After the 1940 court case of Minersville School District vs. Gobitis, the state of West Virginia required all schools to salute teh flag as a sign of patriotism and to increase awareness of the american government. In the Minersville case, William and Lillian Gobitis, two Jehova's Witnesses, refused to salute the flag as part of their religious beliefs. The court, however, felt that this was a weakness to the nation's unity and inforced a stricter law.
This law stated that any person who refused to salute the flag would face immediate expulsion and they would be considered "illegally absent" until the school allowed them back. Parents and students could also be subjected to large fines, jail time, and ridicule.
The West Virginia School Board vs. Barnette is very similiar to the Gobitis case. As in the previous case, the Barnette case also had two young Jehova's Witnesses who refused to salute the flag. Jehova's Witnesses believe that "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them." (Ex 20:4-5) By saluting the flag they are worshiping an inanimate object, contrary to their religious beliefs. The school board saw this a failure to follow the state's laws. The case was taken to the Supreme Court due to the fact that it challenged the ruling in the Gobitis> Case.