WE here present the section of the proposed constitution of the State of Washington which relates to religion in the public schools, with the discussion had upon it at its adoption by the constitutional convention:—
Section 4. All schools maintained or supported, wholly or in part, by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence.
Comegys moved to amend by adding these words: “And no religious exercise or instruction shall be permitted therein;” and argued in favor of that proposition. “Sectarian” had been decided by the courts as not prohibiting the reading of the Bible, or prayers. That was not toleration to Jews, Catholics, agnostics, Mohammedans, and several other creeds and sects, who were entitled to it as much as Protestants, and he would not believe there could be any serious objection to his amendment.
Blalock thought the section was broad enough.
Comegys asked if Blalock thought that the section would exclude the reading of the Bible, and prayers.
Blalock thought it would.
Comegys said that if the gentlemen would give him a little time he would bring him decisions from several States holding directly opposite opinions.
Dyer thought this might exclude religious meetings in school-houses in several districts, but Comegys said “public schools” did not mean “public school-houses.”
Stiles suggested “religious” for “sectarian,” and Comegys agreed.
Cosgrove thought this might exclude any teacher from employment who had any decided religious views of his own. He had a running fire of questions from Comegys until T. M. Reed raised a point of order against the colloquy, and then Cosgrove proceeded and finished his remarks.
Sturdevant didn’t think this would trouble any teacher unless he wanted to teach his views. If there was doubt as to this language, and the chairman of the committee (Blalock) admitted that his committee intended to exclude the Bible and prayers in schools, why not so amend that no doubt could exist as to the meaning of the language used.
Godman didn’t see how anything could exclude religious “influence.” Christianity and religion were not necessarily identical. A brainy man would have influence over his pupils anyhow. “Control” was all that the constitution could prohibit.
Comegys only wanted to prohibit religious exercises in public schools, but was called to order for speaking two or three times on the question.
Turner put on the brakes by moving the previous question, and it was ordered.
Stiles offered to withdraw his amendment, but Power objected, and Stiles’ motion failed on a vote of 20 to 33. Absent and not voting 22.
Moore moved to strike out the last two words, “or influence,” and roll-call was ordered on that, resulting in failure by ayes 11, nays 39.
The section was agreed to.
If the intention is to exclude religious exercises, prayers, the reading of the Bible, etc, from the public schools of the State of Washington, it is certain that this section will not accomplish that object unless the State of Washington shall be blessed with judges who have juster views of things than those have had in the States where the courts have been called upon to pass upon this question. The Supreme Courts of Maine, Massachusetts, and Iowa, and the judge of the Twelfth Circuit of the State of Wisconsin, have all held that the reading of the Bible, and prayers, could be conducted in the public schools under constitutions containing the same or like provisions with this. And the Supreme Court of Massachusetts even went so far as to sustain compulsory bowing of the head at time of prayer.
Mr. Blalock was chairman of the committee that recommended this section, and as his intention clearly was to exclude all these things, it is singular that he should object to framing the section so as to say so. Mr. Comegys and Mr. Stiles were clearly right in proposing the word “religious” instead of “sectarian.” However, as “the intention of the lawgiver is the law;” and as the intention of these was that religious exercises should be excluded; if this intention shall have any weight with the courts of the State, then the schools may be kept clear of religious interference. And as section eleven of the Bill of Rights says “that no public money or property shall be appropriated for, or applied to, any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, it would seem that the public schools of the State of Washington may be kept clear of religious interference. Yet there is so much judge-made law in this country that it is not safe to trust any constitutional provision to intention. If a thing is intended it ought to be stated. The makers of the Washington constitution should have made that section to say what they intend shall be done.
A. T. J.