The December 1941 firing of seven Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass plant in Clarksburg, West Virginia, resulted in an extremely rare use of administrative law to expand legal protections of religious liberty. The case is also an example of the tenacity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in using the legal system to advance religious freedom. The seven refused to participate in union-sponsored, flag-salute ceremonies at the plant. That resulted in their firing, when union truckers refused to accept glass the seven Jehovah’s Witnesses produced.
Paul Schmidt, one of the seven, requested assistance from Eleanor Roosevelt, who referred his letter to the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practices. In April 1942, a committee investigator visited West Virginia to investigate the charges. In August, Schmidt traveled to Washington and entreated the committee to take action. On November 24, in the case identified as ‘‘In the matter of seven Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company’’ the committee ruled in the workers’ favor but suspended the ruling pending the glass company’s response. On December 24, the committee ordered that the workers be reinstated with full seniority. They finally returned to work on March 2, 1943, after the committee had obtained assurances from the unions to prevent their harassment on the job.
This Article was written by Chuck Smith
Smith, Chuck. Paul Schmidt: A Workingman's Tenacious Pursuit of Religious Liberty. Journal of Law and Religion, (1999-2000).
Smith, Chuck. War Fever and Religious Fervor: The Firing of Jehovah's Witnesses Glassworkers in West Virginia and Administrative Protection of Religious Liberty. American Journal of Legal History, (1999).
Smith, Chuck. "West Virginia Jehovah's Witnesses and the Expansion of Legal Protection for Religious Liberty," in James R. Forrester, ed, Government and Politics in West Virginia. Boston: Pearson Custom Pub., 2000.