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Three families, members of the Old Order Amish religion and the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, sued the state of Wisconsin because of a requirement that children be enrolled in school until the age of sixteen.The parents refused to follow the law and removed their children from the public schools after the eighth grade and continued their education at home, emphasizing domestic and farming skills. According to them, any further education in the schools would present their children with too much exposure to the evil world.
The Case of Wisconsin vs. Yoder (Docket #70-110) goes back to the year 17. Jonas Yoder andWallace Miller were both members of the Amish religion. Adin Yutzy, also prosecuted under the Wisconsin law, represented the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church. The reason for prosecution was because there was a law that stated all children must attend public school until the age of sixteen. The three parents, all being Amish, refused to obey such a law and pulled their children out of school after the 8th grade. Their argument was that the high school attendance was opposite their religious beliefs. The state of Wisconsin disagreed and challenged this case to the United States Supreme Court. The basic constitutional amendment that is being argued here is the freedom of religion. The case was argued on December 8, 171 and was eventually decided on May 15, 17. Each side had a perfectly good reason as to why they were right. The defense, (represented as being Yoder), said that the law basically threatens their religious way of life. In their opinion, the only teachings they needed were that of what they had already received up until the 8th grade. They also said that Amish parents provide training from an early age through young adults, teaching them the skills necessary to be farmers, or other skills. This training supposedly prepares them for a much better life as an Amish adult than what they would receive in formal schooling. On the state’s side, however, their views were much different. The state was simply enforcing a law that requires children be enrolled in school until the age of sixteen. The state’s other argument was that the extra schooling prepared the children for adult life. In response the defendants found it unnecessary and unjust. The state came back with the question of what will happen to the children if they leave their Amish community. In a 6-to-1 decision, the Court decided that the individuals interest in the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed the States interests in convincing school attendance past 8th grade. The Court found that the values and programs of secondary school were in sharp conflict with the fundamental mode of life mandated by the Amish religion, and that an additional one or two years of high school would not produce the benefits of public education cited by Wisconsin to justify the law. In the opinion of Chief Justice Burger “The Amish have a legitimate reason for removing their children from school prior to their attending high school. The qualities emphasizing higher education are not of 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 states 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 decision prohibited state governments from claiming to have any absolute right to institute compulsive high school education and intrude into the way in which families raise children.
By preventing parents from removing their children from school, the government had interfered with the families and stopped them from instilling their religious faith in their children in the only ways they knew how. Parents rights to teach their religion and follow their religion were deemed more important than governmental interests in education all children.
Unfortunately, the potential interests and rights of the children were totally ignored.
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