A state law forbidding, under penalty, the teaching in any
private, denominational, parochial or public school, of any modern
language, other than English, to any child who has not attained and
Page 262 U. S. 391
passed the eighth grade, invades the liberty guaranteed by the
Fourteenth Amendment and exceeds the power of the State. P.
262 U. S.
So held where the statute was applied in punishment of an
instructor who taught reading in German, to a child of ten years,
in a parochial school.
107 Neb. 657, reversed.
ERROR to a judgment of the Supreme Court of Nebraska affirming a
conviction for infraction of a statute against teaching of foreign
languages to young children in schools.
Page 262 U. S. 396
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
Page 262 U. S. 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 Nebraska," approved April 9, 1919, which follows [Laws
1919, c. 249.]:
"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
"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
"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. 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 Congregation, a collection of Biblical stories
being used therefor. 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
"The salutary purpose of the statute is clear. The legislature
had seen the baneful effects of permitting foreigners,
Page 262 U. S. 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.
132 N.E. (Ohio) 20; State v. Bartels,
"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.
Page 262 U. S. 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
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
16 Wall. 36; Butchers' Union Co. v.
Crescent City Co., 111 U. S. 746
Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U. S. 356
Minnesota v. Barber, 136 U. S. 313
Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U. S. 578
Lochner v. New York, 198 U. S. 45
Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U. S. 78
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R.R. Co. v. McGuire,
219 U. S. 549
Truax v. Raich, 239 U. S. 33
Adams v. Tanner, 244 U. S. 590
New York Life Ins. Co. v. Dodge, 246 U.
; Truax v. Corrigan, 257 U.
; Adkins v. Children's Hospital,
261 U. S. 525
Wyeth v. Cambridge Board of Health,
200 Mass. 474. The
established doctrine is that this liberty may not be interfered
Page 262 U. S. 400
with, under the guise of protecting the public interest, by
legislative action which is arbitrary or without reasonable
relation to some purpose within the competency of the State to
effect. Determination by the legislature of what constitutes proper
exercise of police power is not final or conclusive, but is subject
to supervision by the courts. Lawton v. Steele,
152 U. S. 133
152 U. S.
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, including Nebraska, enforce
this obligation by compulsory laws.
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 reasonably be regarded as harmful.
Heretofore it has been commonly 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
Page 262 U. S. 401
the act." Nebraska District of Evangelical Lutheran Synod v.
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
For the welfare of his Ideal Commonwealth, Plato suggested a law
which should provide:
"That the wives of our guardians are to be common, and their
children are to be common, and no parent is to know his own
Page 262 U. S. 402
nor any child his parent. . . . The proper officers will take
the offspring of the good parents to the pen or fold, and there
they will deposit them with certain nurses who dwell in a separate
quarter; but the offspring of the inferior, or of the better when
they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious,
unknown place, as they should be."
In order to submerge the individual. and develop ideal citizens,
Sparta assembled the males at seven into barracks and intrusted
their subsequent education and training to official guardians.
Although such measures have been deliberately approved by men of
great genius, their ideas touching the relation between individual
and State were wholly different from those upon which our
institutions rest, and it hardly will be affirmed that any
legislature could impose such restrictions upon the people of a
State without doing violence to both letter and spirit of the
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 supports. Those
matters are not within the present controversy. Our concern is with
the prohibition approved by the Supreme Court. Adams
Page 262 U. S. 403
p. 244 U. S. 594
pointed out that mere abuse incident to an occupation ordinarily
useful is not enough to justify its abolition, although regulation
may be entirely proper. No emergency has arisen which renders
knowledge by a child of some language other than English so clearly
harmful as to justify its inhibition with the consequent
infringement of rights long freely enjoyed. We are constrained to
conclude that the statute as applied is arbitrary and without
reasonable relation to any end within the competency of the
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 purpose 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
[See the separate opinion of MR. JUSTICE
HOLMES, concurred in by MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND, in the next case,
at p. 262 U. S. 412