In defining “best interest” as the rights of the child, the court must
determine which rights its orders protect, thus restraining the court
from imposing its own version of “good” in the name of “best
It has long been recognized that parents have a fundamental
constitutional right to the upbringing of their children. In Pierce v.
Society of the Sisters, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the
Fourteenth Amendment provides a liberty interest in a parent’s or
guardian’s right to decide the mode in which his or her children are
educated.46 The state may not usurp this right when the questioned
legislation does not reasonably relate to a viable state interest.47 The
Court, in declining to give an exact definition of the liberties
guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment in Meyer v. Nebraska,
did recognize that included within the Fourteenth Amendment is the
freedom from governmental interference in the private home,
particular regarding child rearing.48 This Constitutional protection
can only be guaranteed when protecting and balancing all individual
rights of each family member.
Another example of the protection of the private family unit is
illustrated in the Court’s ruling in Wisconsin v. Yoder. The Supreme
Court held that a Wisconsin law that compelled parents to send their
children to public school until the age of sixteen was unconstitutional
as applied because it impermissibly interfered with the plaintiff’s
Amish religious beliefs.49 Soon after this decision, the rights afforded
to children began to evolve as courts dealt with family issues. It is in
46 Pierce v. Soc’y of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 533-34 (1925).
47 Id. at 534 (quoting Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923) and stating that
parents have a liberty interest in the upbringing of children). The Supreme Court
further found that the legislation prohibiting parents from choosing private
education for children unreasonably interfered with liberty of parents to direct
upbringing of children. Id.
48 Meyer, 262 U.S. at 398.
49 See generally Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 235 (1972) (stating that a
state’s interest in universal education, however highly ranked, is not totally free
from a balancing process when it impinges on other fundamental rights and
interests, such as those protected by the free exercise clause of the First
Amendment and the traditional interest of parents with respect to the religious
upbringing of their children).