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Lillian Gobitas Klose, Schoolgirl at Center of Historic 1940 Supreme Court Case, Dies at 90

Lillian Gobitas Klose, Schoolgirl at Center of Historic 1940 Supreme Court Case, Dies at 90

NEW YORK—Lillian Gobitas Klose, whose personal decision not to salute the flag placed her in the center of a landmark United States Supreme Court case, died in her home in Fayetteville, Georgia on August 22, 2014. She was 90 years of age.

William Henry Gobitas (far left), Walter Gobitas, and Lillian Gobitas after the children were expelled from school for not saluting the flag in 1935.

Letter that Lillian Gobitas wrote to the Minersville School Board in 1935, defending her faith.

Lillian Gobitas and her younger brother William, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, personally decided to stop saluting the flag after hearing a national radio broadcast on October 6, 1935, that focused on Biblical commands against idolatry. A few weeks later they were expelled from school for their stand. Their father, Walter, filed suit to protect the rights of his children and won in the local courts. The school board appealed to the Supreme Court and on June 3, 1940, the resulting court case, Minersville School District v. Gobitis (the family name was misspelled in the court records), was decided against the Gobitases. Three years later, on Flag Day, June 14, 1943, the Supreme Court overturned the 1940 Gobitis ruling, in its decision of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, allowing Witness children to return to school. This marked the first time in U.S. history that the Supreme Court reversed itself in such a short period of time.

Lillian Gobitas was born in Minersville, Pennsylvania, to Walter and Ruth Gobitas on November 2, 1923. She was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses on March 14, 1935. At the age of 20, Ms. Gobitas became a full-time Bible instructor (referred to by Witnesses as a regular pioneer) and later worked at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, from February 1946 to April 1953.

Lillian and her husband, Erwin Klose, as missionaries in Vienna, Austria, in 1954.

While attending conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Europe in 1951, Ms. Gobitas met Erwin Klose at the Witnesses’ branch office in Germany. They continued their acquaintance while Mr. Klose attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, the Witnesses’ missionary school, held in South Lansing, New York. He graduated in 1952 and accepted an assignment to Vienna, Austria. Ms. Gobitas also graduated from the Witnesses’ missionary school in February 1954.

On March 24, 1954, she and Mr. Klose were married in Vienna and continued missionary work together in Austria. They returned to the United States at the end of that year due to the deteriorating health of Mr. Klose, who was still suffering the effects of the brutal treatment he received in a Nazi concentration camp for being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They later had two children, Stephen Paul and Judith Deborah. In 1967, the Klose family moved to Riverdale, Georgia where they expanded their Bible education ministry as a family.

Ms. Gobitas Klose is survived by her daughter, Judith Klose; two sisters, Jeanne Fry and Grace Reinisch; and a brother Paul Gobitas. She was preceded in death by her husband, her parents, her brother William Gobitas, her sister Joy Yubeta, and her son, Stephen Paul Klose.

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