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Wisconsin v. Yoder

Citation. 406 U.S. 205, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs challenged convictions under Wisconsin compulsory school attendance law, arguing it violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Laws which impermissibly interfere with true religious beliefs are unconstitutional under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment provided the public interest in enforcing the law is not otherwise burdened.

Facts.

Plaintiffs were members of the Amish religious sect and residents of the state of Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, it was required children attend school until age 16. Because of their religious tenets, Plaintiffs refused to send their school-aged children to school. They believed it would expose themselves to censure of their church community as well as endanger their own salvations. Plaintiffs were convicted under the Wisconsin statute. Plaintiffs challenged their convictions, arguing the statute violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Issue.

Whether members of a religious community can be compelled to attend school under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Held.

No. Members of a religious community cannot be compelled to attend school under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Dissent.

Justice Douglas

The Court’s analysis assumes that the only interests at stake are those of the parents and those of the state. What about the children? The matter should be reversed, so new hearing can be held.

Concurrence.

Justice Stewart

This case in no way involves questions regarding the right of the children of Amish parents to attend public high schools, if they wish to do so. The Court does not distinguish between the interests of the children versus their parents.

Justice White

Cases like this call for delicate balancing. I join the Court because of the sincerity of the Amish religious policy here, which is uncontested.

Discussion.

The unchallenged testimony of acknowledged education and religious history experts demonstrate the state’s requirement of compulsory formal education after eighth grade would gravely endanger if not destroy the free exercise of Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs. As such, Wisconsin’s interest in compelling the school attendance of Amish children is less substantial than children generally.

It is also clear that intrusion by a state into family decisions in the area of religious training would give rise to grave questions of religious freedom, which we need not decide here. Judgement affirmed.


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