MEYER v. STATE OF
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 ten years,
who had not attained [*397] and successfully passed the eighth grade. The
information is based upon "An act relating to the teaching of foreign
languages in the State of
"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 other 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
"The salutary purpose of the
statute is clear. The legislature had
seen the baneful effects of permitting foreigners, [*398]
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, 132 N.E. (
[***1045] "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. [*399] 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; Butchers' Union Co. v. Crescent
City Co., 111 U.S. 746; Yick W v v.
Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356; [**627] Minnesota v. Barber, 136 U.S. 313; Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578; Lochner
The American people have always
regarded education and acquisition of knowledge as matters of supreme
importance which should be diligently promoted.
The Ordinance of 1787 declares, "Religion, morality, and knowledge
being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and
the means of education shall forever be encouraged." Corresponding to the
right of control, it is the natural duty of the parent to give his children
education suitable to their station in life; and nearly all the States,
Practically, education of the young is only possible in schools conducted by especially qualified persons who devote themselves thereto. The calling always has been regarded as useful and honorable, essential, indeed, to the public welfare. Mere knowledge of the German language cannot reasonable be regarded as harmful. Heretofore it has been commonly [***1046] looked upon as helpful and desirable. Plaintiff in error taught this language in school as part of his occupation. His right thus to teach and the right of parents to engage him so to instruct their children, we think, are within the liberty of the Amendment.
The challenged statute forbids the teaching in school of any subject except in English; also the teaching of any other language until the pupil has attained and successfully passed the eighth grade, which is not usually accomplished before the age of twelve.The Supreme Court of the State has held that "the so-called ancient or dead languages" are not "within the spirit or the purpose of [*401] the act." Nebraska District of Evangelical Lutheran Synod v. McKelvie, 187 N.W.927. Latin, Greek, Hebrew are not proscribed; but German, French, Spanish, Italian and every other alien speech are within the ban. Evidently the legislature has attempted materially to interfere with the calling of modern language teachers, with the opportunities of pupils to acquire knowledge, and with the power of parents to control the education of their own.
It is said the purpose of the legislation was to promote civic development by inhibiting training and education of the immature in foreign tongues and ideals before they could learn English and acquire American ideals; and "that the English language should be and become the mother tongue of all children reared in this State." It is also affirmed that the foreign born population is very large, that certain communities commonly use foreign words, follow foreign leaders, move in a foreign atmosphere, and that the children are thereby hindered from becoming citizens of the most useful type and the public safety is imperiled.
That the State may do much, go very far, indeed, in order to improve the quality of its citizens, physically, mentally and morally, is clear; but the individual has certain fundamental rights which must be respected. The protection of the Constitution extends to all, to those who speak other languages as well as to those born with English on the tongue. Perhaps it would be highly advantageous if all had ready understanding of our ordinary speech, but this cannot be coerced by methods which conflict with the Constitution -- a desirable end cannot be promoted by prohibited means.
For the welfare of his
The desire of the legislature to foster a homogeneous people with American ideals prepared readily to understand current discussions of civic matters is easy to appreciate. Unfortunate experiences during the late war and aversion toward every characteristic of truculent adversaries were certainly enough to quicken that aspiration. But the means adopted, we think, exceed the limitations upon the power of the State and conflict with rights assured to plaintiff in error. The interference is plain enough and no adequate reason therefor in time of peace and domestic tranquility has been shown.
The power of the State to compel
attendance at some school and to make reasonable regulations for all schools,
including a requirement that they shall give instructions in English, is not
questioned. Nor has challenge been made
of the State's power to prescribe a curriculum for institutions which it supprots. Those matters
are not within the present controversy.
Our concern is with the prohibition approved by the Supreme Court.
As the statute undertakes to interfere only with teaching which involves a modern language, leaving complete freedom as to other matters, there seems no adequate foundation for the suggestion that the pupose was to protect the child's health by limiting his mental activities. It is well known that proficiency in a foreign language seldom comes to one not instructed at an early age, and experience shows that this is not injurious to the health, morals or understanding of the ordinary child.
The judgment of the court below must be reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.