Pierce's Precedent

Many, but not all, of the most important United States Supreme Court opinions have historically been released in June. June is the traditional end of the Court’s term and in many years the biggest or most controversial cases are held until in end of the term.

Today in U.S. Supreme Court history, we find the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), where the Court held that Oregon's compulsory school attendance statute could not constitutionally be applied so as to preclude parents from sending their children to private, rather than public schools.

The Court said the Oregon law "unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control." 268 U.S. at 534-35. The decision significantly expanded coverage of the Due Process Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to recognize personal civil liberties. The case has been cited as a precedent in more than 100 Supreme Court cases, including Roe v. Wade, and in more than 70 cases in the courts of appeals.

Pierce has also been cited in numerous North Carolina court opinions including Delconte v. State, 313 N.C. 384 (N.C. 1985). In Delconte, our NC Supreme Court recognized homeschools for the first time. A father had filed suit challenging North Carolina’s compulsory school attendance laws when he as providing homeschool education to his children. He argued that homeschools were entitled to recognition as qualified nonpublic schools, and further, that his constitutional religious freedoms under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I of the North Carolina Constitution were violated if his homeschool was not recognized.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that homeschool education was not a qualified nonpublic school. The Court went on to say that the State’s compulsory school attendance laws, and the subsequent prohibition of homeschool education was not a violation of Delconte’s constitutionally protected religious freedoms.

The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court held that not only was Delconte’s particular homeschool satisfactory for classification as a qualified nonpublic school, but providing a child with a homeschool education does not violate North Carolina’s compulsory school attendance laws. The Supreme Court did not touch on the constitutional issue brought by Delconte, but simply determined that homeschools were adequate forms of nonpublic education.

Later, the North Carolina General Assembly passed some laws implementing regulations for the operation of homeschools.


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