Meyer v. Nebraska

262 U.S. 390, 43 S. Ct. 625 (1923)



The liberty guaranteed under U.S. Const. amend. XIV 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.


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 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. On review, the court reversed the state supreme court's judgment, holding that the Nebraska statute was arbitrary and infringed on the liberty guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.


Does a local statute forbidding the teaching of any subject in a non-English language run contrary to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?




The court reversed, holding that the statute was arbitrary and without reasonable relation to any legitimate State goal. The court further held that the liberty guaranteed by U.S. Const. amend. XIV protected the teacher's right to teach and the right of parents to engage the teacher in educating their children. The court stated that education and acquisition of knowledge were matters of supreme importance that should be diligently promoted. The State could not, under the guise of exercising its police power, interfere with such guaranteed liberty interests. The court found that, by the statute, the legislature was attempting to materially interfere with the calling of modern language teachers, with the opportunities of students to acquire knowledge, and with the power of parents to control the education of their own children. Thus, the teacher's conviction was based on an unconstitutional statute.

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