Wisconsin v. Yoder
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
On petition of the State of Wisconsin, we granted the writ of certiorari in this case to
review a decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court holding that respondents' convictions
of violating the State's compulsory school-attendance law were invalid under the Free
Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution made
applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. For the reasons hereafter stated
we affirm the judgment of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Respondents Jonas Yoder and Wallace Miller are members of the Old Order Amish
religion, and respondent Adin Yutzy is a member of the Conservative Amish Mennonite
Church. They and their families are residents of Green County, Wisconsin. Wisconsin's
compulsory school-attendance law required them to cause their children to attend public
or private school until reaching age 16 but the respondents declined to send their
children, ages 14 and 15, to public school after they completed the eighth grade. The
children were not enrolled in any private school, or within any recognized exception to
the compulsory-attendance law, and they are conceded to be subject to the Wisconsin
On complaint of the school district administrator for the public schools, respondents were
charged, tried, and convicted of violating the compulsory-attendance law in Green
Country Court and were fined the sum of $5 each. Respondents defended on the ground
that the application of the compulsory-attendance law violated their rights under the First
and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial testimony showed that respondents believed, in
accordance with the tenets of Old Order Amish communities generally, that their
children's attendance at high school, public or private, was contrary to the Amish religion
and way of life. They believed that by sending their children to high school, they would
not only expose themselves to the danger of the censure of the church community, but, as
found by the county court, also endanger their own salvation and that of their children.
The State stipulated that respondents' religious beliefs were sincere.
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.
The Amish do not object to elementary education through the first eight grades as a