During the Progressive Era, state governments did not only regulate what students could learn. Progressive laws also regulated where students could learn. The Oregon Compulsory Education Act had the effect of requiring all children to attend public schools. Specifically, parents who sent their children to private schools would be guilty of a misdemeanor. The Society of the Sisters and the Hill Military Academy, two private schools in Oregon, challenged the law as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Justice McReynolds wrote the majority opinion for a unanimous Court. He found that the Oregon statute was unconstitutional. The government can only violate constitutional rights, he found, when the law has a “reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the state.”