“A Dangerous League” The American Sentinel 5, 28, pp. 217-219.

July 17, 1890

EARLY in the year we noticed in THE SENTINEL the organization in this city of the National League for the Protection of American Institutions, and promised at the time to tell more about it when we should find out more. We have now found out more about it, and we are going to tell it; and what we tell about it shall be simply what we know.

Document No. 1 of the League, says:—

The objects of the League are to secure constitutional and legislative safeguards for the protection of the common school system and other American institutions, and to promote public instruction in harmony with such institutions, and to prevent all sectarian or denominational appropriations of public funds.

Hon. John Jay, ex-Minister to Austria, is President, and Rev. James M. King, D.D., of the Methodist Episcopal Church, is General Secretary. Quite a large number of millionaires, and other prominent men, are members of the League, among whom are Bishops Potter and Coxe, Drs. Howard Crosby and John Hall, and Rabbi Mendes. Other well-known names are those of Clinton B. Fisk, H.H. Boyesen, and E. P. Bellamy.

The primary step taken, and the first work proposed to be accomplished by the League, is to secure the following amendment to the Constitution of the United States:—

No State shall pass any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or use its property or credit, or any money raised by taxation, or authorize either to be used, for the purpose of founding, maintaining, or aiding, by appropriation, payment for services, expenses, or otherwise, any church, religious denomination, or religious society, or any institution, society, or undertaking which is wholly, or in part, under sectarian or ecclesiastical control.

That amendment says very much, or it says very little. It says very much that is good, or it says very much that is bad. If it be taken plainly upon what it says, and interpreted according to its true meaning, it is well enough. The latter clause forbids the State to devote any of its funds, or credit, to any sectarian or denominational school, or any school under ecclesiastical control. That is, it forbids the appropriation of any funds for church uses or for use in any church institutions. It forbids any State money, or credit, to be given to any church schools; but that clause does not forbid in any way the teaching of religion in the public schools. It does not forbid the use of State money, property, or credit for the purposes of teaching religion in the public schools. The first clause, however, would forbid this if given its true meaning, because no religion can be taught in the public schools and at the same time leave everybody the free exercise of religion.

If, therefore, this should become a part of the Constitution, and should be interpreted and enforced according to the true meaning of the words used, it would be well enough; but this is not intended by the League which proposes the amendment. They do not intend by it that the teaching of religion—of Christianity in fact—shall be excluded from the public schools. And this is why we have said that the proposed amendment means much that is good, or much that is bad. If it be fairly interpreted, if it be interpreted according to the meaning of the words used, it is good; but if it be interpreted according to the intents of the League which framed it, then it is only bad.

We have not the individual views of all the enrolled members; but we have the printed views of both the President and the General Secretary, and if the principles of the League, and the intents [218] of the League, in this matter, are represented by its President and its General Secretary, and if those principles and intents are expected to be carried into effect under the amendment when adopted, then the amendment means much that is bad.

Fairly and honestly interpreted, the amendment would forbid the use of the Bible or the teaching of any religion in the public schools; yet, February 15, 1889, Dr. James M. King, then the representative of the Evangelical Alliance, and now the General Secretary of this League, appeared before the United States Senate Committee on Education and Labor, and argued in favor of the proposed Blair Amendment to the United States Constitution, which distinctly proposed to enforce by national power, the teaching of “the principles of the Christian religion” in all the public schools of the Nation. In his speech he argued earnestly for that “Christianity” which is “a part of American law.” He said:—

The Christianity which has from the beginning characterized our public schools, and which properly belongs to the schools of Christian people, is thus alluded to by the Evangelical Alliance in a recent circular to the American people:—

Touching the management of our common schools on the purity of whose teaching depends the character of the Nation, this Alliance would earnestly and respectfully entreat all who would maintain in their purity and beneficence our American institutions, to have eye to the schools in their own immediate neighborhood; to cherish them with affectionate and jealous care; to guard them from partisan and sectarian manipulation, to see that the teachers are fitted for their work, morally as well as intellectually, and that they worthily appreciate the grandeur of their task in training children for their high duties as American citizens. They should clearly understand that while those duties are based upon the broad, tolerant Christianity which our country holds to be, in a modified sense, a part of the American law—the Christianity revealed in the Bible, and whose divine origin and birth are judicially recognized—a Christianity not founded upon any particular tenets, but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men; the Christian ethics and influence thus authorized and demanded in our schools must never be narrowed or perverted in our State institutions, and least of all in our public schools, by the admission of denominational dogmas or doctrines, or of decrees or maxims at variance with American rights, American principles, or American law; or inconsistent with the fundamental American principle of a complete separation of Church and State.

Again: It is now known everywhere that the Wisconsin Supreme Court lately decided against the use of the King James version of the Bible in the public schools. The Court decided thus upon the strength of the clause in the State Constitution forbidding sectarian instruction in the public schools, and which forbade the State to make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. In short, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin decided against the use of the Bible in the public schools, under constitutional provisions which in substance and on their face are identical with this amendment which is proposed by the National League for the Protection of American Institutions; yet, on the eighth day of April, 1890, in the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Dr. King, at the time General Secretary of this League, as Chairman of the Conference Committee on Religion and Public Education, presented a report in which are the following statements of what the committee called “principles“:—

2. That the separation of Church acid State cannot mean under our form of government the separation of Christian morality and the State.

3. Historically, and by the highest legal and judicial precedent we are a Christian Nation.

4. It is well settled by decisions in leading States of the Union that Christianity is a part of the common law of the State: “the American States adopted these principles from the common law of England.”

5. Education consists in the symmetrical development of the whole man for the purpose of his creation. This purpose is admitted to be moral. Purely secular education is impossible in a land whose literature, history, and laws are a product of a Christian civilization.

12. We repudiate as un-American and pagan, and as a menace to the perpetuity of our free institutions, the recent Supreme Court decision in the State of Wisconsin, a decision dictated and defended by the enemies of the public schools, that the reading of the Bible, without comment, is “sectarian instruction of the pupils, in view of the fact that the Bible contains numerous passages upon some of which the peculiar creed of almost every religious sect is based. And that such passages may be reasonably understood to inculcate the doctrines predicated upon them.” The enemies of the common school declare that “exclusion of the Bible would not help the matter. This would only make the schools purely secular, which were worse than making them purely Protestant. For as it regards the State, society, morality, all the interests of this world, Protestantism we hold to be far better than no religion.”

In the present state of the controversy, we hold it to be the duty of the citizens of a commonwealth, Christian in its history and in the character of its laws, to deny that the Bible is a sectarian book, and to claim for it a place whenever the State attempts to educate youth for the duties of citizenship.

And April 16, 1890, in a long letter to the New York Times, Hon. John Jay, the President of the League, took the Times to task for its criticism of the above report. The sole object of the letter is to prove that “Christianity is a part of American law” and that therefore Christianity and its interests must be respected and enforced by the law, and it distinctly defended the right of the State “to teach morality,” “to approve the ten commandments,” and “to instruct children in the law of God and the sermon on the mount.” And he assumes the task of “defending American law from the charge of ignoring Christianity” which he declares “is not difficult for even a layman.”

By these evidences it is plain enough that this League for the Protection of American Institutions does not really intend to protect the American public school. While proposing that this amendment shall prohibit the State from devoting any money to any church school or institution, the League does intend that the State shall teach the Christian religion in the public school, and shall use its money for that purpose. The League gives to the word “sectarian” a meaning of its own, a meaning which the word cannot fairly be made to bear, and it intends that under that meaning its views of the Christian religion shall be forced upon the people in the public schools at the public expense.

We are not alone in the view that by interpretation this proposed amendment is to be made to enforce what it does not say. The same day on which Dr. King spoke before the Senate Committee in behalf of the Blair Amendment, Rev. T. P. Stevenson, Corresponding Secretary of the National Reform Association, spoke immediately preceding Dr. King, and presented a memorial of which the two following resolutions are a part:—

Resolved, That our common schools, as one of the most important institutions of our country, should correspond to the Christian origin, history, and character of the Republic itself. Our schools should teach the history of our country, and the character of our institutions, our laws, and the reasons for them, the prerogatives and responsibilities of the sovereign people and their government, on the loyalty due, under God, to the authority of our own rulers. The Bible ought not only to be read but taught in all the schools. The public schools must prove a failure if they do not train our rising generation to be honest, virtuous, and loyal citizens. Such training, the ordinance for the Territory of the Northwest, and Washington’s farewell address, assure us, can be found only in the principles of religion.

Resolved, That while our schools are and should be Christian, no preference or advantage should be given to any one sect or denomination in connection with the public schools. Above all, no sect can justly or fairly claim any share of the public money for the support of its own sectarian schools.

This expresses the same principles precisely as those held by Dr. King and Mr. John Jay; and of this amendment that is framed and proposed by the League, the Christian Statesman of which Mr. Stevenson is editor, says:—

It ought to receive the immediate and serious support of all loyal Americans.

And then says:—

Rightly interpreted, the foregoing could not be used in any way as a lever to overthrow the Christian elements in our public schools.

By these evidences it is plain enough that if that amendment were adopted and were a part of the United States Constitution, and the United States Supreme Court should by it decide against the use of the King James version of the Bible in the public schools, that Court would be denounced by this League as an aider and abettor of “the enemies of the common schools,” and such decision would be denounced by this League as “un-American and pagan.”

Another thing, it is only Protestants who demand, as in Wisconsin, that the Bible, that is, the King James version of the Bible, shall be used in the public schools. This according to the above report of the General Secretary of this League is not sectarian. It is held not to be sectarian because the leading Protestant denominations all agree that it is proper. With this meaning given to the world “sectarian” these denominations might establish [219] what they would call a National University, say at Washington City. They could put it under State control and then could draw from the public treasury all the money that by any influence they could secure in support of that school, and so teach their views of Christianity in the school. All this, even though that amendment were a part of the national Constitution, because the school would not be under ecclesiastical control, but State control, and according to their interpretation the teaching of their views of Christianity and the Bible would not be sectarian.

Or, on the other hand, the United States might be persuaded as Senator Edmunds’ bill proposes, to establish a National University itself, and these denominations, according to their interpretation of the word “sectarian,” could have taught there at the national expense, their views of Christianity and the Bible. And if these things were not so taught in such an institution, then according to these “principles” they would repudiate the instruction as “un-American and pagan, and a menace to the perpetuity of our free institutions.”

According to their idea, their view of Christianity and the Bible is not sectarian, therefore it must be taught in the public schools. But if the question be left to the States there will be a disagreement between them, as has already appeared in supreme court decisions. But if this proposed amendment should be adopted the whole question would be at once removed from State jurisdiction and made national only. Then if a decision of the United States Supreme Court should be secured sustaining the ideas of the League that Christianity and the Bible are not sectarian, a national religion would thus be established at one stroke. And that is what this League means, according to the expressed views of its President and General Secretary.

Therefore, judged and interpreted by the views and intents of the President and General Secretary of the National League for the Protection of American Institutions, this proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States is to be used only as a means of establishing so-called Protestant Christianity as a national religion. It means in the end just what the so-called Blair Amendment means, but it is worse than that, in that whereas the Blair Amendment plainly says what it means, the amendment offered by this League means the same thing, but sets it forth in language which appears to promise precisely the opposite, leaving it to their own interpretation to secure by it what the League intends. If those who propose and advocate this amendment mean what the amendment says, it would be all well enough; but when they mean the opposite of what it says, then it makes the whole thing to be only evil. If the amendment were adopted as it reads, and were interpreted as it says, it would be perfectly proper and a good thing; but when those who have framed it and who propose to secure its adoption mean the opposite of what it says, then the danger is that the influence which they exerted to secure its adoption might be available to secure their interpretation, which is the opposite of what it says.

Therefore the best thing for the American people to do, is to protect American institutions by giving no place to the National League for the Protection of American Institutions, at least so far as its views are represented in the published ideas of its President and General Secretary.

A. T. J.

Share this: