187 N.W. 100 (Neb. 1922), 21924, Meyer v. State

Docket Nº:21924
Citation:187 N.W. 100, 107 Neb. 657
Opinion Judge:FLANSBURG, J.
Attorney:Sandall & Wray and Albert & Wagner, for plaintiff in error. Clarence A. Davis, Attorney General, and Mason Wheeler, contra.
Judge Panel:Heard before MORRISSEY, C. J., ALDRICH, DAY, DEAN, FLANSBURG and LETTON, JJ., LETTON, J., MORRISSEY, C. J., dissenting. LETTON LETTON, J., dissenting.
Case Date:February 16, 1922
Court:Supreme Court of Nebraska

Page 100

187 N.W. 100 (Neb. 1922)

107 Neb. 657




No. 21924

Supreme Court of Nebraska

February 16, 1922

ERROR to the district court for Hamilton county: EDWARD E. GOOD, JUDGE. Affirmed.


Sandall & Wray and Albert & Wagner, for plaintiff in error.

Clarence A. Davis, Attorney General, and Mason Wheeler, contra.



Page 101

[107 Neb. 659] FLANSBURG, J.

In this action the defendant Meyer was charged with the violation of chapter 249, Laws 1919, commonly known as the Siman language law. He was found guilty and fined $ 25. From such judgment he has appealed to this court.

The law in question provides that no person, individual or as a teacher shall, in any private, denominational, parochial or public school, teach any subject to any person in any language other than the English language, and provides that languages, other than the English language, shall not be taught in such schools until after the pupil has attained and successfully passed the eighth grade.

The evidence shows that the defendant was a teacher in a parochial school maintained by the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, and that between the hour of 1 and 1:30, on May 25, 1920, he taught the German language in this school to a 10-year-old boy, a pupil in the school, who had not passed the eighth grade. The text book used for such teaching was a book of biblical stories, written in the German language. The defendant argues that in teaching the German language in this book he was giving religious instruction according to the faith of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. In regard to the purpose of the teaching, the pastor of the church testified:

"We have some members who had emigrated to this country when they were beyond school age and have not attended school over here, and they have learned enough to carry on their business transactions by means of the [107 Neb. 660] English language, but still they have had their instruction in religion in the German language and cannot understand an English sermon as well as in German, and they cannot give their children religious instruction in the English as well as in the German; and in order to keep the parents and children in a religious way in contact with each other and not diminish the influence of the parents in the home--for instance, so that the children can take part in the devotional exercises of the parents at home, attend public worship with the parents and worship with them--for that reason we wanted to have the children learn so much German that they could be able to worship with their parents. That was the ultimate and only object we had in view in teaching German."

From this testimony it is clear that the reading from the text book was not, at least solely, a devotional exercise. It was not religious worship, nor was it, primarily, religious instruction in itself. The text book contained biblical stories, but the subject-matter of the text, used for the purpose of studying a language, does not alone control nor indicate the object of the study. The object was, as stated, "to have the children learn so much German that they could be able to worship with their parents."

Defendant argues, then, that the teaching of the German language from this book containing Bible stories served a double purpose, in that it both taught the children the German language and also familiarized them with the Bible stories, and that the teaching, so characterized, was religious instruction. It must be conceded, even under that argument, that two subjects were being taught--one the German language and one a religious text. If the law prohibited the teaching of the German language as a separate and distinct subject, then, certainly, the fact that such language was taught from a book containing religious matter could not act as a shield to the defendant. The teaching of the German [107 Neb. 661] language, as a subject, would come within the direct prohibition of the law, regardless of what text might be used in the book from which the language was taught. It does not appear that the German language is a part of the religion of this church, nor that the services must, according to that particular faith, be rendered in German. It is true that in familiarizing the children with the German language they would become better able to fully understand the services of the church when conducted in

Page 102

German, but, so far as teaching the particular religious beliefs of the church to the children in the school was concerned, such religious teaching could, manifestly, be as fully and adequately done in the English as in the German language.

At this time we are not concerned, then, with the question of whether or not defendant had the right to conduct devotional exercises in the German language. Had that been the sole manner in which the German language was being used, it would have presented an entirely different question. It is not here a question as to the right to hold devotional exercises in the German language, regardless of what the pupils might incidentally attain in learning and familiarity with that language while in attendance upon such exercises, but it is a question of the direct and intentional teaching of the German language as a distinct subject.

The whole question resolves itself to this: Does the statute interfere with the right of religious freedom, by prohibiting the teaching of a foreign language, when that language is taught with the idea and purpose of later using it, at some other time or place or in the school itself, in religious worship?

The salutary purpose of the statute is clear. The legislature had seen the baneful effects of permitting foreigners, who had taken residence in this country, to rear and educate their children in the language of their native land. The result of that condition was found to be inimical to our own safety. To allow the children of [107 Neb. 662] foreigners, who had emigrated here, to be taught from early childhood the language of the country of their parents was to rear them with that language as their mother tongue. It was to educate them so that they must always think in that language, and, as a consequence, naturally inculcate in them the ideas and sentiments foreign to the best interests of this country. The statute, therefore, was intended not only to require that the education of all children be conducted in the English language, but that, until they had grown into that language and until it had become a part of them, they should not in the schools be taught any other language. The obvious purpose of this statute was that the English language should be and become the mother tongue of all children reared in this state. The enactment of such a statute comes reasonably within the police power of the state. Pohl v. State, 102 Ohio St. 474, 132 N.E. 20; State v. Bartels, 191 Iowa 1060, 181 N.W. 508.

It is suggested that the law is an unwarranted restriction, in that it applies to all citizens of the state and arbitrarily interferes with the rights of citizens who are not of foreign ancestry, and prevents them, without reason, from having their children taught foreign languages in school. That argument is not well taken, for it assumes that every citizen finds himself restrained by the statute. The hours which a child is able to devote to study in the confinement of school are limited. It must have ample time for exercise or play. Its daily capacity for learning is comparatively small. A selection of subjects for its education, therefore, from among the many that might be taught, is obviously necessary. The legislature no doubt had in mind the practical operation of the law. The law affects few citizens,...

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