a division of Home School Legal Defense Association
September 25, 1999

The U.S. Census Requirements for Home Schoolers

by Samuel Redfern

The new millennium is approaching and the United States Census Bureau is preparing for the next census to be taken in the year 2000. Home schoolers have called the Home School Legal Defense Association inquiring as to their rights to protect the integrity and confidentiality of their home schools in responding to the U.S. Census questionnaire.

What are the U. S. Census Questions?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are two types of forms, and only one will be mailed to your residence. The mailing is done by random computer selection. The first form is called the short form. This is mailed to 83% of all United States households. This form is very basic and has seven questions for the head of the household: name, age, date of birth, sex, race, Hispanic origin, homeowner or renter. The rest of the individuals in the house receive six questions: name, age, date of birth, sex, race, and Hispanic origin.1

The second form is called the “long form.” This is the form that people could have a problem with as a more intrusive invasion of privacy since it has 53 questions. This form is mailed out to 17% of the population. The computer selection sends this to one out of every six households.2

Generally, the U.S. Census long form covers the following subjects as allowed by federal law (Title 13 of the USCS):

Social characteristics of Population: marital status, place of birth, citizenship, year of entry, education-school enrollment, educational attainment, ancestry, residence 5 years ago (migration), language spoken at home, veteran status, disability, grandparents as care givers.

Economic characteristics of Population: labor force status (current), place of work and journey to work, work status last year, industry, occupation, class of worker, income (previous year).

Physical characteristics of Housing: units in structure, number of rooms, number of bedrooms, plumbing and kitchen facilities, year structure built, year moved into unit, house heating fuel, telephone, vehicles available, farm residence.

Financial characteristics of Housing: value of home, monthly rent, shelter costs, (selected monthly owner costs)3

Will There be Any Questions About Home Schooling?

You will encounter one question about education-school enrollment on the Census long form. We recommend that you check the private school option for your home school, simply because there is no home school option, and in many states home schools can be considered a private school. The language says, “at any time since February 1, 2000 has this person attended regular school or college?” (Include only nursery school or preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, and schooling which leads to a high school diploma or a college degree). The best answer for home schoolers is to say: “Yes, private school.4

Will The Census Workers Come To Our Door?

Home school families have indicated concern about census worker visits. When, and why would a census worker come to your door? The answer according to the United States Census Bureau is simple. “There are only two reasons that a census worker will come to your door. If you have not returned a census form to the Bureau, or if your neighbor has not turned in a census form.”5 It is troubling that the U.S. Census would conduct neighborhood checks to make sure that everyone is filling out their forms. Home schoolers do need to be aware of this. You are not required to give any information about your neighbors to a census worker if they come to your door and your neighbor is not required to disclose information about your family.

Can The Census Information On Your Family Be Provided to Any Other Agency?

The United States Census Bureau claims that your privacy will be protected in conducting the U.S. Census. How is the privacy of the respondents protected? According to the Census Bureau, “the numbers we publish are combined with thousands of answers from people in your neighborhood and across the country. No one, except sworn Census Bureau employees, can see your questionnaire or link your name with your responses. In fact, the law provides severe penalties for any census employee that makes your answers known. By law (Title 13 USCS) the Census Bureau cannot share the individual answers it receives with others, including welfare agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, courts or police. The military personnel who help with the census on-base are sworn to protect the confidentiality of your answers. Anyone who breaks this law can receive up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines. Millions of questionnaires were processed during the 1990s without any breach of trust.”6

Title 13 of the United States Code Service (USCS) says that “Neither the Secretary, nor any other officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof, or local government census liaison, may, except as provided in section 8 or 16 or chapter 10 of this title;

  1. use the information furnished under the provisions of this title for any purpose other than the statistical purposes for which it was supplied; or
  2. make any publication whereby the data furnished by any particular establishment or individual under this title can be identified
  3. permit anyone other than the sworn officers and employees of the Department or bureau or agency thereof to examine the individual report.7

Is the U.S. Census Mandatory?

There is clear federal warning in the code about refusal to give information to a Census Worker. Title 13 of the USCS says, “Whoever, being over eighteen years of age, refuses, or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with the census or survey . . . applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.”8

There are similar penalties for refusal or neglect to answer questions, false answers or even giving suggestions or information with intent to cause inaccurate enumeration of population, for owners, proprietors, companies, businesses, religious bodies, and other organizations.

Under the interpretive notes and decisions on page 89 of Title 13 it says, “Refusal of defendant (citizen) to answer questions relating to population, housing, labor and health, none of which are unconstitutional invasions of privacy, subjects him to prosecution.”

The U.S. Code continues to clarify the questions you are required to answer. “(1) [W]ith respect to the answering of questions and furnishing of information, only to such inquiries as are within the scope of the schedules and questionnaires and of the type and character heretofore used in connection with the taking of complete censuses under the subchapters I and II of chapter 5 of this title.” 9

Is There A Religious Exemption in the U. S. Code?

The most significant religious exemption language in Title 13 of the United States Code guarantees everyone protection from invasive questions regarding religious beliefs:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body.”10

This simply means that nobody is required to answer questions regarding his religious beliefs or church membership. The Census Bureau has informed us that they will not include any religious questions of this nature on either census form.


The U.S. Census will start in January 2000. We hope this report provides you with the information that you need as a home school family to protect the confidentiality of your home schools and to understand the legal authority behind this census.

1 U.S. Census Bureau 2000 Publicity Office, July 8, 1999
2 U.S. Census Bureau 2000 Publicity Office, July 8, 1999
3 www.census.gov
4 U.S. Census Bureau 2000 Publicity Office, July 8, 1999
5 U.S. Census Bureau 2000 Publicity Office, July 8, 1999
6 www.census.gov
7 Title 13 USCS D=9 (a)
8 Title 13 USCS D 221 (a)
9 Title 13 USCS D 221 (n 4)
10 Title 13 USCS D 221 (c)