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Over at the Washington Post’s essential Volokh Conspiracy blog, David Kopel retells the fascinating and important story of how, in 1922, the US Supreme Court came to recognize the right to teach one’s children in a language other than English — an extension of the general right to raise and educate one’s children according to one’s conscience.
In 1919, Nebraska outlawed teaching students younger than 9th grade in any language other than English. Like the Blaine Amendments, such laws were primarily directed at Catholic and Lutheran schools, which often taught religious studies in the native tongues of children’s immigrant families. When Robert T. Meyer, a schoolteacher at a Lutheran school, was arrested for teaching in German, he appealed his conviction all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Meyer’s lawyer, Arthur Mullen, argued that the Nebraska law violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of liberty, which he explained included “the right to study, and the right to use the human intellect as a man sees fit… [M]ental liberty is more important than the right to be physically free.” In response to pushback from Justice James Clark McReynolds during oral arguments, Mullen argued that the freedom of parents to educate their children in their religious tradition and values is central to freedom generally: