This month of October marks the 85th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Pierce v. Society of Sisters.
This was a landmark case in which the Society of Sisters, a Catholic order of nuns, sued the governor of the state of Oregon. Oregon had issued a law in 1922 stating that “every parent, guardian, or other person having control of a child between the ages of eight and sixteen years had to send him to the public school in the district where he resides.”
The effect of the law would have devastated all of Oregon’s private and religious schools.
It would also outlaw homeschooling.
The United States Supreme Court, under the leadership of William Howard Taft, overrode the law for three reasons. First, it ruled that a child is not “the mere creature of the state.”
The court said that the right to send children to private and religious schools was a primary right of parents.
Second, the court reminded Oregon of the history of education in America. It said, “Private and religious schools have existed in this country from the earliest times. Indeed, the public and common school, as we know is today, dates only from 1840. For generations all Americans — including those who fought for liberty and independence in the eighteenth century, and who drafted the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and the Constitution of the United States — were educated in private or religious schools, mostly the latter.”
The third reason the court struck down the state law is that “restraints must not be arbitrary or unreasonable. Freedom is the general rule, and restraint the exception.”
The court went on to site the freedoms that were infringed upon because of the unnecessary restraint that Oregon was attempting to exercise.
As an ACSI Legal Legislative Update article published in 2005 concluded, “The Christian school movement’s right to exist is directly linked to the Pierce ruling eighty years ago.”
Isn’t it interesting that a U.S. District Court judge from California by the name of Melinda Harmon decided to ignore all previous Supreme Court education rulings when she ruled that “… parents give up their rights when they drop their children off at public school?”
Judge Harmon is a perfect demonstration of the moral direction we have taken towards the education of our children.
Another freedom under attack is cited in the September, 2005 issue of Citizen Magazine, is the right of Christians to assemble as churches.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for churches to acquire building permits to move or expand. There is even a ruling in Texas that has declared that any gathering of Christians around any monument makes that monument a violation of the “separation of church and state.”
In Ohio, Texas, Michigan and California it is becoming evident to many the difficulties that churches are encountering in just functioning.
The reason is that municipalities miss the tax revenue that churches do not pay. They have forgotten that those same churches are acting as a hedge against crime and immorality which steal dollars from the public at a much greater rate than those not paid my churches. Even secular research is now beginning to see this.
An additional freedom that is threatened is freedom of speech. In Concord, N.H, social services took a child from a couple because the father belonged to an organization called Oathtakers. The organization collects affirmations from soldiers and peace officers that they would refuse orders that violate the U.S. Constitution, in light of what they perceive as the advance of socialism in the U.S.
In another case in Minnesota, a couple was denied an adoption of a child when they stated that they believed abortion was wrong.
In Colorado, a student is being defended in a case where the school will not permit the wearing of any religious emblems during school hours.
In Pennsylvania, a pro-life group is being charged for distributing literature on public streets. These victims usually could not defend themselves were it not for non-profit defense law firms like the ACLJ or the Alliance Defense Fund, among others.
Of course, we are all familiar with the government’s insistence that we buy its insurance plan whether we want to or not. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution is cited as the support for such action. Yet, a study of the notes of the Founding Fathers from the Continental Congress clearly shows that this is not what they intended with this clause.
If we don’t pay careful attention, we may find ourselves losing much more than our right to have Christian schools or churches in certain locations.
We may also loose our right to raise our children as we see fit and live according to our personally held beliefs.
It’s time to take a close look at what we are sowing and take the necessary action, motivated by repentant prayer, to reverse that trend.
One such opportunity is coming up on Nov. 2. I hope that we will use it wisely.
(Frank Clark has been a teacher in public, Catholic and Evangelical Christian schools since 1978. He is also a retired Christian school administrator.)