The 1972 US Supreme Court case Wisconsin v. Yoder, which specifically denies Amish American children the right to go to school past the 8th grade, is hailed as a landmark victory for religious liberty. But it actually strips children of their Constitutional rights, in the name of religious freedom for adults. Among other things, the right to not educate enables child abuse among the Amish. Here’s my response to the crisis (and how you can help).
When I was fifteen years old, I was forced to escape in the middle of the night in order to flee a childhood of abuse and go to school beyond the Amish eighth grade. The Amish religion, an insular fundamentalist form of Christian Protestantism that falls under the Anabaptist umbrella, forbids their members from acquiring an education that would ease the transition away from the Church and into mainstream society. Educational deprivation is in the best interest of the Amish institution: it is its most effective tool to keep children from questioning and challenging the authority of over three hundred years’ worth of male-only leadership.
In Wisconsin v. Yoder, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Amish religion’s rights outweigh my individual rights to religious freedom, equal protection, and an adequate education. This ruling not only violates children’s constitutional rights, but it enables and fosters a gamut of child abuse. Sexual assault runs rampant within the Amish, children and women don’t know that they have rights as American citizens, and most individuals who make the leap to the outside suffer greatly due to a lack of culturally competent support.
After graduating from Columbia University, I founded The Amish Heritage Foundation to address these crises, with the hope that a time will come when losing the only world one has ever known isn’t the price to pay for safety and freedom.
The Amish Revolution that Led to Wisconsin v. Yoder
I was born traditional Amish1 in, at the time, a mostly farming community in Buchanan County, Iowa. From birth to age three, I lived on my maternal grandparents’ farm in the Doddy haus, the small house attached to the big farmhouse. At eleven years old, I consciously realized…