April 24, 1890
THE object of the appointment of the Committee on Religion and Public Education by the Presbyterian Synod of New York is “to emphasize the distinction between sectarianism and religion; to insist that sectarianism should be rigidly excluded from our public schools, and with equal emphasis to insist that the State, for its own sake, must instruct all its wards in reverence for God, as the basis for good morals.” Before these folks attempt to emphasize so very much the distinction between sectarianism and  religion, it would be well for them clearly to define it. Not only that, it is necessary that they should define it; and, more than this, it is necessary that they should so define it that the definition will be universally accepted. But that, we will venture, will never be done. For the Presbyterians to announce such a definition, would be simply to announce a definition that would be disputed by many, if not all, the other religious bodies of the country and of the world, which would make it at once a sectarian definition. Therefore until a definition has been made of what sectarianism is, and what religion is, which will clearly show the distinction between them, and be universally accepted, all the efforts of this committee, or of Presbyterianism itself, will be simply movements in the dark.
Yet this form of working is characteristic of the scheme of religious legislation and to force religion into the public schools. Those who are in favor of it make statements and formulate propositions which they themselves do not understand, and expect everybody unquestioningly to accept. And then they go to work to get a piece of generalized mysticism in regard to religion recognized by the State with the purpose of enforcing it; then, when they have succeeded in that, all the definitions, explanations, and distinctions are expected to follow and to be brought out by the decisions of courts or councils, and the result, at the last, could not possibly be anything else than the establishment of some one school of thought, or phase of religion which would be, in a word, nothing but sectarianism.
As to the next point in this object, that the State must, for its own sake instruct the children in reverence for God as the basis for good morals, the first question to be asked is, What God shall it be whom the children shall be instructed to reverence? for unless this be clearly defined and well settled so that the children may understand what the character of the God is whom they are to reverence, good morals never can come from any such instruction. As Dr. Greer aptly inquired, last winter, in a Presbyterian meeting in this city, Is it the God of the Trinitarian, or the God of the Unitarian? Is it a god who proposes to save some people through the purifying process of purgatorial fire? or is it a god who proposes to save all people without the agency of any fire at all? Is it a god of such a bitter vengeful spirit that his wrath can spare but a very few of the human race? or is it the God of love, whose love embraces all mankind, and who is pained that there should be one who would choose any other than a righteous course of conduct?
Upon the decision of this question rests all the merit of any teaching on the question of morals that ever might be given. For if those to whom is given the place of instructors to the children, have false ideas of what the true God is, the ideas of morals which they will inculcate will be false, and false ideas of morals never can develop good morals. And such a question would certainly have to be decided. If it is not decided before the step is taken, which the Synod demands shall be taken by the State, then it will have to be decided afterward, and just as soon as it is decided, the decision will not be concurred in by a vast number of people, and will, therefore, inevitably involve the whole question again in the same result as the other point, that is sectarianism.
The sum of it all therefore is, that it is impossible to define any positive decided statement of religious belief without sectarianism; but as all these people with one voice deny the right of the State to teach sectarianism, the logic of the whole thing is that they, in that, deny what ought to be denied by every soul—the right, or even the ability of the State to give religious instruction to any extent whatever. The inculcation of religious views and moral ideas belongs to the Church only, and must be accomplished by moral suasion, by spiritual influences and spiritual power. It never can be done by State authority sustained by physical force, the only power at the command of the State.
Such a wide-spread demand by that which professes to be the popular religion of the country, that the State shall assume the place and functions of the instructor in religion and morals, is an open confession that those who make the profession have forgotton [sic.] the true relation and foundation of religion and morals, as well as the proper means and power by which alone, these can, be made effective in education.
The professed representatives of God and religion in this country need to find out who God really is, and what genuine religion really is.
A. T. J.