Pierce v. Society of Sisters

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In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Oregon law requiring students to attend public school which did not contain an exception for private or religious school (see parochial school). The Court held that a law that "unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians" (see Parental rights) "to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control. As often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the State. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."[1]

This is the precedent most often cited in defense of homeschooling against laws that attempt to limit it.

This case dealt with an exception to the usual rule that one must allege a threat of imminent prosecution in order to have standing. Pierce involved a challenge by a Catholic school to the constitutionality of a statute which required children to attend public school and which subjected the parents to criminal penalties if the parents did not send their children to public school. The school could not have challenged the constitutionality of the statute in their defense of a criminal prosecution, since the school was not subject to prosecution. Furthermore, the Court focused on the economic interest of the school and found "without doubt enforcement of the statute would seriously impair, perhaps destroy, the profitable features of appellees' business and greatly diminish the value of their property." 268 U.S. at 531.

Further reading

  • Donald P. Kommers and Michael J. Wahoske, eds. "Freedom and Education: Pierce V. Society of Sisters Reconsidered," (Center for Civil Rights, University of Notre Dame Law School, 1978) 111 pages

See also

Contrast With


  1. 268 U.S. at 534-35.