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.
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.
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
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
"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
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.