PIERCE V. SOCIETY OF SISTERS
(A.K.A. THE OREGON SCHOOL CASE OF 1925)
In our society today, as parents, teachers, and students there is still the issue as to which type of schooling is appropriate for our children. Do we choose public schooling or private schooling? Since the beginning of time there has been prejudice toward religion and culture.
In 1922 the Oregon school system took part in a decision to "Americanize" their schools. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Scottish Rite Masons organized a system requiring all children between the ages of 8 and 16 to attend public schools. Excluding those who were physically unable, those lived more than three miles from the nearest road, and those who had already completed the eighth grade. To enforce this law parents or guardians who did not send their children to the public schools were subject to a one hundred dollar fine and up to 30 days in jail. This system seemed highly unreasonable to the Societyof Sisters. Why should parents not have the choice as to where and how their child is educated. This also seemed to go against the 14th Amendment, which states that all people are required equal protection and equal opportunity.
However, the statute was soon challenged by the Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, an order of Catholic nuns, and a private military school. These private schools taught orphans and young men between the ages of 5 and 21. They not only feared the harm that would arise from this law but also the possible extinction of their schools altogether.
The court ruled that Oregon could not constitutionally compel all school students to attend public schools. (268 U.S. 510) decided by an unanimous vote, June 1, 1925 McReynolds wrote the Court's opinion. A state law that requires all children in the first eight grades to attend public rather than private or parochial schools violates the 14th Amendment due process guarantee of "personal liberty." Implicit in this liberty is the right of parents to choose the kind of education they want for their children (Witt, Elder).
The court also felt that this law interfered with the judgment of parents and guardians as far as how and what they wanted their children to learn and be exposed to. The right of the parents to rear their children included the right to send those children to private or parochial schools, but it was another 15 years before the courts explicitly applied the 1st Amendment ban on governmental interference with free exercise of religon to the states.
However, the government may still control the attendance of our children. There are very few limitations as to what type of educational institution we choose for our children. Without the diverse school systems created by our nation we would not be the constructive country that we are today.
Wagman, Robert J. The Supreme Court. Pharos Books 1993.
Witt, Elder. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. Congressional Quaterly Inc. 1979.
Witt Elder. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. Congressional Quarterly Inc. Sec. ed. 1090.
Prepared by Tamara L. Ort