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Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

268 U.S. 510 (1925)

Facts of the Case:

Petitioners challenged Oregon’s Compulsory Education Act that required parents of children between the ages of eight and sixteen to send their child “to a public school for the period of time a public school shall be held during the current year.” The Society of Sisters operated schools that gave students moral training according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The act led to students withdrawing from the religious schools- costing it a portion of its income.


The Court enjoined Oregon from enforcing the Compulsory Education Act because doing so would cause irreparable harm to the primary schools operated by religious organizations.

Majority Opinion: (Justice McReynolds)

Enforcement of the Compulsory Education Act would lead to the destruction of the petitioners primary schools. These schools serve a valuable function in their communities. The Act “unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” In order to impose such limitations on the choices of parents, the state must be furthering a legitimate interest. Such is not the case in this instance as uniformity of children appears to be the only end served.


This decision asserts the importance of allowing parents to greatly influence their children’s upbringing. By forcing parents to send their children to public schools, their authority as guardians was unreasonably restricted.


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