From the article in Mennonite World Review:

Though the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wisconsin v. Yoder decision has traditionally been hailed as a religious freedom victory for the Amish, some Amish people want to challenge the 1972 ruling. That’s one thing the founders of the Amish Heritage Foundation, a new organization with a goal “to reclaim our Amish narrative,” will discuss at their first conference.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Amish, exempting them from compulsory education past the eighth grade.

“It’s identified as a religious freedom victory,” said Elam Zook, director for the development of Amish literature of AHF. “But for Amish children, it was fundamentally the absolute and complete opposite. . . . It was actually a betrayal of the core tenet of Anabaptism, which was adult baptism, which was about making a decision to become a member of the sacred community.”

Zook identifies as a “noncompliant Amish” person, like someone who identifies as culturally Jewish but does not practice the faith.

“We are not in compliance with church ordnung [rules], but we can’t erase our identity,” he said. “It’s always going to be there no matter what we do or where we go.”

Zook believes that given enough time, the Old Order Amish would have eventually become somewhat more culturally assimilated. But once the Wisconsin v. Yoder ruling limited government oversight of Amish children’s education, he said, the Amish “essentially became completely detached from any engagement [in society].”

In the program for the conference, Zook’s core argument is stated: “[Wisconsin v. Yoder] directly created an embrace of ignorance and a poverty of literature among our Amish people, and in the process, ran rough­shod over our legal rights as Amish children and adults. Wisconsin v. Yoder is responsible for freezing us Old Order Amish in time; we have stopped evolving from this point forward.”

Two other Amish-raised individuals comment in the article. Torah Bontrager:

Bontrager said the Amish are taught that their forebears died for an interpretation of religion that cannot be questioned.

“If I were to question or challenge that, that’s equal to spitting in the face of what our forefathers died for,” she said. “. . . We’re not allowed to look at our forefathers for inspiration before they attained their religious freedom. We’re not allowed to rebel like they did.”

Margaret Schwartz:

Schwartz said lack of education among the Amish was indeed a concern.

“I can see both sides,” she said. “I can see parents having a concern for their children’s education, because there are unbiblical things being taught [in public schools].”

She chose to home-school her children and complied with the relevant laws in her state. But she saw some Amish families pulling their children out of school at sixth grade, saying they would home-school them but then not give them a comparable education at home.

“I always enjoyed learning, and I wanted to go on to school,” she said. “Today, I would have been a doctor. Because I was an Amish girl, that opportunity was denied.”

Schwartz said not every Amish community is the same, and some are becoming more open to education. But she knew of some abuses that gave her concern.

The inaugural conference is themed “Disrupting History: Reclaiming Our Amish Story” and will take place September 28-29 at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.

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