The State has the power to impose reasonable regulations for the control and duration of basic education. Previous precedent has held that this power must yield to the right of parents to provide an equivalent education in a privately operated system. The State’s power is subject to a balancing test when it impinges on fundamental rights such as those protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the traditional interest of parents with respect to the religious upbringing of their children.
In order for Wisconsin to compel such attendance, it must follow that either the State does not deny the free exercise of religious belief by its requirement or that there is a state interest of sufficient magnitude to override the interest claiming protection under the Free Exercise Clause. This Court determines that the Amish objection to the attendance is rooted in religious beliefs that directly conflict with the compulsory school attendance law.
The State advances two arguments. First, it notes that some degree of education is necessary to prepare citizens to participate effectively and intelligently in our open political system. Second, education prepares individuals to be self-reliant and self-sufficient participants in society. We accept these propositions. However, the evidence adduced shows that an additional one or two years of formal high school would do little to serve those interests. Such education may be necessary for preparation for the modern society in which we live, but is not for the separated agrarian community of the Amish faith.
The State attacks respondents’ position as fostering ignorance from which children must be protected by the State. However, the record shows that the Amish community has been a highly successful social unit within our society, producing productive and law-abiding citizens. The State also supports its position on the possibility that some children will choose to leave the Amish community. This argument is highly speculative on the record, and the practical agricultural training and habits of industry would support children that did choose to leave.
The requirement for compulsory high school education is a fairly recent development, designed to not only provide educational opportunities, but also to avoid child labor or forced idleness. In these terms, Wisconsin’s interest in compelling school attendance is less substantial for Amish children than for children generally.
The State finally argues that exempting the Amish children fails to recognize the children’s substantive right to a secondary education, giving due regard to the power of the State as parens patriae. On this record there is no need to decide an issue in which the Amish parent’s are preventing children who wish to further their education from attending school.