The ruling made in the US Supreme Court case Wisconsin v. Yoder may be in jeopardy and, if overturned, the ramifications will reach far beyond the Amish community for which it addressed. In 1972, the right of the Amish community to exercise their religious beliefs, including not requiring their children to receive formal schooling past 8th grade, was affirmed. Now, Torah Bontrager wants to change this. After leaving her Amish community and receiving an Ivy League degree, Ms. Bontrager established the Amish Heritage Foundation with the mission to modernize and change Amish communities by, among other means, overturning the Yoder decision.
The Amish Heritage Foundation claims that the Yoder decision is unconstitutional and that all children have the federal right to a structured education with certain curriculum. However, traditionally and legally, education is governed by the states and is not a federal power. The term “education” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution or its amendments. The Amish Heritage Foundation is using a lawsuit filed against the state of Rhode Island by Michael Rebel a basis to overturn Yoder. The argument made is that because citizens of the USA have the right to vote, to speak freely and to serve on a jury, the federal government should then have the obligation to require that all children are provided with a minimally sufficient civics education. Therefore, by not requiring a civics education, the Constitutional rights of students are violated.
The Amish Heritage Foundation claims that a secular sex education could help prevent cases of sexual abuse and that an inadequate education leaves students ill-prepared to function in a predominantly English-speaking world and lacking a proper knowledge of math or geography.
Overturning Yoder would have far-reaching ramifications on parents and children outside of the Amish community. Using the claim that government has the duty to prepare children for the real world by requiring a certain education empowers the government to impose its authority upon parents and their children. Empowering government to mandate education does not prevent the inadequate education that too often leaves children ill-prepared for the real world. It is well known that children required to attend schools with government mandated curriculum often lack basic reading and writing skills. If the government imposes and determines the formal education of all children, then shouldn’t there also be a requirement that the education offered is adequately received by the students? Without such a requirement, government-mandated education only allows the government to impose its authority on parents and their children, infringing upon the parent-child relationship without solving the problem upon which such an expansion of the already too-intrusive powers of government would be based.
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