Wisconsin V. Yoder
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Background info:

-Three Amish families are charged with violating a Wisconsin compulsory school-attendance law requiring children to attend public or private school until the age of 16.

-Amish families refused to send children to school after completing the eighth grade on the pretext that high school would convey values contrary to "Amish values and Amish way of life". The environment would place "Amish children in an environment hostile to Amish beliefs and the Amish way of life" and take them away "physically and emotionally during the crucial and formative adolescent period of life".

-Amish argued that the law forcing their children to attend high school violates their rights under the 1st and 14th amendments.  

-Court affirms. 


-Derivative argument: "Pierce v. Society of Sisters" stipulated the right of parents to provide an equivalent education  in a privately operated system. A precedent was set that compelling attendance could unreasonably interfere with the interests of the parents in directing how to raise their children. As long as the parents "prepare them for additional obligations".

-The only way the state could compel attendance is if it does so without breeching freedom of religion and there needs to be a major state interest at stake.

II QUESTION: Is the Amish religion separable from the Amish mode of life?

-you can't have a society where people are allowed to abstain from whatever law they want based on subjective rejection of contemporary secular values.

-Court was given unchallenged testimony that Amish religion "pervades and determines virtually their entire way of life".

-This unchallenged testimony by acknowledged experts + 300 years of consistent practice = the court's upholding of the notion that compulsory formal education would endanger if not destroy the "free exercise of respondent's beliefs".

 III Question: Is there freedom of religious action?

- "Reynolds v. US" = people's actions, even when religiously based, are often subject to regulation by the state on the way to promoting health, saftey, and general welfare.

- But the fact that a free exercise clause exists in the 1st amendment means there are areas of "religiously grounded conduct" that are beyond state control.

-Consequential argument: It is possible that a seemingly neutral regulation may inadvertently put an undue burden on the free exercise of religion. Exceptions from general obligation laws based on religious grounds may offend the establishment clause, but that danger can't be used to prevent the more central value of free exercise. ="tight rope"

-Two arguments by the state for major interest: 1) Education is necessary to prepare citizens to participate in the political system and thus protect freedom. 2) Education prepares individuals to be self-sufficient  and self reliant.

-But value of education should be assessed in terms of its capacity to prepare the child for life. If that life is meant to be Amish, than public school is a harm.

-Congress recognized autonomy of the Amish by already exempting them from social security taxes.

-antiperfectionist argument: "there can be no assumption that today's majority is right and the Amish and others like them are wrong". a way of lie that is odd but doesn't interfere with the rights and interests of others cannot be condemed by the state. (low track record of Amish law violations).

Question: would an Amish who left the religion with an unfinished education be a burden to the state.

-There is no evidence that Amish children leaving the Amish community would be a burden to the state.

-There is no evidence that two more years of compulsory schooling would make a difference in that regard.

Question: does putting Amish children to work in the fields rather than sending them to school violate child labor laws.

-Employment of children under parental guidance on a farm has never been associated with child labor.

-Amish employment of their children on family farms isn't harmful to their health and they aren't being exploited.


Question: What happens if the child doesn't want to be Amish?

-sidestepped. The case doesn't involve the parents.

-"Pierce" =parents can direct religious upbringing

-"prince vs Massachusetts". =parental power can only be limited if their decisions will jeopardize health and safety of child, or have the potential for significant social burdens.

Stewart + Brennan Concurring

-Wisconsin tried to assign criminal action to religious beliefs which was unconstitutional.

-One of the girls testified that it was her own religious beliefs that stopped her from wanting to attend high school.


-two more years of compulsory education doesn't out weight the importance of perpetuating a sincere religious practice.

-Children provided with basic learning and literacy which is enough.

-While the state would have an interest in training those who would wish to leave the Amish faith, no evidence is given why they couldn't acquire that education after they do.

Douglass dissenting:

I Question: can parents preside over their children's right to free exercise?

-The children's rights WERE involved in the case since their parents invoked their religious interests as a defense AND because "no analysis of religious-liberty claims can take place in a vacuum".

-antiperfectionist argument: Parents can't make choices for children mature enough to "express potentially conflicting desires".  

-Religion is an individual experience. it was fine to affirm in the case of the girl Yoder who expressed her own religious views, but the other two children should have another hearing.  

II Question What rights do children have?

-children are persons withing the meaning of the bill of rights.

-"It is the student's judgment, not his parents, that is essential".


-Good track record with legal violations is  irrelevant.

-The court rightly rejects the notion that religiously grounded actions are outside the protection of the free exercise clause.  

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