Pierce v. Society of Sisters
268 U.S. 510 (1925)

Facts:

  • The challenged Act required every parent, guardian, or other person having control or charge or custody of a child between 8 and 16 years to send him to a public school for the period of time a public school shall be held during the current year in the district where the child resides, and failure so to do is declared a misdemeanor.
  • Society of Sisters and Hill Military Academy, private corporations that operated schools and academies, challenged the act, arguing that it would potentially destroy their business and property value.
    • Society of Sisters also provided religious training.

Issue:
Whether the Act unreasonably interfered with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.

Holding:
Yes. Unconstitutional.

Reasoning:

  • “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.”
  • While the court noted that, as corporations, the appellees could “not claim for themselves the liberty which the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees,” they still had business and property that was entitled to protection against arbitrary, unreasonable, and unlawful interference.