Amish Education Controversy
Several Amish families moved to Pawnee County from Ohio in 1978. They began farming and, as their way of life dictates, educating their ten school-age children. State law required college-degree certification for all Nebraska teachers, and the families were soon fined for educating their own children. Legal battles, in part supported by the Nebraska Civil Liberties Union, dragged on without success for four more years. Ultimately, the last Amish family returned to Ohio in 1982.
Shortly thereafter, a bill passed the Nebraska legislature allowing private schools to certify their own teachers. District courts elsewhere ruled that requiring Amish children to attend public school was violating their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion.
Today, several successful Amish communities exist in Nebraska.
"I just hope and pray that our heavenly Father works out some way we can stay here. I feel that according to the Constitution of the United States we should have our religious freedom. We don't condemn public school, but we don't feel it's a good environment for our children and our way of life."
Levi Troyer, Lincoln Journal, February 24, 1978
Farm machinery sale by Amish families near Pawnee City on March 11, 1982. Horse drawn machinery was a novelty to explore, not a necessity, for sale-goers. Photo courtesy Lincoln Journal Star.
The wide-brimmed black hat of an Amish farmer contrasts with the seed caps worn by local farmers who attended the Pawnee City auction on March 11, 1982. Photo courtesy Lincoln Journal Star.
Louisville Baptist Church education controversy
Just months before the first Amish family moved to Pawnee County, Everett Sileven (now Everett Sileven Ramsey) opened Faith Christian School in Louisville, Nebraska. The school, which was not accredited, had 17 pupils.
Over the next five years, Sileven and his followers would clash repeatedly with Nebraska law. The confrontation culminated in a standoff with Nebraska law enforcement officials on the night of October 18, 1982, when over eighty pastors from around the country were forcibly removed from the church so it could be padlocked shut. Church members retaliated by setting up school in an unheated school bus on the church grounds. Four days later, Sileven was released from jail in return for his pledge not to operate the school until the legislature could act.
After more protests, prayers, and jail sentences for both Sileven and Faith Christian parents, the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill to allow religious schools to hire their own educators, as long as the teachers took a nationally recognized teacher competency exam or parents submitted evidence that the individuals were qualified to teach.
Faith Christian School in Louisville is defunct.
"Therefore I do ask in the authoritative name of Jesus that almighty God bind the officials of the state of Nebraska and Cass County from further interference by converting them, restraining them, removing them or killing them. With this I commit the Faith Baptist Church and all its ministries into the hands of God and call him to honor his word."
Everett Sileven, Lincoln Journal, January 31, 1983
H. Edward Rowe, a supporter of Everett Sileven and a participant in the church lock-in, wrote this book detailing the Faith Christian Church 1982 standoff with Nebraska officials.
A High School Student at the Supreme Court of the United States:
Westside v. Mergens
After Westside High School refused to let Bridget Mergens, a 1985 senior, start a Bible study group that would meet at the school, Mergens and four other students filed suit. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was decided in favor of Mergens in 1990. As long as the school did not make Bible study part of the curriculum, the group could meet at the school. Some opponents of the law feared that allowing Christian groups to meet at the school would also allow Satanist groups to meet there.
Epilogue: Westside v. Mergens has recently been cited by students groups wishing to establish Lesbian/Gay/Bi-sexual/Transgender/Straight groups in high schools.