In Wisconsin v. Yoder, one of the few cases between 1960 and 1990 in which the Supreme Court invalidated a law on the basis of the Free Exercise Clause, the Court held Wisconsin’s compulsory education law unconstitutional as applied to Amish parents. The law required parents to send their children to school until the age of sixteen. In this case, several parents belonging to the Old Order Amish religion and the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church were convicted of violating the compulsory education law when they refused to send their children to public high school. The parents appealed the conviction, contending that high school attendance was contrary to the Amish religion and way of life, and that they would endanger their own salvation and that of their children if they complied with the law. The Court balanced the state’s interest in universal education against the parents’ fundamental right to freely exercise religion. The Court determined that, in this case, the right of free exercise outweighed the interests of the state. The Court concluded that the parents had demonstrated the sincerity of their religious beliefs, the interrelationship of their belief with their way of life, and the fact that complying with the law would interfere with their ability to live that life. Further, the parents established that they provided an adequate alternative to high school in the form of informal vocational training, and the state did not show how providing an exemption for the parents would compromise its interest in universal education.
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