Meyer v. State of Nebraska

Decision Date04 June 1923
Docket NumberNo. 325,325
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. A. F. Mullen, of Omaha, Neb., C. E. Sandall, of York, Neb., and I. L. Albert, of Columbus, Neb., for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 391-393 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Mason Wheeler, of Lincoln, Neb., and O. S. Spillman, of Pierce, Neb., for the State of Nebraska.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 393-395 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Plaintiff in error was tried and convicted in the district court for Hamilton county, Nebraska, under an information which charged that on May 25, 1920, while an instructor in Zion Parochial School he unlawfully taught the subject of reading in the German language to Raymond Parpart, a child of 10 years, who had no attained and successfully passed the eighth grade. The information is based upon 'An act relating to the teaching of foreign languages in the state of Nebraska,' approved April 9, 1919 (Laws 1919, c. 249), which follows:

'Section 1. No person, individually or as a teacher, shall, in any private, denominational, parochial or public school, teach any subject to any person in any language than the English language.

'Sec. 2. Languages, other than the English language, may be taught as languages only after a pupil shall have attained and successfully passed the eighth grade as evidenced by a certificate of graduation issued by the county superintendent of the county in which the child resides.

'Sec. 3. Any person who violates any of the provisions of this act shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be subject to a fine of not less than twenty-five dollars ($25), nor more than one hundred dollars ($100), or be confined in the county jail for any period not exceeding thirty days for each offense.

'Sec. 4. Whereas, an emergency exists, this act shall be in force from and after its passage and approval.'

The Supreme Court of the state affirmed the judgment of conviction. 107 Neb. 657, 187 N. W. 100. It declared the offense charged and established was 'the direct and intentional teaching of the German language as a distinct subject to a child who had not passed the eighth grade,' in the parochial school maintained by Zion Evangelical Lutheran Congre ation, a collection of Biblical stories being used therefore. And it held that the statute forbidding this did not conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment, but was a valid exercise of the police power. The following excerpts from the opinion sufficiently indicate the reasons advanced to support the conclusion:

'The salutary purpose of the statute is clear. The Legislature had seen the baneful effects of permitting for eigners, 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 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, except those of foreign lineage.

Other citizens, in their selection of studies, except perhaps in rare instances, have never deemed it of importance to teach their children foreign languages before such children have reached the eighth grade. In the legislative mind, the salutary effect of the statute no doubt outweighed the restriction upon the citizens generally, which, it appears, was a restriction of no real consequence.'

The problem for our determination is whether the statute as construed and applied unreasonably infringes the liberty guaranteed to the plaintiff in error by the Fourteenth Amendment:

'No state * * * shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.'

While this court has not attempted to define with exactness the liberty thus guaranteed, the term has received much consideration and some of the included things have been definitely stated. Without doubt, it denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 21 L. Ed. 394; Butchers' Union Co. v. Crescent City Co., 111 U. S. 746, 4 Sup. Ct. 652, 28 L. Ed. 585; Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U. S. 356, 6 Sup. Ct. 1064, 30 L. Ed. 220; Minnesota v. Bar er, 136 U. S. 313, 10 Sup. Ct. 862, 34 L. Ed. 455; Allegeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U. S. 578, 17 Sup. Ct. 427, 41 L. Ed. 832; Lochner v. New York, 198 U. S. 45, 25 Sup. Ct. 539, 49 L. Ed. 937, 3 Ann. Cas. 1133; Twining v. New Jersey 211 U. S. 78, 29 Sup. Ct. 14, 53 L. Ed. 97; Chicago, B. & Q. R. R. v. McGuire, 219 U. S. 549, 31 Sup. Ct. 259, 55 L. Ed. 328; Truax v. Raich, 239 U. S. 33, 36 Sup. Ct. 7, 60 L. Ed. 131, L. R. A. 1916D, 545, Ann. Cas. 1917B, 283; Adams v. Tanner, 224 U. S. 590, 37 Sup. Ct. 662, 61 L. Ed. 1336, L. R. A. 1917F, 1163, Ann. Cas. 1917D, 973; New York Life Ins. Co. v. Dodge, 246 U. S. 357, 38 Sup. Ct. 337, 62 L. Ed. 772, Ann. Cas. 1918E, 593; Truax v. Corrigan, 257 U. S. 312, 42 Sup. Ct. 124, 66 L. Ed. 254; Adkins v. Children's Hospital (April 9, 1923), 261 U. S. 525, 43 Sup. Ct. 394, 67 L. Ed. ——; Wyeth v. Cambridge Board of Health, 200 Mass. 474, 86 N. E. 925, 128 Am. St. Rep. 439, 23 L. R. A. (N. S.) 147. The established doctrine is that this liberty may not be interfered with, under the guise of protecting the public interest, by legislative action which is arbitrary or without reasonable relation...

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