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The Compulsory Education Act or the Oregon School Law, was a 1922 law in the U.S. state of Oregon that required school age children to attend only public schools. The United States Supreme Court later struck down the law as unconstitutional.


In 1922, the Masonic Grand Lodge of Oregon sponsored a bill to require all school-age children to attend public schools. With support also of the state Ku Klux Klan and Democratic Governor Walter M. Pierce, the Compulsory Education Law was passed by a vote of 115,506 to 103,685. Its primary purpose was to shut down Catholic schools in Oregon, but it also affected other private and military schools. It was challenged in court and struck down by the United States Supreme Court Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) before it went into effect.

The law, which was officially called the Compulsory Education Act and unofficially became known as the Oregon School Law, did not just require that children between the ages of eight and sixteen had to attend school; it required that they attend only public schools. By prohibiting children from attending private or parochial schools, the state thus forced such schools to close.

Outraged Catholics organized locally and nationally for the right to send their children to Catholic schools. In a 1925 decision, the United States Supreme Court declared the Oregon School Law unconstitutional in a ruling that that has been called "the Magna Carta of the parochial school system." In the ruling, the Court asserted that "the child is not the mere creature of the state" and settled once and for all the question of whether or not private schools had a right to exist in America.

See also[]

  • Bennett Law
  • Meyer v. Nebraska
  • Pierce v. Society of Sisters

Further reading[]

  • Lloyd P. Jorgenson. "The Oregon School Law of 1922: Passage and Sequel," The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Oct., 1968), pp. 455–466 in JSTOR
  • David B. Tyack. "The Perils of Pluralism: The Background of the Pierce Case,"American Historical Review, Vol. 74, No. 1 (Oct., 1968), pp. 74–98 in JSTOR