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State v. Whisner - 47 Ohio St. 2d 181, 351 N.E.2d 750 (1976)

Rule:

A regulation, neutral on its face may, in its application, nonetheless offend the constitutional requirement for governmental neutrality because it unduly burdens the free exercise of religion. 

Facts:

The parents' children attended a nonpublic, religious elementary school. The State filed a case and alleged that the parents violated Ohio Rev. Code § 3321.03 for failing to send their children to school because they did not conform to the minimum educational standards promulgated by the State's board of education. The parents challenged their convictions on the grounds that the standards infringed upon their right to freely exercise their religion, as guaranteed by U.S. Const. amends. I and XIV and Ohio Const. art. I, § 7. The parents were convicted at the trial level. The state appellate court affirmed the convictions.

Issue:

Did the appellate court err in affirming the parents’ convictions for failing to send their children to school?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

On review, the Supreme Court of Ohio held the appellate court erred in questioning whether the parents' beliefs were founded upon religious principles. The Court explained that it must determine whether a regulation neutral on its face may, in its application, nonetheless offend the constitutional requirement for governmental neutrality because it unduly burdens the free exercise of religion." Although facially neutral, when taken as a whole, the compendium of "minimum standards" unduly burdened the parents' free exercise of religion rights because they interfered with the school's ability to devote time to the teaching of religious subjects, and they required "all activities" of a nonpublic school, including religious activities, to conform to the policies adopted by the board of education. The Court further held that the standards effectively eradicated the distinction between public and nonpublic education and thereby infringed on the parents' right under U.S Const. amend. XIV to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Thus, the Court reversed the judgment of the appellate court and ordered that the parents be discharged.

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