Prince v. Massachusetts
321 U.S. 158 (1944)

Facts:

  • Sarah Prince was the aunt and custodian of Betty Simmons, a 9-year-old girl.
  • As Jehovah’s Witnesses they would often go on the streets and distribute “Watchtower” and “Consolation” – i.e., propaganda – for 5 cents per copy.
  • The school attendance officer warned her to stop. When she refused, she was convicted for violating Massachusetts’ child labor laws.

Issue:
Whether a state statute forbidding children to sell magazines, etc., and penalizing the parents, custodian, etc. is not unconstitutional as denying or abridging “freedom of religion” or denying “equal protection of the laws.”

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • “The family itself is not beyond regulation in the public interest, as against a claim of religious liberty. And neither rights of religion nor rights of parenthood are beyond limitation. Acting to guard the general interest in youth’s well being, the state as parens patriae may restrict the parent’s control by requiring school attendance, regulating or prohibiting the child’s labor,and in many other ways.”
  • Here, with the potential for psychological or even physical harm, this was inappropriate for young children to face.
  • “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”