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Torah Bontrager and the Amish Heritage Foundation's Fight to Reverse WI v. Yoder

Torah Bontrager
Doug Doyle for WBGO

Torah Bontrager, the founder and Executive Director the Amish Heritage Foundation was born and raised traditional Amish.  Bontrager says she escaped in the middle of the night at age 15 in order to go to high school. Eventually she graduated from Columbia University in New York

Now, through the Amish Heritage Foundation, she's attempting to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court case WI v. Yoder, which allows the Amish Church to keep its children from receiving an adequate education and from attending school beyond the Amish 8th grade.

Bontrager says Yoder affects everyone's child because the federal courts do not hold that any citizen has a right to an education. Her foundation believes that is unconstitutional. By overturning Yoder, and thus aims to also establish that every American has the explicit Constitutional right to an adequate or quality education.

Amish Heritage Foundation
Credit American Heritage Foundation
Torah Bontrager founded the Amish Heritage Foundation

The Amish Heritage Foundation is holding its 2nd annual conference, Overturning WI v. Yoder: Making Education a Federal Right for All Children, at Columbia University on Saturday, November 16.

Bontrager, who is also an author, is one of many featured speakers at the conference.  Michael Rebell is the Keynote Speaker. Rebell, Executive Director of the Center for  Educational Equity,  is an attorney and a professor at Teachers College and Columbia Law School.

Bontrager says it's time the WI v. Yoder ruling is overturned.

"I believe one of the reasons why no one has challenged it is because it seems such an Amish-centric case.   By virtue of not being educated we Amish don't have resources or ability to protest this or to challenge this.  Only some of us ever exit the community.  Even less of us go on to get a college degree.  I'm one of the few people that I'm aware of that even went to an Ivy League university.  So this is pretty unusual and we need someone who is educated to be able to take this up with the Supreme Court and get it overturned."

Bontrager says she is sexual assault survivor and had been planning on leaving her Amish family since she was 11 years old. 

"My family members assaulted me.  I was so desperate for something better.  I did not have a happy childhood.  I had particularly abusive parents.  Not all Amish parents are as abusive as mine were.  I tried to kill myself once when I was 14.  I put a gun up to my head and that was the first time in my life that I had the thought "oh I want to live and instead of I want to die.  That was a pivotal moment for me."

For more information about upcoming conference on November 16th at Schermerhorn Hall at 1180 Amsterdam in New York City, you can go to www.amishheritage.org/conference.

Click above to hear the entire interview with Torah Bontrager.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.