Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Supreme Court Case.

A Wisconsin statute required parents of children aged 16 and under to send their children to a formal school. The  Yoder parents and the others were charged, tried in a state criminal court, found guilty. The parents appealed the case, arguing their religion prevented them from sending their children to public schools at this age.  The Court found making the Amish attend schools would expose them to attitudes and values that ran counter to their beliefs. In fact, the Court also said that forcing the Amish teens to attend would interfere with their religious development and integration into Amish society. The Court also realized that stopping schooling a couple years early for members of this community who continued informal vocational education, did not make them burdens on society. Read the Court’s opinion and answer the questions below.

. . . Formal high school education beyond the eighth grade is contrary to Amish beliefs not only because it places Amish children in an environment hostile to Amish beliefs, with increasing emphasis on competition in class work and sports and with pressure to conform to the styles, manners, and ways of the peer group, but also because it takes them away from their community, physically and emotionally, during the crucial and formative adolescent period of life. During this period, the children must acquire Amish attitudes favoring manual work and self-reliance and the specific skills needed to perform the adult role of an Amish farmer or housewife. They must learn to enjoy physical labor. Once a child has learned basic reading, writing, and elementary mathematics, these traits, skills, and attitudes admittedly fall within the category of those best learned through example and ‘doing,’ rather than in a classroom. And, at this time in life, the Amish child must also grow in his faith and his relationship to the Amish community if he is to be prepared to accept the heavy obligations imposed by adult baptism. In short, high school attendance with teachers who are not of the Amish faith — and may even be hostile to it—interposes a serious barrier to the integration of the Amish child into the Amish religious community. Dr. John Hostetler, one of the experts on Amish society, testified that the modern high school is not equipped, in curriculum or social environment, to impart the values promoted by Amish society . . .Majority Opinion by Mr. Justice Warren Burger

1. What force(s) might an Amish teenager face in public schools that go against their religion?

2. What is it the Amish people want their teens to focus on at that time in their lives?

3. Which constitutional clause did the state of Wisconsin violate in this story?


Photo/Image: An Amish family, by Johnny Appleseed