Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Yoder is one of the most far-reaching Free Exercise Clause cases applying the “strict scrutiny” doctrine. This landmark Supreme Court decision addressed the constitutional balance between state regulatory power, here a Wisconsin compulsory education statute requiring that children attend school through the age of 16, and the rights of three members of the Old Order Amish religion and the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church to educate their children in conformity with their religious beliefs. The religious groups believed that school attendance past the eighth grade was contrary to the Amish religion and way of life, and that they would endanger their own salvation and that of their children by complying with the law.

The Supreme Court upheld the right of the Amish and Mennonites under the Free Exercise Clause, stating that, “A regulation neutral on its face may, in its application, nonetheless offend the constitutional requirement for governmental neutrality if it unduly burdens the free exercise of religion.” The Court recognized the compelling interest to require school attendance, but held that that interest would not be substantially undercut by allowing an exemption to a small group of religious dissenters.