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Pierce v. Society of Sisters

June 1, 2011

On June 1, 1925, the Supreme Court found Oregon’s public school compulsory education act “unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians 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.”  Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35 (1925).  In Pierce, the Court for the first time recognized the existence of rights that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. 

Interestingly, the appellees were not parents or guardians, but Hill Military Academy and the Society of Sisters, both corporations formed under the laws of Oregon.  The Society of Sisters operated schools and orphanages across Oregon and offered both secular instruction and religious training according to tenets of the Roman Catholic Church.  Hill Military Academy operated an elementary school and college preparatory academy that included military training.  The Court recognized that enforcement of the statute would have destroyed the appellees’ primary schools.  Id. at 534.

The United States Reports are included in the U.S. Supreme Court Library on Hein Online.

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