268 U.S. 510 (2017), Pierce v. Society of Sisters

Citation:268 U.S. 510, 45 S.Ct. 571, 69 L.Ed. 1070
Party Name:Pierce v. Society of Sisters
Case Date:June 01, 1925
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 510

268 U.S. 510 (2017)

45 S.Ct. 571, 69 L.Ed. 1070



Society of Sisters

United States Supreme Court

June 1, 1925




1. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments of this Union rest excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. P. 535.

2. The Oregon Compulsory Education Act (Oreg. Ls., § 5259) which, with certain exemptions, requires every parent, guardian or other person having control of a child between the ages of eight and sixteen years to send him to the public school in the district where he resides, for the period during which the school is held for the current year, is an unreasonable interference with the liberty of the parents and guardians to direct the upbringing of the children, and in that respect violates the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 534.

3. In a proper sense, it is true that corporations cannot claim for themselves the liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and, in general, no person in any business has such an interest in possible customers as to enable him to restrain exercise of proper power by the State upon the ground that he will be deprived of patronage;

4. But where corporations owning and conducting schools are threatened with destruction of their business and property through the improper and unconstitutional compulsion exercised by this statute upon parents and guardians, their interest is direct and immediate, and entitles them to protection by injunction. Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33. P. 535.

5. The Act, being intended to have general application, cannot be construed in its application to such corporations as an exercise of power to amend their charters. Berea College v. Kentucky, 211 U.S. 45. P. 535.

6. Where the injury threatened by an unconstitutional statute is present and real before the statute is to be effective, and will

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become irreparable if relief be postponed to that time, a suit to restrain future enforcement of the statute is not premature. P. 536.

296 F. 928, affirmed.

APPEALS from decrees of the District Court granting preliminary injunctions restraining the Governor, and other officials, of the State of Oregon from threatening or attempting to enforce an amendment to the school law -- an initiative measure adopted by the people November 7, 1922, to become effective in 1926 -- requiring parents and others having control of young children to send them to the primary schools of the State. The plaintiffs were two Oregon corporations owning and conducting schools.

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MCREYNOLDS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

These appeals are from decrees, based upon undenied allegations, which granted preliminary [45 S.Ct. 572] orders restraining

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appellants from threatening or attempting to enforce the Compulsory Education Act * adopted November 7, 1922, under the initiative provision of her Constitution by the voters of Oregon. Jud.Code, § 266. They present the same points of law; there are no controverted questions of fact. Rights said to be guaranteed by the federal Constitution were specially set up, and appropriate prayers asked for their protection.

The challenged Act, effective September 1, 1926, requires every parent, guardian or other person having control or charge or custody of a child between eight and sixteen 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. There are

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exemptions not specially important here -- for children who are not normal, or who have completed he eighth grade, or who reside at considerable distances from any public school, or whose parents or guardians hold special permits from the County Superintendent. The manifest purpose is to compel general attendance at public schools by normal children, between eight and sixteen, who have not completed the eighth grade. And without doubt enforcement of the statute would seriously impair, perhaps destroy, the profitable features of appellees' business and greatly diminish the value of their property.

Appellee, the Society of Sisters, is an Oregon corporation, organized in 1880, with power to care for orphans, educate and instruct the youth, establish and maintain academies or schools, and acquire necessary real and personal

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property. It has long devoted its property and effort to the secular and religious education and care of children, and has acquired the valuable good will of many parents and guardians. It conducts interdependent primary and high schools and junior colleges, and maintains orphanages for the custody and control of children between eight and sixteen. In its primary schools, many children between those ages are taught the subjects usually pursued in Oregon public schools during the first eight years. Systematic religious instruction and moral training according to the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church are also regularly provided. All courses of study, both temporal and religious, contemplate continuity of training under appellee's charge; the primary schools are essential to the system and the most profitable. It owns valuable buildings, especially constructed and equipped for school purposes. The business is remunerative -- the annual income from primary schools exceeds thirty thousand dollars -- and the successful conduct of this requires long-time contracts with teachers and parents. The Compulsory Education Act of 1922 has already caused the withdrawal from its schools of children who would otherwise continue, and their income has steadily declined. The appellants, public officers, have proclaimed their purpose strictly to enforce the statute.

After setting out the above facts, the Society's bill alleges that the enactment conflicts with the right of parents to choose schools where their children will receive appropriate mental and religious training, the right of the child to influence the parents' choice of a school, the right of schools and teachers therein to engage in a useful business [45 S.Ct. 573] or profession, and is accordingly repugnant to the Constitution and...

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