“Religion and the Public Schools” The American Sentinel 4, 34, pp. 267, 268.

FEBRUARY 15, 1889, there was held a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Education and Labor upon the Blair resolution, to teach the principles of the Christian religion in all the public schools of the Nation. At that time there appeared before the committee, Rev. T. P. Stevenson, of Philadelphia, corresponding secretary of the National Reform Association; Rev. James M: King, D. D., of New York, representing the American branch of the Evangelical Alliance; Rev. George K. Morris, D. D., of Philadelphia; Rev. W. M. Glasgow, of Baltimore; Rev. J. M. McCurdy, of Philadelphia; C. R. Blackall; and W. M. Morris, M. D., of Philadelphia—all these in favor of the resolution.

Again, on February 22, there was a hearing before the committee on the same resolution. At that time there appeared Rev. Dr. Philip Moxom, Rev. Dr. James B. Dunn, Rev. Dr. James M. Gray—these three being a sub-committee from the Boston Committee of one hundred; Rev. Dr. J. H. Beard, Rev. T. P. Stevenson, and others, all in favor of the resolution. Against it there were Rev. J. O. Corliss and Alonzo T. Jones, editor of the AMERICAN SENTINEL. The following is Mr. Jones’ argument:—

Mr. Chairman, there is a point or two not yet touched upon which I wish to notice in the little time that I shall have. I gather from the letter from the author of this resolution to the secretary of the National Reform Association that the intention of this proposed amendment is primarily for the benefit of the State; that the object of the teaching of religion in the public schools is not to be given with the view of fitting the children for heaven, nor of making them Christians; but that it is rather and more particularly to fit them for this world and to make them good citizens; that it is not, religion which needs the support of the State so much as it is the State which needs the support of religion. This is the view held, I know, by some of the principal members of the National Reform Association, as, for instance, President Julius H. Seelye and Judge M. B. Hagans. These have expressed it that it is only as a political factor, and its worth only according to its “political value,” that the State proposes to secure and enforce the teaching of religion in the public schools; that the object of the instruction is not “the spiritual welfare of the children,” but “for the benefit of the State.”

This argument appears very plausible, but it is utterly fallacious. The supreme difficulty with such a view is that it wholly robs religion of its divine sanctions and replaces them only with civil sanctions. It robs religion of its eternal purposes and makes it only a temporal expedient. From being a plan devised by divine wisdom to secure the eternal salvation of the soul, Christianity is, by this scheme, made a mere human device to effect a political purpose. And for the State to give legal and enforced sanction to the idea that the Christian religion and the belief and practice of its principles are only for temporal advantage, is for the State to put an immense premium upon hypocrisy. But there is entirely too much of this already. There is already entirely too much of the profession of religion for only what can be gained in this world by it politically, financially, and socially. Done voluntarily, as it now is, there is vastly too much of it; but for the State to sanction the evil principle, and promote the practice by adopting it as a system and inculcating it upon the minds of the very children as they grow up, would bring upon the country such a flood of corruption as it would be impossible for civil society to bear.

Let me not be misunderstood here: I do not mean to deny for an instant, but rather to assert forever, that the principles of the Christian religion received into the heart and carried out in the life will make good citizens always. But it is only because it derives its sanction from the divine source—because it is rooted in the very soul and nourished by the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit. This, however, the State of itself can never secure. This at once carries us into the realm of conscience, upon the plane of the spiritual, and it can be secured only by spiritual forces, none of which have ever been committed to the State, but to the church only.

But right here there comes in an argument presented to me by a United States Senator in this Capitol, one who is in favor of this proposed amendment, too. He was speaking in favor of the amendment. I had said that religious instruction belongs wholly to the parents and to the church—that the State cannot give it because it has not the credentials for it. He replied in these words:—

“But when the family fails and the church fails, the State has to do something.

“The answer to this is easy:—

(1) To the family and to the church and to these alone the Author of the Christian religion has committed the work of teaching that religion, and if these fail, the failure is complete.

(2) The statement of the Senator implies that the State is some sort of an entity so entirely distinct from the people who compose it that the State can do for the people what they cannot do for themselves. But the State is made up only of the people who compose the State. The church likewise is made up of such of these as voluntarily choose to enter her fold. To the church is committed the Spirit of God and the ministrations of the word of God, by which only the inculcation of the Christian religion can be secured. Then, the people composing the State, and the families composing the people, and the propagation of religion and the credentials for it being committed only to the family and the church, by this it is again demonstrated that [268] when the family and the church fail to teach the Christian religion the failure is complete.

The only thing that the State can do under such circumstances is by an exertion of power, the only means at its command, to check the tide of evil for a time, but it is only checked. It is like trying to dam up any other torrent—it may be checked for a moment, only to break its bounds and become more destructive than before. The only real remedy is to begin at the fountain and purify the heart, which can be done only by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ; for it is only faith in him that can purify the heart and cause the fountain to send forth the sweet waters of everlasting righteousness instead of the bitter stream of evil. This work, however, is committed to the church and not to the State; to the church is given the credentials and the power for its accomplishment.

But the complaint which comes from the gentleman referred to, and which seems to be embodied in the proposed amendment, is that the church has failed to do the work which belongs only to her to do. No more stinging rebuke could be given to the professed church of Jesus Christ in the United States than is given in this despairing plea of the statesman, and no more humiliating confession ever could be made by the church than is unintentionally made by these clerical gentlemen from Boston and other places in their mission to this Capitol today to ask the State to undertake the task of teaching religion. Their mission here to-day, sir, is a confession that the professed church of Christ has failed to do that which God has appointed the church to do. It is a confession that the professed church has lost the power of God, the power of the Holy Ghost. It is a confession that she has proved unfaithful to her trust, and that now she wants to ease herself of the responsibility and pass it over to the State. But when they shall have gotten the State to take upon it-self the work of the church, what then do they intend that the church shall do? That is the next question that arises; it is an important one, too, for the State to consider, but it is easily answered. When they once get the State to carry on and support the work of the church, the next step will be to get the State to support the church, and that in idleness, as every State has ever had to do, and will ever have to do, which takes upon itself the task of teaching religion. And this is precisely the thing that the National Reform Association, whose chief secretary stands the second time to-day in this room to plead for the adoption of this resolution, proposes that the State shall do. Rev. J. M. Foster, who has been for years a “district secretary” in active service in the work of that association, declares that among the duties which the reigning Mediator requires of nations, there is this:—

“An acknowledgment and performance of the Nation’s duty to guard and protect the church—by suppressing all public violations of the moral law; by maintaining a system of public schools, indoctrinating their youth in morality and virtue; by exempting church property from taxation;” and “by providing her funds out of the public treasury for carrying on her aggressive work at home, and in the foreign field.”—Christian Statesman, February 21, 1884.

That is the very point to which the State will be brought as surely as it ever takes it upon itself to teach religion. Therefore, if the government of the United States wants to keen forever clear of the galling burden of a lazy, good-for-nothing church, let it keep forever clear of any attempt to teach religion.

But the statement upon which I am arguing was to the effect that if the church fails and the family fails, something must be done. Yes, it is true, something must be done; but it must be done by the church and not by the State. The church must return to her Lord. She must be endowed afresh with power from on high. Then she can take up with vigor and. with prospect of assured success her long-neglected work. Let the preachers come down from their tenthousand-dollar pulpits, lay aside their gold rings, and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit of love of the Divine Master. Let them go to the common people, to the poor, to the outcast, the neglected, and the forsaken. If to these they go in the spirit and with the mission of the Saviour, they will be heard gladly, as was he. There is no need to complain of the wickedness of the people. This Nation is not as wicked yet as was the Roman world in the day when Christ sent forth his little band of disciples. Yet as wicked as the world then was, these few men went forth armed only with the word of God and the power of his Holy Spirit, to contend against all the wickedness of the wide world; and by their abiding faith, their unabating earnestness, and their deathless zeal, they spread abroad the honors of that name to the remotest bounds of the then known world, and brought to the knowledge of the salvation of Christ multitudes of perishing men. If that little company then could do so much and so well for the then known world, what could not this great host now do for the United States, if they would but work in the same way and by the same means. Yes, gentlemen, something must be done; but it must be done by the church; for it never can be done by the State.

Gentlemen, it is perfectly safe to say that no more important question has ever come before your committee than is this one which is before you to-day. It is a question that is approaching a crisis in more than one of the States; and it is exceedingly important that the National Constitution and laws and government be kept on the side of right, and the constitutions, laws, and governments of the States shall be lifted to the level of the Nation.

A. T. J.

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