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Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)

Members of the Old Order Amish and Mennonite religions ran afoul of Wisconsin’s compulsory education law when, for religious reasons, they withdrew their children from public schools after the 8th grade. Three families brought suit, arguing the compulsory education law violated their right to freely exercise their religion.

Whether the state’s interest in educating citizens outweighs the religious freedom of parents to raise their children according to the dictates of their faith.

By a vote of 6-2 (two justices did not participate), the Court ruled that the state’s interest in educating children past the 8th grade does not outweigh the religious freedom of parents under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The Court was convinced that requiring Amish and Mennonite children to attend school past the 8th grade would substantially burden their religious freedom. The Court also found that the religious groups in question provided a support structure for members of their community that did not require education past the 8th grade. This addressed the state’s concern that inadequately educated persons could eventually become a drain on the rest of society.

"Thus, a State's interest in universal education, however highly we rank it, is not totally free from a balancing process when it impinges on fundamental rights and interests, such as those specifically 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 so long as they, in the words of Pierce, 'prepare [them] for additional obligations.'" (Chief Justice Warren E. Burger)

"It is the future of the student, not the future of the parents, that is imperiled by today's decision. If a parent keeps his child out of school beyond the grade school, then the child will be forever barred from entry into the new and amazing world of diversity that we have today. The child may decide that that is the preferred course, or he may rebel. It is the student's judgment, not his parents', that is essential if we are to give full meaning to what we have said about the Bill of Rights and of the right of students to be masters of their own destiny." (Justice William O. Douglas)

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Last updated: Thursday, February 11, 2016 | 06:00:25