contributions are raised through a targeted assessment rather than through general taxes. Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Ass’n, 544 U.S. 550 (2005). back
Riley v. National Fed’n of the Blind of North Carolina, 487 U.S. 781 (1988). In Illinois ex rel. Madigan v. Telemarketing Assocs., Inc., 538 U.S. 600, 605 (2003), the Supreme Court held that a fundraiser who has retained 85 percent of gross receipts from donors, but falsely represented that “a significant amount of each dollar donated would be paid over to” a charitable organization, could be sued for fraud. back
Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 (1974). In Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Comm’n, 475 U.S. 1 (1986), a Court plurality held that a state could not require a privately owned utility company to include in its billing envelopes views of a consumer group with which it disagrees. back
McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995). back
Hurley v. Irish-American Gay Group, 514 U.S. 334 (1995). back
Cole v. Richardson, 405 U.S. 676 (1972); Connell v. Higginbotham, 403 U.S. 207 (1971); Bond v. Floyd, 385 U.S. 116 (1966); Knight v. Board of Regents, 269 F. Supp. 339 (S.D.N.Y. 1967) (three-judge court), aff’d, 390 U.S. 36 (1968); Hosack v. Smiley, 276 F. Supp. 876 (C.D. Colo. 1967) (three-judge court), aff’d, 390 U.S. 744 (1968); Ohlson v. Phillips, 304 F. Supp. 1152 (C.D. Colo. 1969) (three-judge court), aff’d, 397 U.S. 317 (1970); Law Students Civil Rights Research Council v. Wadmond, 401 U.S. 154, 161 (1971); Fields v. Askew, 279 So. 2d 822 (Fla. 1973), aff’d per curiam, 414 U.S. 1148 (1974). back
Compare Bond v. Floyd, 385 U.S. 116 (1966), with Law Students Civil Rights Research Council v. Wadmond, 401 U.S. 154 (1971). back
Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626, 651, 652 n.14 (1985). See Milavetz, Gallop, & Milavetz v. United States, 559 U.S. ___, No. 08–1119 (2010), slip op. at 19–23 (requiring advertisement for certain “debt relief ” businesses to disclose that the services offered include bankruptcy assistance). back
Meese v. Keene, 481 U.S. 465, 480 (1987). back