The Taft Court (1921–30)

Due Process Rights of Parents

In what decision did the Taft Court protect the right of parents to choose their children’s schooling?

The Taft Court unanimously ruled in Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (1925) that an Oregon law mandating parents send their children to public schools violates the parents’ due-process rights. In 1922, the state passed a law requiring parents to send their children aged 8 to 16 to public school. The law, supported by the Ku Klux Klan, was fueled in part because of discrimination against Catholicism and aliens. Two private schools—a Catholic school and a military school—challenged the law as a violation of due process.

Writing for the Court, Justice James McReynolds agreed with the schools that the Oregon law was unconstitutional and “unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” The Court said that a state could require children to attend school but could not mandate that those schools had to be public.


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