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The Yoder Case: Religious Freedom, Education, and Parental Rights.

The Yoder Case: Religious Freedom, Education, and Parental Rights. By Shawn Francis Peters. Lawrence, Kans.: University Press of Kansas, 2003. 216 pp. $29.95 cloth, $14.95 paper.

Shawn Francis Peters, with his award-winning Judging Jehovah's. Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights' Revolution (2000), established himself as a church-state scholar of note. This well-written book confirms that status.

Although of narrower scope than the previous book, The Yoder Case examines a case of historical significance, although, lamentably, of recently diminished importance in the Supreme Court's Free Exercise Clause jurisprudence. Peters accurately describes the transition of Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) from being the clearest application of the "compelling state interest test" articulated in Sherbert v. Verner (1963) to being a mere shadow of itself after the court dismantled that test in Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith (1990).

Peters begins with a brief sketch of the Anabaptist background of the Old Order Amish, particularly their aversion to "the world," and, in the United States, to modernity. Among the signs of that aversion was a refusal to subject their children to formal schooling beyond the eighth grade, in violation of states' compulsory school attendance laws. After having been harassed over that issue in Iowa, a group of Amish moved to New Glarus, Wisconsin, to find cheaper land and, they hoped, more leniency from the state on the school attendance issue. It was not to be. The state insisted on uniform obedience to the attendance laws, and the Amish refused.

But, as part of their separation from "the world," the Amish were reluctant to initiate legal proceedings to protect their religious freedom. Enter the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom (NCARF), non-Amish organized to protect the Amish from the state. NCARF engaged lawyer William Ball, who was happy to help, given that the Amish struggle meshed exactly with his own church-state agenda. Ball shepherded the Amish case from the state trial court to the U.S. Supreme Court. Peters's narrative of the progress of the ease is engaging reading; the narrative never drags.

Peters's chapter on the judicial background to Yoder is short on a few details that would have been useful. I attribute that to his attempt to describe some complicated cases as briefly as possible. The book's other problem is the lack of reference notes. That apparently was not Peters's choice. His earlier book is richly documented. The absence of notes here is compensated for somewhat by a chronology of the principals" lives and the litigation history and by a bibliographical essay. Apparently the publisher insisted that notes not be included; they are not found in most of the books in this series, "Landmark Law Cases and American Society."

Even with those slight defects, this is a fine book. It is suitable for use by undergraduates and graduate students in courses on church-state relations, American religious history, American government, or American history.




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Author:Flowers, Ronald B.
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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