1. Majority Opinion
a. Yes. In order for a religious group to invoke the Free Exercise Clause, then:
(1) Their beliefs must be sincere [they must really think education is bad for their kids or not working on Saturday is sacreligious, etc]. AND
(2) Their beliefs must be rooted in religion [not philosophy, like Thoreau’s views, or some secular antipathy towards modern society, etc.]
b. Here, Ps’ religious beliefs were sincere. They sincerely believe their views about school, and their beliefs are not just “a way of life” (like Thoreau’s view of society at his time) but also rooted in over 200 years of religion.
1. Dave says “rooted in religion” is a problematic requirement. Thoreau’s transcendentalism, for example, has its roots in some Christian religious doctrine, but the Court still does not considerate the movement “rooted in religion.”
c. Even though a state statute is general and neutral on its face, if it adversely impacts a religion, then that religion can bring a Free Exercise claim. The state cannot claim, as here, that the statute just prohibits actions (cannot let kids leave school before they’re 16) and does not apply to religion under the First Am.
d. Here, the state statute clearly adversely effects the Amish, who do not want their kids to go to school past junior high. Since there is a burden on their religion, the next step is to see if the state can justify this burden by meeting “strict scrutiny”—the state must show that there is a “compelling state interest” for the law and the law was “narrowly tailored” (there were no alternative forms of regulation that would combat such abuses).
e. The state says that is interest is having all of its citizens be reasonably well-educated, so that they can participate intelligently in the political affairs of the state and become economically self-sufficient. But “there is nothing in the record to suggest that the Amish qualities of reliability, self-reliance, and dedication to work would fail to find ready markets in today’s society.” After they leave junior high, the Amish members are informally taught living through farming and other rural activities, and still receive an education of some kind. Educating the Amish for a year or two after junior high would do little to serve the state’s interest re “markets in today’s society,” since the Amish prepare for a life in a separated agrarian community that is the keystone of Amish life, not for a life in modern society.
1. This part of Ct’s opinion suggests that if Amish were not so hard-working, peaceful, devout, etc., that the State may have fulfilled its compelling interest. What if the Amish in this case were the Branch Davidians? They would have more problems than they already have…
f. The state has not presented a compelling interest, and because the statute imposes a burden on Ps’ religious views, it violates the Free Exercise Clause. Ps should be exempted from the statute. “It should be emphasized that we are not dealing in this case with a way of life and mode of education by a group claiming to have recently discovered some ‘progressive’ or more enlightened process for rearing children in modern life,” since the Amish have sincere religious beliefs going back 200 years.
1. Marxists and Vegetarians: Make sure you send your kids to school! This ruling does not apply to you!
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