Podcast: Professor Paula Abrams Explores Landmark Pierce v. Society of Sisters Case

by kris bishop on February 23, 2010

originally published as Lewis & Clark News, Feb. 11, 2010

Abrams_small Lewis & Clark law professor Paula Abrams has devoted her career to constitutional issues such as equality, reproductive rights, and the tensions between environmental and human rights approaches to population policy. In her latest book, Cross Purposes: Pierce v. Society of Sisters and the Struggle over Compulsory Public Education, she journeys into new constitutional terrain—the rights of parents.


Cross Purposes delves into the 1925 Supreme Court case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, which sought to address the fundamental question: Do parents have the right to determine how their children should be educated?

This landmark case has affected how children are educated in this country today.  The underlying story, including the political and social impetus behind the case, also sheds light on how the U.S. government and citizens act when national security issues seem to threaten their way of life.

In 1922, Oregon voters passed an initiative requiring all children to attend public schools. For nativists and progressives who had campaigned for the Oregon School Bill, it marked the first victory in a national campaign to homogenize education—and ultimately the populace. Private schools, both secular and religious, vowed to challenge the law. The Catholic Church, the largest provider of private education in the country and the primary target of the Ku Klux Klan campaign, stepped forward to lead the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the court declared the Oregon School Bill unconstitutional and ruled that parents have the right to determine how their children should be educated. Since then, Pierce has provided a precedent in many cases pitting parents against the state.

The ruling tells only part of the story and in Cross Purposes Abrams weaves together the social, historical and political context to demonstrate how a society consistently reacts to threats during times of war with highly nationalistic policies.

In this podcast, Abrams discusses the political and social landscape that bred the Oregon School Bill and the landmark decision that resulted.


Book info:

CROSS PURPOSES: Pierce v. Society of Sisters and the Struggle over Compulsory Public Education

by Paul Abrams

Cloth: 978-0-472-11700-0

Ebook: 978-0-472-02139-0

More info    Request Exam Copy

Keywords: Pierce v. Society of Sisters, Parental
rights, Compulsory public education or schooling, Constitutional law/
Supreme Court, Private schools, Nativism, Oregon school case, Education
or education law, Substantive due process, Parochial schools

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