Upham on Society of Sisters, Natural Law, and the Pope’s Undeserved Praise

David R. Upham (U. of Dallas) has posted Pierce v. Society of Sisters, Natural Law, and the Pope’s Extraordinary — But Undeserved — Praise of the American Republic. The abstract follows.

In his 1929 encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri (On Christian Education), Pope Pius XI paid an extraordinary tribute to the United States, the Supreme Court, and more specifically, the Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment in Pierce v. Society of Sisters. In the course of affirming that parents have the primary right and duty to direct their offsprings’ education, he quoted with approval from Justice McReynolds’s opinion in Pierce. Moreover, the Pope praised both the Taft Court for its reliance on natural law, and the whole American Republic for having ordained the natural rights of the family, and the natural law in general, in the Constitution.

This article will explore the significance and validity of this praise. This article concludes that this tribute, while extraordinary, was simply unwarranted. Rather, the Taft Court evinced an increasing indifference, if not hostility, to natural law concepts–an indifference clear in Pierce itself as well as Buck v. Bell and other cases. Read more