“Religion and the Schools” The American Sentinel 5, 48, pp. 377, 378

December 4, 1890

IN the Independent of September 4, there is given a symposium on the subject of religion in the schools. Howard Crosby; Cardinal Gibbons; the Decrees of the Council of Baltimore; John Jay; Arch-Bishop Ireland; Prof. W. T. Harris, the United States Commissioner of Education; the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of New York; Superintendent of the Public Schools of the State of New Hampshire; Deputy Superintendent of Pennsylvania; State Commissioner of Common Schools of Ohio; Superintendent of Massachusetts Board of Education; Wayland Hoyt, D. D.; Principal Bancroft of Phillips Academy, Andover; Father Nylan, of Poughkeepsie; Father McTighe, who, two or three years ago, made an attempt in Pittsburg to turn a public school into a Roman Catholic one; with a considerable number of others from different parts of the country all give their views upon the subject. And although there is much difference and considerable antagonism among the views presented, the Independent has done a good work in setting before the people at one view so full a discussion of the question as it has in this symposium.

Cardinal Gibbons advocates the application of a denominational system in our public schools, as is now done in Canada, that is, when there is a sufficient number, that may form a denominational school supported by public money. The Decrees of the Council of Baltimore are that “it may sometimes appear that parents may sometimes, and in good conscience, send their children to public schools, but this they will not be able to do unless they have sufficient cause for so doing, and whether such cause may be sufficient for any particular case must be left to the judgment of the bishop.” This instruction is given by command of the Congregation for the propagation of the faith, which sits in Rome. This Sacred Congregation says that the method of instructing youth employed in the public schools has seemed to the Sacred Congregation “to be full of peril, and hostile to the Catholic faith.” And one objection to the public school is that it is “conducted without any authority of the Church, and that no care is taken by the law that teachers do not injure the youth.” But above all other things, the objection of the Sacred Congregation to the public school is that “a definite corruptive force results from the fact that in most of the public schools, youth of both sexes are gathered in the same recitation and in the same class-room, and males are directed to sit in the same bench with females,” and “as a result the youth are sadly ex-posed to damage as to faith, and their morals are endangered.”

What a pity it is that the Lord did not have the Sacred Congregation to advise him in the matter of the creation of man! For then he would not have fallen into the grievous error of having males and females both in the same family, or even in the same world. This view, however, is perfectly characteristic of the whole system of papal doctrine, and that is that instead of inculcating principles of virtue and the love of right and the power to do right because of love of it, that system accounts every person as essentially devilish, and would have them made good by taking away every opportunity for any freedom of action whatever.

Professor Harris, United States Commissioner of Education, presents a valuable [378] article. One passage, which is worthy of much study, we quote:—

The separation of Church and State implies the separation of the Church and School. The Church and State are separated in the interest of the perfection of both. The Church regards the disposition of the individual man, considering it in respect to sin and holiness; the State regards the individual man, in respect to his overt act, whether law-abiding or criminal. Crime is a matter of overt act. Sin is a matter of disposition—of thought and feeling, as well as of volition. If the State goes behind the overt act and punishes the disposition of the individual, civil government will be destroyed. If, on the other hand, the Church considers the overt act instead of the disposition of the soul, religion will cease. Crime can be measured, the deed can be returned on the individual; but sin can not he measured, its consequences can be escaped only by repentance. Sin is infinite and no finite punishment can wash it awry; but repentance without punishment will do this just as well as repentance with punishment. The exercise of ecclesiastical power by the State tends to confuse its standards of punishment and to make its penalties too severe at one time, and too lax at another, and thus renders the whole course of justice uncertain by considering the disposition of the criminal rather than his overt act. Religious persecutions have arisen by the State assuming ecclesiastical functions, and the Church has had to bear the obloquy of them. On the other hand, the exercise of civil power on the part of the Church tends to introduce finite standards, thus allowing expiation for sin and permitting the substitution of penance for repentance. This makes the expiation of sin an external matter. The Government acting on an ecclesiastical basis, would say to the criminal: You have committed murder. Well, are you sorry for it? Do you repent of it? Very well, go and sin no more. Or it might say: You have been angry with your brother and wish to kill him. You have not planned to carry this into execution, it is true, and have done no overt act, but you have wished this in your heart. Then your punishment is death. Only disposition can judge of disposition. When the State undertakes to judge of disposition a reign of terror follows.

Another point, which is well made by Professor Harris, is that where the State attempts to teach religion, infidelity is the result. He says:—

Careful observers of the effects of the religious lessons placed on the programmes of schools in Germany and Austria and other nations, tell us that where the secular studies are taught according to the true method, the pupils are prone to hold in a sort of contempt the contents of their religious lessons. They are apt to bring their critical intellects to bear on dogmas and become skeptical of religious truth altogether. It is well known that the people of Germany are much given to skepticism. Its educated class is famous for its “free-thinking,” so-called. The French educated class, all of which was in its youth under parochial school influences, is atheistic.

Another point worthy of serious reflection, a point to which we have called attention in. THE SENTINEL several times, is made by Mr. E. P. Powell, of Clinton, New York, and that is that education is no surety for the prevention of crime. He endorses the statement of Mr. Reece in a recent paper in the Popular Science Monthly, that “we are confronted by facts which leave a condition of decreasing illiteracy and increasing crime.” He says: “Illiteracy is on the increase in our older States, and crime is not decreased by our present system of education. I find on every hand graduates of our district schools utterly ignorant of any facts or truths bearing on life, citizenship, or character. The young men will sell their votes, and are not afraid, to deny truth.” “It is a fearful fact,” says Mr. Bowker, at the National Prison Congress, “that a large proportion of our prison population is of the educated class.”

Yet this fault can not be laid to the public school system, at least to the theory, while it may be in a measure to the practice of it. Practically an effort is made to have the public school system do what it is impossible for it to do, while it neglects to do that which it may and can properly do. The public school can rightly give only a secular education, in other words, give an education which aims at good citizenship and whose object is to make good citizens. This, however, is almost wholly neglected in the public school system, and the attempt is made to make good men rather than good citizens, with the result that neither object is accomplished. The office and object of the teaching of the Church is to make good men, while the office and the object of the teaching of the State is to make good citizens, and the failure of the Church so to carry on the instruction as to make good men will never justify the State in going beyond its sphere to attempt that itself.

The only means that the State has with which to accomplish its purposes are the principles of government on which the State is founded and according to which it continues. But these things are not taught to any effective purpose whatever in the public school system of the United States. Mr. Powell says: “I can find you a dozen lawyers in a single township who never read the Constitution of the United States.” And this is probably true of many, if not a majority, of the townships in the United States. From considerable personal observation, we should not be at all surprised to find that there are men in State Legislatures, and even in Congress, who never read through the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Neither the principles of the Declaration of Independence nor the provisions of the United States Constitution are generally taught in the public schools of the country. In higher grades in some city schools something is taught in regard to these documents, but even that is very poorly done. These things which are essential in the work of the public school system, and which may be properly taught in the public school, are almost totally neglected, and instead, an attempt is made to inculcate goodness by the cold formal reading of a portion of Scripture or repeating the Lord’s Prayer.

On the other hand, the professed Church, instead of strictly confining her efforts to the inculcation of principles of goodness by the power which belongs to her and which can be used by her alone, neglects this and take sup different forms of political agitation to secure legislation by which she can compel men by law to be good.

If the State would confine itself to the principles and system which properly belong to it, and conduct the course of education in public schools according thereto; and if the Church would confine herself to that which properly belongs to her, if there were indeed in our system of public education a positive and total separation of religion and the State, then there would be much less difficulty with the question of public education, and far better results would come to both religion and the State to both morality and good citizenship. But in the present condition of things, instead of there being a prospect of improvement, we see no hope of anything but a closer union of Church and State principles, and through that of still grater degeneracy.

A. T. J.

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