November 27, 1889
AT Bay View, Mich., the past summer, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union held a school of methods, at which Prof. E. E. White, superintendent of public schools of Cincinnati, made a speech on “The Duty of the Hour,” in which, according to Miss Willard’s report in the Union Signal, he made the following statement:—
“You must either concede the right of the State to teach everything or deny the right of the state to teach anything. We must take conscience as the compass and put reason at the helm of the ship of State or we cannot weather the gale. The family, Church and State, should in a holy alliance gather about the cradle.”
This is a part of the plea for the establishment and enforcement of religion in public schools. It is not true that the State has the right to teach everything or nothing. The State has no right to teach religion. In the first place, it cannot do it without establishing a State religion, and a State religion is not genuine religion at all, but is only a wicked mixture of worldliness with the forms of religion, and amounts to nothing but religious despotism; and such a despotism is the worst of all. Instead of being an educator and an enlightener, such a government crushes out freedom of thought, and ends only in ignorance and superstition; and ignorance mixed with superstition is worse than ignorance alone; and when the superstition is enforced by governmental power the evil is increased a thousand-fold.
If it be indeed true that the only alternative is to concede that the State must teach everything or nothing, then we will take the latter, and deny the right of the State to teach anything, because it is vastly better for the State to do nothing than for it to attempt to do what it is impossible for it to do, with the inevitable result—the establishment of a religious despotism enforcing superstitious forms by governmental power.
But, although it is not the right, and is not in the power, of the State to teach religion, the State has a right to teach something. It has the right to teach the rights and the duties of the citizen as a citizen to his fellow-citizens and to the State. This it can do; this it has the right to do; and there its rights and its powers end. It has no right to undertake authoritatively to declare what are men’s duties to God, or whether there is any God. That is for the individual to find out for himself, and to render according to the dictates and the light of his own conscience. When it shall ever come to that place where the State presumes to put itself above the parent in his relation to his child, and shall put itself between the parent and his child, and dictate what religion that child shall be taught, such a State is unworthy to stand for an hour. The right of the parent to the religious care and instruction of his child is paramount and absolute. And to the parent and the child this right is worth more than all the States in Christendom. That some parents neglect to exercise this right and fail to give to their children religious instruction, can never justify the State in usurping the place of the parent and destroying the right, either of those who neglect it or those who exercise it.
The State can never of right have anything to do with forming any alliance in which the church is concerned, whether about the cradle or anywhere else; and any alliance of the State with the family with reference to the cradle must end with its simple pledge of protection to both the family and the cradle. The child belongs to the parent and not to the State. Both the dictum and the theory that the child belongs to the State is pagan and not Christian; and throughout this whole discussion in behalf of religion in the public schools by the would-be leaders of thought, there is a current that is carrying them, and those who follow them, into downright paganism. It is true they profess to be doing it all in the name of Christianity, but the theory of the State which they maintain is the pagan theory; and when they propose to sanctify it with the form of Christianity as the State religion, then the result is a system exactly conformed to that of the Papacy, and is essentially papal.
A. T. J.