A very important person as regards Amish religious freedom passed away a month ago. I’m not sure how many Amish people know of William C. Lindholm today, but he was instrumental to the freedoms Amish now have in educating their children.

Young Center Senior Scholar Steven Nolt shares the following on Lindholm and his relevance to the Amish:

The Rev. William “Bill” C. Lindholm, the Lutheran pastor who championed Amish religious liberty, most famously in the school cases that became Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), died on May 9, age 88. His funeral, delayed due to current public health restrictions, took place on Saturday, June 6, in Livonia, Michigan.

An Iowa native, Bill Lindholm served Lutheran churches in Michigan from 1958 until his retirement in 2002. During the 1960s, he developed a Lutheran summer camp in Oscoda County, Michigan, not far from the Amish settlement at Mio. As he explained in a 1993 essay, he first got to know the Amish when he hired members of the community to help construct the camp. They soon became good friends. As he learned more about their faith and life, he also too an interest in the conflicts brewing around compulsory schooling and the Amish. At the time, the states of Pennsylvanian, Ohio, and Indiana had granted exemption from high school attendance, but Wisconsin had not, and a case there seemed headed for court.

Lindholm spearheaded the formation of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom (NCARF), comprised of lawyers, educators, academics, and civil rights advocates, and sponsored the case as it moved through the state courts and eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it became Wisconsin v. Yoder. Lindholm strongly believed that religious liberty should include not only the freedom to believe, but also the freedom to practice one’s beliefs.

Buchanan County, Iowa, 1965. Amish children flee from police into a cornfield. The incident captured in this photo, by Des Moines Register photographer Thomas DeFeo, would help galvanize support for the Amish from Lindholm and others

In Wisconsin v. Yoder the Supreme Court unanimously sided with the Amish. The case set a precedent for other religious liberty cause, as well as legitimating alternative approaches to education, such as the Navajo community-led school movement.

In the decades after 1972, Lindholm continued to take an interest in religious liberty causes and, through the NCARF to challenge legal restrictions on the expression of Amish religious beliefs. In his later years, Bill gave considerable energy to providing care for his wife, Patricia Schneider Lindholm, until she died in 2018. They had three children and two grandchildren.

You can read the story of Lindholm meeting the Amish referenced above, and more from Lindholm on his work with the Amish, in Chapter 6 of The Amish and the State (“The National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom”).

Lindholm’s website, with more on the Wisconsin v. Yoder case, is amishreligiousfreedom.com.

Rest in peace.

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