Saturday, April 29, 2017

Y is for Yoder

Wisconsin v. Yoder 
[May 15, 1972, decided 7-0]

Three Amish families were prosecuted under a Wisconsin law that required all children to attend school until age 16. The three families had no objection to formal education through the eighth grade, but refused to send their children to an organized school after the eighth grade, arguing that high school attendance was contrary to their religious beliefs.  After eighth grade, Amish children are taught vocational skills by their families.

Under Amish church standards, higher education is deemed unnecessary for their simple way of life, and the “values” taught in public high school endanger their salvation.  The families requested exemption from compulsory education because of these religious convictions. They sincerely held the belief that the values and the vocational education their children would learn at home would surpass the worldly knowledge taught in school.

The State of Wisconsin made two arguments. First, some degree of education is necessary to prepare citizens to participate effectively and intelligently in society, especially voting. Second, education prepares individuals to be self-reliant and self-sufficient.

The Court held that an individual's interests in the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed the State's interests in compelling school attendance beyond the eighth grade.   The evidence presented did not prove that an additional one or two years of formal high school would serve the interests of the state.

Pierce, Governor of Oregon, et al. v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

[June 1, 1925, decided 9-0]

An Oregon statute, enacted primarily to target Catholic schools, required all children ages 8-16 to attend public school.  The Society of Sisters was a private Catholic school.

The Supreme Court ruled that children were not "the mere creatures of the state" and the traditional American understanding of the term “liberty” prevented the state from forcing students to accept instruction only from public schools. While the state has the right to ensure that children receive a proper education, this responsibility belonged to the child's parents or guardians, and the ability to make such a choice was a "liberty" protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The unanimous Court held that "the fundamental liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only."  Thus, private schools, and home schools, are valid educational options.

This decision marked the start of the Supreme Court's recognition that due process protected individual liberties.  As time has progressed, this liberty has been expanded to include the right to marry, to have children, to marital privacy, to have an abortion, and others.

Did you guess right?
Tomorrow is the last day of the A to Z Challenge!  Here's Sunday's hint - Z is for Zelman.  Can you guess the case and what it's about?  Leave a comment!


  1. Ah yes, I've grown up knowing a lot of Amish and Mennonite kids who didn't go past 8th grade. I've come to the conclusion that if a kid wants to learn, they will no matter if they're in school or not, and if a kid doesn't want to, they won't, no matter if they're in school or not. :)

    Visiting from the A to Z Challenge. See my “Y” post here:

    1. That's very true. Kids who want to learn will learn. Those who don't, won't.

  2. Replies
    1. Yes, sometimes a ruling will actually make sense =)

  3. When I first came into public office in 1988 we were embroiled in a lawsuit with a local school district over tax collections. During a negotiation, one of the school board members told me that no child needed any education beyond eighth grade. Can you say OMG? And religion had nothing to do with it.

  4. Just goes to show you how many areas a SMALL thing can affect, I guess...

    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter Z

    1. Altho I would never deem a Supreme Court decision as "small", I see your point. We never know when something seemingly small will have a large impact, even unexpectedly.

  5. The Supremes go 2-for-2 through the Y section. Zelman sounds familiar to me, so I bet I'm gonna recognize it once I read it, but I can wager a guess off the top of my head right now.

    1. 2 for 2 huh? Not bad. Good luck with your bet! Let's see how you did =)