Posted to Op-Ed on

Op-Ed: New York Cannot Enforce Secular Education Standards on Yeshivas

In an opinion piece in The Forward, Loyola University Law Professor Yitzchok Adlerstein points to a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirms the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious beliefs, even if violating their state’s mandatory education standards.

From The Forward:

The middle of the road is for horses,” the famous Rebbe of Kotzk once said. Critics of the Orthodox Union and UJA-Federation seem to share that disapproval for those sitting out the battle over the Satmar school curriculum, according to a recent report in the Forward .

Why have those organizations not come out vocally in support of the bill before the N.Y. State Assembly that would put teeth in regulations that mandate which subjects private schools must teach? Why have they failed to protect Hasidic children from a sentence of enforced poverty, which is the result of being denied the most basic educational tools available to other Americans? Shouldn’t this be a no-brainer?

Not really. In fact, the more astute question might be why Jewish groups have not rallied to the defense of the Satmars, even though they (and we) do not share the Hasidim’s utter and absolute rejection of all things secular. Religious freedom is measured by how we protect the rights of those with whom we do not agree.

This is a religious freedom problem and it starts with a different faith, albeit one that also spoke a dialect of German and wore black frock coats: The Old Order Amish in the 1972 case of Wisconsin v. Yoder. Wisconsin, like every other state in the union, has a compulsory education law that requires students to go to school until the age of 16. Yoder sued, alleging that his faith prohibited secular education of his children after eighth grade. To everyone’s surprise, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution gives parents enough control in the education of their children that if their faith demands it, they can deprive their children of any education at all and simply pull them out of school and make them work on an Amish farm.

No one is obligated to send their children to school — any school — if it violates their religious rights. They do not even have to home school them: The kids can work on the farm.

Notwithstanding all the case law since then, Yoder remains good law. Of course, the government can and does regulate what is a licensed school and who is entitled to what aid from the state and under what circumstances, but it is important to understand the legal bottom line: A person who religiously objects to school can decline to send his children — at least after eighth grade and maybe earlier — to any school.

Click here to continue reading at The Forward.



  • 1. Change is needed now! wrote:

    I would say based on most of my friends and classmates that grew up in the Chabad system that they were very angry about the education they received.

    They don’t get a good chance of making a good living and having good opportunities .. Instead they have to find some random job that can’t support a big family ..

    The System is flaud… Needs to change..

    I think kids and young adults also deserve to know about the world they live in. Astronomy, psychology, biology… It’s a shame .. There is so much amazing knowledge out there..

    Also we see how a lot of chabad feels like the system was too intense and controlling and that backfires ..

    Let’s make a healthy and sensible system

  • 2. Pedant wrote:

    “1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirms the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious beliefs, even if violating their state’s mandatory education standards.”

    Google “Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and ask yourself whether the founding fathers of this once great country wanted federal bureaucrats dictating to me what I must teach my children.

    Seriously, send your kids to whatever school you wish, that is your liberty, but allow us the liberty to pursuit ‘Life’ as we see it, which was until very recently the common American heritage.

    Make your schools, blame your parents (if you must) but don’t be evil.

    So yes, make yourselves a ‘healthy’ system, by all means, but don’t bend us to your will by the force of a revolver, K :)

  • 3. I know this is a side note, but... wrote:

    …I would like to encourage all of us to reframe the discussion in one critical way: instead of “secular” studies, we should be calling them “general” studies. Math, science, geography, history, language arts, and more all occur in the Torah, and all it takes is a caring teacher to show our children that Hashem’s glory is reflected in the world through all of these subjects.

    By using such a polarizing and grating word, we make it hard for our fellow Jews to view the decision objectively – I wouldn’t want my children to learn “secular” studies! That said, how can they explain to others that special relativity shows that there’s no scientific problem with the Earth being the center of the universe (it just makes the math a lot harder!), if they don’t learn about science?

    The Rebbe teaches that our words have power – let’s use this power to enhance our community!

    (In response to the topic of the original article, I agree that we should all be very concerned about the NY state government imposing mandates on the curriculum of a private school – it’s alarming!)

    • 5. Sholom wrote:

      Number one let us be realistic.
      If most graduates of the system want limmudei chol than the Yeshiva that teaches the most limudei chol would have the biggest student body.
      yes many are upset at the system that they dont teach our children how to express themselves in any language.
      That and other problems affect our system.
      but just as you find some young men struggling to make a livelihood you will find their classmates who received the exact same education who are extremely successful.
      thank you

  • 6. just wondering wrote:

    if parents’ can decide how to educate their child, what makes any form of education mandatory? isnt that the definition of optional?
    now to the case at hand: we don’t actually believe in the freedom of religion principle as described in the article. very chassidish ppl would force other parent’ in the community to educate according to their standards. (does this remind you of the tznius police?)
    and likewise everybody disagrees with muslims having the right to educate children. i think my point is understood.

  • 7. israel wrote:

    The issue is once you start taking govt funds- as noted in the article

  • 8. Chani wrote:

    I went to religious school, was home schooled and I went to public school all between preschool and high school as well as University. I feel like I had a “well rounded” education.
    I like that in a public university I was able to learn about people’s beliefs. Now I can understand what others are saying and be better prepared to defend my beliefs when I feel they are attacked.
    That being said, there are times when I wish I had only gone to religious school. But I would never be upset with my fathers decision to educate me in the way he saw fit.
    So I guess I see both sides of the issue. If parents want their children to have secular or general studies while at a religious school they can do home school or possibly find a tutor and maybe barter if money is an issue. I don’t know that it should be forced on everyone. But on the other hand parents can have religion only school homeschooled……


Comments are closed.