Pierce v. Society of Sisters

Following is the case brief for Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925)

Case Summary of Pierce v. Society of Sisters:

  • The Oregon Compulsory Education Act, adopted in 1922, required Oregon children to attend public school.
  • Owners of two private education institutions sought an injunction to stop enforcement of the Act.
  • The District Court granted preliminary injunctions, finding that the Act deprived private schools of their property without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • The Supreme Court affirmed the District Court’s decision.  The Court held that a state could not use its power to destroy private schools, and the Act interfered with a parent’s right to direct his/her child’s upbringing and education.

Pierce v. Society of Sisters Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

The State of Oregon enacted the Compulsory Education Act in 1922.  The Act requires any person with custody of a child between the ages of eight and sixteen to send the child to a public school in the district where the child resides.  Appellees, two private corporations named the Society of Sisters and Hill Military Academy, provided private education to the children of Oregon.

Both appellees sought to enjoin enforcement of the Act.  The Society of Sisters argued that the Act intrudes on parents’ right to have their children educated in a school of their choice.  Hill Military Academy argued that the Act violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition against taking property without due process of law.  Both schools claimed that the Act would cause irreparable injury to their businesses.

Procedural History:

  • Appellee sued in the District Court to enjoin enforcement of the Act.
  • The District Court issued preliminary injunctions, restraining the State of Oregon from enforcing the Act.  The District Court reasoned that the Act deprived appellees of property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • The State of Oregon appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Issue and Holding:

Can a state government compel parents to send their children to public school?  No.


The judgment of the District Court is affirmed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A state government cannot compel children to attend public school because doing so would infringe on a parent’s choice of how his/her child will be educated and would improperly interfere with the businesses of private schools.


First, there is no indication that the private schools run by appellees are harmful, but rather are useful and meritorious.  Enforcement of the Act would lead to the destruction of those private schools.  Nothing stops the State of Oregon, or any state, from regulating private schools to ensure quality.  However, a state government cannot use its power to arbitrarily and unreasonably destroy the existence of private schools.

Second, it is clear that the Act is an unreasonable interference of a parent’s liberty to direct the upbringing and education of his/her child.  Indeed, it is fundamental to liberty that a state government does not have the power to standardize children by making them attend public school.


Pierce v. Society of Sisters established the beginning of the Supreme Court’s expansive view of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect individual liberties and entities other than individuals.  Further, this case has been often cited by the Court over the last century to stand as an example of the existence of an implicit right of personal privacy over family matters, see, e.g.Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 152 (1973).

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