Wisconsin v. Yoder

LOCATION: Wisconsin State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 70-110
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: Wisconsin Supreme Court

CITATION: 406 US 205 (1972)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1971
DECIDED: May 15, 1972

John W. Calhoun - Argued the cause for the petitioner
William B. Ball - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

Jonas Yoder and Wallace Miller, both members of the Old Order Amish religion, and Adin Yutzy, a member of the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, were prosecuted under a Wisconsin law that required all children to attend public schools until age 16. The three parents refused to send their children to such schools after the eighth grade, arguing that high school attendance was contrary to their religious beliefs.


Did Wisconsin's requirement that all parents send their children to school at least until age 16 violate the First Amendment by criminalizing the conduct of parents who refused to send their children to school for religious reasons?

Media for Wisconsin v. Yoder

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1971 in Wisconsin v. Yoder

Warren E. Burger:

Wisconsin against Yoder and others.

Mr. Calhoun.

John W. Calhoun:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The respondents, here are members of the Old Order Amish religious sect.

They reside in Green County of Southwestern Wisconsin.

In November of 1968, when they refused to send their children beyond the eighth grade, a summon and criminal complaint was filed in the County Court of Green County.

They were tried on April 2, 1969 for violation of the Wisconsin compulsory school-attendance law.

The case was tried to the County Court of Green County and the respondents were found guilty there.

They had a trial de novo in the Circuit Court of Green County where the Court again found them guilty and imposed a minimum fine of $5.00 on each of the respondents.

They appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed and this Court granted certiorari on May 24th of this year.

Respondents object to education of the children in public, private, secular or non-secular schools beyond a certain point.

At present time, the objection is eighth grade.

The Trial Court noted the problem with the arbitrary eighth grade cutoff in its decision.

Now, worried about the decisions and opinions that were filed in this case in the courts below, the Trial Court below found that the compulsory school attendance law did interfere with the freedom of the respondents to act in support of their religious beliefs.

They also found that appreciable numbers of the Amish-reared youth do believe the faith.

Both the Trial Courts concluded after several careful consideration of the cases that the compulsory school-attendance laws in Wisconsin were a reasonable exercise of the police power of the state to educate its youth.

Potter Stewart:

The state law requires attendance of school, what, through a certain age (Voice Overlap)?

John W. Calhoun:

Yes, that is through a certain age.

Potter Stewart:


John W. Calhoun:

Yes, 7 through 16.

This is pretty general throughout the rest of the state.

It is based on age but not on grade.

Warren E. Burger:

That would mean, would it not, that if you have a remarkable or unusual child who began school when he was four and whose parents wanted to take him out to pursue his own studies at a point, he would still have to go school formally until he was 16?

John W. Calhoun:

If he could show achievement equivalent to a high school education at any point, he would be excused from the compulsory school attendance law.

Warren E. Burger:

So the achievement test is interposed on the arbitrary 16, is it not?

John W. Calhoun:

Yes, there is an area of discretion there to be exercised by the State Superintendent of the Public Instruction, Your Honor and this provides for a certain unusual cases and of course there are exemptions for a health problems and handicaps and that sort of thing, but there is no problem with respect to the substantial equivalency of the education, the discretion resting with the State Superintendent of the Public Instruction.

Now, the opinions of the Wisconsin Court were three in number.

There is principal opinion which is stated on page 133 of the appendix, we view this case as involving solely a parents’ right of religious freedom to bring up his children as he believe God dictates.

If nothing else, that God dictates in an infinite variety of ways, this makes for a thoroughly broad issue.