1925 June 1

Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Catholic Oregon School Law


On November 7, 1922, the voters of Oregon approved a Ku Klux Klan-sponsored referendum that amended the state’s compulsory education law to eliminate an exception for private schools. The law required children between the ages of 8 and 16 to attend public schools. Both the intent and the effect of the law was to shut down private parochial schools, particularly Roman Catholic schools, in the state. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, decided on this day, the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional because it interfered with the right of parents to control the education of their children.

Along with Meyer v. Nebraska, decided on June 4, 1923, the very conservative court created a nascent right of privacy (although it did not formally develop this line of jurisprudence for another 40 years).

The long-term effect of both the Meyer and Pierce decisions was to set in motion what would become a major transformation of America: the penetration of constitutional principles into every phase of American life.

The Court on the impact of the law: “The inevitable practical result of enforcing the Act under consideration would be destruction of appellees’ primary schools, and perhaps all other private primary schools for normal children within the State of Oregon.”

And on the rights of parents: “. . . we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control: as often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the State.”

Learn more about the KKK: David Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan (1987)

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