Supreme Court of the United States
Case No. 15–21, 100 M.S.Ct. 111
SancteAmbrosi, J. delivered the opinion of a unanimous Court.
Stands before us a challenge by theSolomonCaine (“Petitioner”) of a Northeast State law entitled B.046 and referred to as “Stopping Abuse and Indoctrination of Children Act of 2015,” “SAICA,” or “Anti-Abuse Act of 2015” (hereinafter SAICA). This law purports to protect children from mental abuse at the hands of their parents or others requested to committed such abuse by their parents. Petitioner asserts and asks of this Court to determine that the law violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and is void for vagueness. Northeast State has failed to defend the law. This Court answers Petitioner’s questions in the affirmative.
Petitioner asserts this Court’s decision in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), as a basis for the argument that SAICA violates the First Amendment. In that case, this Court considered a situation in which three Amish families withdrew their children from school due to religious beliefs. At that time, Wisconsin had a mandatory attendance policy. The withdrawal of the students at such a young age violated this policy. In that case, this Court ruled that the true and objective religious practice of a family outweighed the State’s interest in educating the children that reside therein. This Court concluded that the State could not impede upon a family’s legitimate religious practices and beliefs. SAICA, in Section III, contains the following clause: “…uses cultural, religious, or ethnic pressure or indoctrination to alter a child’s beliefs and identity…” Aside from the fact that this clause assumes that a child somehow holds beliefs and identity that the child does not derive from his or her environment and upbringing, this clause shows a clear and egregious violation of the Free Exercise clause and a parent’s right to educate their children.
The State, in asserting this clause, fails to define “pressure.” As such, this Court must turn to the plain definition of the terms. According to Meriam Webster, “pressure” is defined, in relevant part, as “the burden of physical or mental distress” or “the constraint of circumstance: the weight of social or economic imposition.” Neither of these definitions is compelling enough to limit the clause of SAICA to abusive acts. It cannot be denied that any act of learning involves some mental stress or social imposition. Further, the act of learning itself does not leave a child without an alteration in beliefs or identity. As such, it would seem that this clause forbids all education of children by their parents. Such a proscription violates the basic and fundamental relationship between parent and child: a relationship that far supersedes that of State and child. Further, the definition for “indoctrination” given within the law disallows parents from disseminating anything to their children that would cause the children to gain a sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle. Children do not “organically” hold any of these things, thus any action or assertion by a parent that causes a child to start to hold one of those three things is purported to be illegal. Such is fundamentally detrimental to the parent-child relationship and the development of the health and maturity of the child. Northeast State’s own law, therefore, does the exact opposite of that which it purports to end.
Not only does this law violate the Free Exercise clause, it also ensures that it violates the Freedom of Speech held by all citizens. In National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958), this Court held that the freedom of citizens to their privacy and to associate freely with others is an essential and integral part of the Freedom of Speech. It would seem that, in passing this law, the Northeast State strongly disagrees. However, the Northeast State is disturbingly wrong. People have the right to “pursue lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in doing so as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Id. Religious practices are a lawful private interest and the education of one’s children in such practices and beliefs is equally the same. We hold now as our forebears did in the cited case: the freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable part of the Due Process Clause as it is found in the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Crandall v. Nevada, 73 U.S. 35 (1868), this Court clearly held that “a state cannot inhibit people from leaving the state by taxing them.” The Court made the decision because it found the freedom of movement to be an integral freedom. To remove guardianship for sending one’s children out of state is a clear and direct violation of this freedom. Northeast State also creates a criminal punishment for parents of children who are “forcefully taken” to the organizations forbidden in Section IV(a) of SAICA. Due to this, this Court finds itself having to extend its previous holding in Crandall in such a manner that should never have to occur. That being said, we now clearly and expressly state that a state cannot inhibit people from leaving the state or allowing their children to leave the state by criminalizing that act. While kidnapping a child is an egregious offense against the child, the family, and society, SAICA fails to define “forcefully” and thus effectively defines a child’s own parents (while still having full legal and physical custody) removing the child from the state despite protests from the child as kidnapping. Children protest the actions of their parents for many reasons. That they do so does not illegitimatize or illegalize the actions of the parents as Northeast State seems to think it does.
SAICA criminalizes the act of sending a child out-of-state to gain sectarian instruction. Section IV(b) states:
Parents or guardians of any child who is forcefully taken to any such organization using third parties with parental consent shall be be [sic] convicted to serve a sentence not to exceed 6 months and/or a be [sic] issued a fine not to exceed $10,000.
To fully understand the criminalized act, we must go back to Section IV(a) of the law, in which “such organization” is defined. The organizations in question are “out-of-state organizations that violate Section III” of SAICA. Section III of the law, in full, reads:
Section 1012 (e) of the FCT. LAW is amended by adding subsection (iv): Uses violence, or the threat of violence, to unnecessarily and harmfully alter a child’s beliefs and identity; authorizes or willfully allows an authorized guardian to use abusive, violent, harmful or subversive means to alter a child’s beliefs and identity; uses cultural, religious or ethnic pressure or indoctrination to alter a child’s beliefs and identity; uses harmful mental and emotional methods to alter a child’s beliefs and identity.
This section uses several terms that remain undefined by the law. These terms include: violence, threat of violence, unnecessarily, harmfully, abusive, harmful, subversive, pressure, and mental and emotional methods. These terms are used to explain the acts disallowed by the statute. Because they do this, SAICA is constructed in such a manner that a reasonable person would not be able to determine what specific conduct is prohibited therein. As such, the law is void for vagueness and is unenforceable.
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Northeast State B.046 is such a clear and egregious violation of fundamental rights and freedoms of Americans that the State should be utterly ashamed and embarrassed that it would pass such a law. In doing so, the State has shown an utter disregard for the First Amendment, the right to privacy of its citizens, and, most of all, common sense and decency. While the abuse of children is something that all governments should work to prevent, the complete destruction of the parent-child relationship should not find itself a part of those preventive measures.
For the foregoing reasons, this Court finds the terms of Northeast State B.046 to be in clear and direct violation of the United States Constitution and the criminal penalties therein to be void for vagueness. The provisions of SAICA, therefore, cannot be rightfully enforced and the law is stricken in its entirety.
It is so ordered.
The children were removed after the eighth grade as per the normal practices of the Amish community.
“Indoctrination is defined as to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle not otherwise naturally and organically held by the child.”
Of course, this restriction on state power does not render the state incapable of attempting to stop a fugitive from escape or to interpose upon legitimate cases of kidnapping.