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LRC 410


on 3 March 2014

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Transcript of MEYER vs NEBRASKA (1923)

Effect on Bilingual Education
Change in Education

Environment & Society
Justice James C. McReynolds
Justice James C. McReynolds
"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
ELLS AND THE LAW: Statutes, Precedents. (2009). Education Week, 28(17), 8-9.
"This case is also is often cited in matters involving the movement for bilingualism in the schools and courts, given the vast numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants now living in the United States" (Legal Legacy).
Immigration Rises
Literacy Requirement in 1917: English language attainment is required in order to obtain citizenship

After World War I
push for monolingualism
extensive campaign against all things German
In Education: some banned foreign language instruction, others banned only German
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
No foreign language may be taught (with the exception of "dead" languages) before the student has passed the eighth grade.
English should be the mother tongue of all children reared in Nebraska so that they may become citizens of "the most useful type" and so that public safety is not imperiled.
Siman Act
April 9, 1919
Meyer vs Nebraska
Argument of both sides
Meyer V Nebraska was an eye opener.
On April 9, 1919, Nebraska enacted a statute called "An act relating to the teaching of foreign languages in the state of Nebraska. This was called the Siman Act.
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.”
an instructor in Zion Parochial School, Robert T. Meyer, was caught reading in German to a 4th grade student
State Arrested, Convicted, & Fined Meyer$25
Appealed to US Supreme Court
Looked at 14th Amendment
Due process clause, protected the right of parents and teachers to determine what they would teach their children
7 to 4 voted that Siman Law violated constitution and that speaking a foreign language
"foster a homogeneous people... they could learn English and acquire American ideals."
When children grow up in foreign based communities “the children are thereby hindered from becoming citizens of the most useful type, and the public safety is imperiled”.
states job: “improve the quality of its citizens, physically, mentally and morally”
they will "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.”
Why do we think about it now?
This case opened up more opportunities in Nebraska.

"The Supreme Court Decides Meyer v Nebraska." Legal Legacy. N.p., 2 Aug. 2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
WWI - other language = support other country
worried about spies
non-english -"
"protect the child's health by limiting his mental activities.... experience shows that this is
not injurious
to the health, morals or understanding of the ordinary child..."

The American people have always regarded education and acquisition of knowledge as matters of supreme importance


“The problem for our
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."”

It is the, "
natural duty of the parent to give his children education suitable to their station in life
, and nearly all the States, including Nebraska, enforce this obligation by compulsory laws."

"Mere knowledge of the
German language cannot
be regarded as harmful
. Heretofore it has been
commonly looked upon as helpful and desirable.
pointed out that mere abuse incident to an occupation ordinarily useful is
not enough to justify its abolition, although regulation may be entirely proper.
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