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Law School Case Brief

Commonwealth v. Bey - 166 Pa. Super. 136, 70 A.2d 693 (1950)


Acting to guard the general interest in a youth's well-being, a state, as parens patriae, may restrict a parent's control by requiring school attendance. Its authority is not nullified merely because a parent grounds his claim to control the child's course of conduct on religion or conscience. Thus, in this realm the right of the state is superior to that of the parents. It is subject to only one limitation. Parents cannot be compelled to send their children to public schools exclusively and debar them from attending parochial or private schools.


Defendants husband and wife consistently refused to send their children of compulsory attendance age to school on Fridays for religious reasons. In a summary proceeding before an alderman, defendants were convicted of violating the Pennsylvania School Code, which required parents of children between the ages of 8 and 17 to send their children to school continuously through an entire term. The trial court confirmed the alderman's judgment. The parents sought review.


Did the compulsory attendance provisions of the Pennsylvania School Code violate the guarantees of religious freedom contained in the State and Federal constitutions?




Affirming, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the state statute was reasonable and enforceable. The Court stated that the statute did not attempt to force children to accept instruction from public teachers only, but permitted attendance at private or parochial schools. The Court noted that since defendants could avail themselves of parochial or denominational schools, the statute did not interfere with or impinge upon the religious freedom of defendants or the guarantees of either the Federal or Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court concluded that compulsory attendance was within the constitutional power of the State. Having exercised the option provided by the statute and elected to send their children to the public schools, the parents are bound to perform all the requirements of the compulsory attendance provisions; the parents had no constitutional rights to submit to only a part of the statute or to a part of regulations made pursuant to it.

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