Discussing Why is Religious Freedom Important in Children's Education

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Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Children Must Choose Their Own Beliefs
  • It Ignores Children’s Rights
  • Education and Social and Economic Progress
  • Bibliography


There are numerous federal court cases where parents and guardians seek to prevent their kids from engaging in different school activities. Parents claim that these activities violate their religious beliefs and practices. Therefore, a problem arises in deciding whether the state should be firm in enforcing education to all children, or whether the parent’s religious practices should be respected. Thus, it becomes a highly sensitive matter which the state and the courts must address. Within this paper, I will explore the Supreme Court’s decision in Yoder v. Wisconsin (1972). In particular, I will discuss whether the freedom of religion should include the parents’ authority to limit their children from accessing education and exposing children to ideas and opportunities that can make children reject these beliefs. I will also expand on the sources that support the statement of why is religious freedom important. In doing so, I will consider the Justice Douglas’ dissent in the above-stated court decision and La Follette’s arguments in his Freedom of Religion and Children.

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The religion of parents matters a lot for their kids. ​LaFollette argues that c​hildren should be identified by their parents’ religions and should be defined and shaped by it. In some cases, parents may not possess any religious faith and background, and this similarly matters a lot to their children. In cases where the religion is highly valued by the family and the court has to make a decision, there is a likelihood that it will glean insights to the connection between kids and parents, the state and religion, and between the kids and the general community. Amish parents place a high value on the freedom of religion. They are typically repulsed to the decision of someone forcing their religious beliefs on them. The crucial question is whether Amish parents can lawfully protect their kids from practices and experiences that may be against their beliefs. Amish parents argue that the constitution empowers them to have their kids opt out of practices and experiences that might make these kids divert their religious views and practices.

This essay takes the position that the freedom of religion should not include the parent’s religious beliefs that may prevent their children from accessing quality education. Education is one of the primary drivers of social and economic progress, and children must be left to choose their own beliefs.

Before addressing this question, it will be important to address the facts, issues, and the holdings of the case at hand. The Supreme Court case on Wisconsin v Yoder concerns the scope and lense of the 1st Amendment. The 1st amendment safeguards the freedom of religion, American’s right to practice their beliefs without any interference, and ensures the government does not enforce any particular religion. In Wisconsin State, all students needed to attend school until they are sixteen years old. The Yoder family was practicing Old Order Amish and were members of the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church. Thus, they declined to educate their children after their 8th-grade education. Yoder family was charged for going against the state’s school attendance law. During the trial, the families stated their reasons for failing to send these kids to any private and public school. The families were against the external influences their kids would be exposed to. In their arguments, records on secondary school education indicated that their values and programs varied on a wide scale with Amish religion’s mode of life. These influences would make the kids go against their families’ religious practices. For instance, the schools focused on scientific and intellectual accomplishments, personal distinction, social success, and world life. Many of these focuses were against the family beliefs regarding the communal desire to be separate their children from contemporary culture. 

The majority of judges held that Wisconsin States’ mandatory school attendance regulation encroach upon the free exercise clause. The State’s actions of forcing parents to educate their kids against their religious faith will expose these kids to behaviors and practices that contradict their religious beliefs.

Children Must Choose Their Own Beliefs

Amish families believed that they should decide what their children believe. They had to do so because it is in their “blood” and also they valued children a lot within their community. They believe that exposing their children to other practices would corrupt their morals and eventually they would live unfavorable lives.

However, every child should be left to choose his or her own religious beliefs. People vary in terms of opinions and tastes. Judge Douglas, one of the dissenting judges in the case of Wisconsin and Yoder, argued that the act of granting an exemption from the educational requirement to these parents would impose religious views on their kids. When a kid is mature enough to be able to express his or her perspective and conflicting desires, this is an invasion of the kid’s rights.

In his theory on liberty religion, a philosopher, John Stuart Mill, notes that the freedom of belief and thought is important since it guides the truth. It provides the best reliable means for attaining the truth . Also, in cases where the views of the majority are against religious freedom, something crucial is lost in the process. The majority judges ruled that high school education was marked with different values and ways of life from the Amish values. In this case, the majority would have benefitted by deliberating the mistaken view. They would have obtained a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their beliefs on their children’s liberty rights.

Freedom of choice is one of the essential freedoms we have. ​LaFollett notes that l​etting the child choose his or her religious system provides them with a freedom of choice for themselves and their beliefs . I believe that this is the best way to allow the kid to believe in it. Children from Amish families would not exceed 8th-grade education. There is an important point I would like to highlight here. First, children with 8​th​ grade educations are old enough to decide for themselves what they should believe in. They are capable of processing the information provided to them regarding religious and non-religious belief systems. Also, logic demands that all factors and circumstances should be considered in assessing an outcome. The act of holding children’s opinions without regarding their views is irrational and illogical. That being said even if their children violate their religious beliefs, Amish parents should leave the children to live according to their rights and choices. These children should be left to live their own life regardless of their age or whether some external perspective misguides them. They are better off making their own choices rather than mimicking their parents’ religious views. They will get a better chance of evaluating what is good for them.

It Ignores Children’s Rights

The majority decision in the case of Wisconsin v Yoder only considered the welfare of the parents and overlooked those of the children. According to the judges’ verdict, policies of the state interfere with the intrinsic rights of the families to guide their upbringing of their children. As such, the judgment fails to consider the interests of the children and considers them irrelevant. This is where Justice Douglas’ claims come into play. Justice Douglas argues that kids are eligible to be listened to . While the Amish parents’ dissent on the States’ regulation covers only the family, children's education is a crucial subject. A kid may want to pursue a specific career, and he cannot achieve this with only an 8th-grade education. Even though the Amish parent’s rights of religious liberty were constitutionally violated, this burden could have been legitimated through a compelling state interest and having informed citizenry. However, this interest was only on the children from public schools since there were no expectations for public schools. I believe that the judgment fails to recognize that kids may have interests that can be harmed by their parents. ​LaFollette notes that​ not all harm is physical, and it may be difficult to identify psychological harm than physical harm. Amish parents’ dissent overlooks non-physical harm. Their familial indoctrination, which is within the scope of the lawful family authority, can harm the kid. Also, their children have interests that must not constrain this authority.

Education and Social and Economic Progress

Considering the ruling of Wisconsin v Yoder, the court fails to consider the necessity of education to these children. Education is one of the primary drivers of social and economic progress. As Thomas Jefferson states, every child requires some degree of education to prepare them as effective citizens who will take part effectively and intelligently to the activities of a country . Amish​ ​parents do not recognize the impacts that high school education may have on 8 their children. When parents understand their role in educating children, then a true transformation occurs. 8th-grade education is not enough to transform a child. As Justice Douglas states, parents preventing their children from accessing high school education impedes their collateral development benefits that an educated child can bring to society. 

LaFollette argues that​ success results from an educated generation, and thus, failing to educate these children will result in a future dull generation. The evidence provided by the Amish parents was that the additional two years of high school education for the Amish kids would add little knowledge to their children. However, I believe that for an individual to move forward in any sector, there is some basic and crucial knowledge that the person must obtain. High school education is a crucial stage where children learn to think critically, and there is a huge prospect to expand exponentially. It is the future of the state and the kids that are imperiled by the Amish parent’s decision not to educate their children beyond the 8th grade. Douglas also argued that if these kids do not get past the 8th-grade education, they will be prevented from getting into an amazing world of diversity that is seen today . This is true because, without education, these kids will be highly reliant and ineffective participants in society. ​LaFollette notes that c​hoosing the religious choice of the kid is equivalent to inhibiting their development in their terms. No person would like to be pushed to do something they do not like, and this should also apply to religion.

In conclusion, by using Justice Douglas’ dissent and La Follette’s arguments, I argue that the freedom of religion should not include the parent’s religious beliefs that may prevent their children from accessing quality education. People vary in terms of opinions and tastes, and children must be left to choose their religious views and beliefs. With 8th grade education, a kid is old enough to decide for himself between conflicting ideas. Also, education is one of the primary drivers of social and economic growth. High school education is a crucial stage where children learn to think critically, and there is a huge prospect to expand exponentially. Thus, there is no doubt that Amish parents' treatment of their children is harmful to the kids’ future, growth, and the progress of the country. Children should be allowed to be heard before the courts who give out exemptions. Education is one of the primary drivers of social and economic progress, and children must be left to choose their own beliefs.


  1. Lafollette, Hugh. 'Freedom of religion and children.' ​Public Affairs Quarterly​ 3, no. 1 (1989): 75-87.
  2. Peters, Shawn Francis. ​The Yoder case: Religious freedom, education, and parental rights​. University Press of Kansas, 2003.

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