In the 1930s, some Jehovah's Witnesses felt it was contrary to their principles to salute or pledge allegiance to the US flag. Their children were expelled from school for insubordination. One parent, Walter Gobitas, sued the school district. At first he won, but the case was appealed several times and reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that school districts could compel students to salute the flag. From the decision:
The preciousness of the family relation, the authority and independence which give dignity to parenthood, indeed the enjoyment of all freedom, presuppose the kind of ordered society which is summarized by our flag. A society which is dedicated to the preservation of these ultimate values of civilization may, in self-protection, utilize the educational process for inculcating those almost unconscious feelings which bind men together in a comprehending loyalty, whatever may be their lesser differences and difficulties.The decision was followed by increased violence toward Jehovah's Witnesses. A mob of 2500 people burned one of their halls in Maine. The ACLU reported that Witnesses were physically attacked in over 300 communities. A Southern sheriff, asked why Witnesses were being run out of his town, said, "They're traitors; the Supreme Court says so. Ain't you heard?"
The Supreme Court took up the question again only three years later and ruled the other way. They said that anyone was free not to salute the flag, not just those who chose not to out of religious conviction. From the decision:
National unity as an end which officials may foster by persuasion and example is not in question. The problem is whether under our Constitution compulsion as here employed is a permissible means for its achievement.What a difference three years made.
Looking back at the public school education I got in the 1960s and '70s, the inculcation of patriotism was pervasive. Not only did we say the Pledge of Allegiance every day, but my first music teacher had us sing patriotic songs, everything from My Country, 'Tis of Thee (which they never told us was the melody of God Save the Queen with different lyrics) to the Marines' Hymn.
We sang the Marines' Hymn when we were about seven years old. They didn't tell us that the first line in the lyrics ("From the halls of Montezuma") is crowing about a war the US waged to take a big swath of territory from Mexico, or that the next line (to the shores of Tripoli) refers to a war fought for a better cause (putting pirates from the Barbary States out of business). The darker and lighter sides of our military history: material for an interesting discussion, if perhaps not one that seven-year-olds were ready for.