Law and Politics: Occasional Papers of Felix Frankfurter, 1913-1938

By Felix Frankfurter; E. F. Prichard Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

Can the Supreme Court Guarantee Toleration?

This selection appeared as an unsigned editorial in the New Republic for June 17, 1925.

IN 1922 Oregon passed an Education Act with "the manifest purpose," in the language of the Supreme Court of the United States, "to compel general attendance at public schools by normal children, between eight and sixteen, who have not completed the eighth grade." The Act was to become effective September 1, 1926. Two years before the new dispensation became operative, two private schools--a Catholic institution and a military academy--sought to enjoin the future enforcement of the Act. This was the legal machinery by which the Supreme Court was enabled to invalidate the notorious Oregon legislation. . . .

The offense of the law was a . . . far-reaching one. It is summed up in the following sentence of Mr. Justice McReynolds' opinion: "The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only." Thus comes to an end the effort to regiment the mental life of Americans through coerced public school instruction. Two years ago the Supreme Court invalidated legislation ultimately rooted in the same attitude of intolerance, which led Nebraska, Iowa, and Ohio to prohibit the teaching of any other modern language except English in any school, public or private, during the tender years of youth. And perhaps within two years the Supreme Court will exercise its veto against the

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