Three Amish families sued the state of Wisconsin over its requirement that children be enrolled in school until the age of sixteen. The parents refused to comply by removing their children from school after they completed the eighth grade and were convicted of violating the law. The families claimed that their rights to freely exercising their religion were not being respected. The Wisconsin Supreme Court found in favor of the Amish parents.
The Supreme Court agreed by a vote of with the lower court that Wisconsin's law violated the families' rights to free exercise of religion. The vote was six and a half to one-half with Justices Powell and Rehnquist not participating.
|Majority Opinion: (Chief Justice Burger)|
The Amish have a legitimate reason for removing their children from school prior to their attending high school. The qualities emphasized higher education (self-distinction, competitiveness, scientific accomplishment, etc.) are contrary to Amish values. Additionally, attendance in high school hinders the Amish community by depriving them of the labor of their children and limiting their ability to instill appropriate values in their adolescents. A state's interest in universal education must be balanced against the legitimate claims of special groups of people. The State cites two interests in compulsory education: to create a citizenry to participate in our political system and to prepare self-supportive people. The Court agrees with the Amish that an additional one or two years of education will not significantly affect either of these interests.
The Court's decision prevented states from asserting an absolute right to institute compulsive high school education. By preventing parents from removing their children from school, the State in intruding into the family and preventing them from instilling their faiths in their children.
Copyright © The Religious Freedom Page.