January 16, 1890
HERE is the Joint Resolution proposing to amend the Constitution of the United States, as re-introduced in the United States Senate by Senator Blair, December 9, 1889:—
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following amendment to the Constitution of the United States be, and hereby is, proposed to the States, to become valid when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the States as provided in the Constitution:
SECTION 1. No State shall ever make or maintain any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
SEC. 2. Each State in this Union shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools adequate for the education of all the children living therein, between the ages of six and sixteen years, inclusive, in the common branches of learning, in virtue and morality, and in knowledge of the fundamental and non-sectarian principles of Christianity. But no money raised by taxation imposed by law or any money or other property or credit belonging to any municipal organization, or to any State, or to the United States, shall ever be appropriated, applied, or given to the use or purposes of any school, institution, corporation, or person, whereby instruction or training shall be given in the doctrines, tenets, beliefs, ceremonials, or observances peculiar to any sect, denomination, organization, or society, being, or claiming to be, religious in its character, nor shall such peculiar doctrines, tenets, belief, ceremonials, or observances, be taught or inculcated in the free public schools.
SEC. 3. To the end that each State, the United States, and all the people thereof, may have and preserve governments republican in form and in substance, the United States shall guaranty to every State, and to the people of every State and of the United States, the support and maintenance of such a system of free public schools as is herein provided.
SEC. 4. That Congress shall enforce this article by legislation when necessary.
This is identical with the original resolution introduced by the same gentleman in 1888, with the exception of the clause relating to the Christian religion. The original resolution said that the children should be taught “in the common branches of knowledge, and in virtue, morality, and in the principles of the Christian religion.” Whereas, this one reads, “in the common branches of learning, in virtue and morality, and in knowledge of the fundamental and non-sectarian principles of Christianity.” But nothing has been gained by this change. If it was intended to give, the resolution less of a religious tone or character, by changing “the principles of the Christian religion” for “principles of Christianity,” the change is hardly worth the effort required to make it; because the principles of Christianity are certainly the principles of the Christian religion. Christianity is nothing else than simply the manifestation in life and character of the principles of the Christian religion. The insertion of the word “non-sectarian” as describing the principles of Christianity which should be taught, simply makes tautology in the section because the following part of the section is wholly taken up in the effort to say that no sectarian doctrines, beliefs, or ceremonials shall be taught or inculcated in the public schools.
Which of the principles of Christianity are sectarian and which are non-sectarian? If Christianity, itself alone, is not sectarian, then none of the principles of Christianity can possibly be sectarian. If any of the principles of Christianity be sectarian, then all of them are. Because Christianity as it is, is a definite and positive thing. It is not a wishy-washy mixture of fast-and-loose principles. For this reason alone, to say nothing of any other, every man who has any respect for Christianity ought to oppose this amendment with all his might.
Section 1 as it stands, if it stood alone, is worthy of the hearty support of every person in the United States; because it  declares just what ought to be an inhibition upon all the States. There is a question whether the States are not already forbidden to do this under the Fourteenth Amendment, but if it be not certainly decided there, such an amendment as the first section of this resolution should be adopted as a part of the Constitution of the United States. Then the States would stand upon the same level as the Government of the United States. If this were once done, and then the legislation, both State and National, were kept in harmony with the Constitutional provisions, then religious liberty in this country would be perfect, as it ought to be. But unfortunately for that measure in this resolution, its whole value is nullified by sections 2 and 3 of the same resolution.
Although section 1 distinctly says that no State shall ever make or maintain any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, yet section 2 just as distinctly says, that each
State in this Union shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools, in which there shall be taught the knowledge of the principles of Christianity. Now the only way in which any State can establish and maintain anything, is by law. Therefore, if the matter stops with the second section, each State in the Union would be required, by section 2, to do what, by section 1, it is distinctly forbidden to do. But to prevent this contradiction in the terms of the resolution, section 3 comes in and declares that “the United States shall guaranty to every State, and to the
people of every State, and of the United States, the support and maintenance of such a system of free public schools as is
herein provided.” By this, it appears, that although no State can select for itself any religion that might suit it best and make
and maintain laws respecting the establishment of that religion, the United States will select the religion for all the States, and then require that each State shall establish and maintain that religion. None of the people of the States are supposed to be capable of deciding this question for themselves, but a majority of three-fourths of the States are considered capable of deciding it for themselves and for all the others. Education would thus become a national matter, and would no more be subject to State control. This amendment, then, would nullify that part of Article VI of the Constitution which declares that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under this Government. Because, according to this amendment, a religious test would necessarily have to be required as a qualification to the office of public school teacher, everywhere in the in the United States.
But the leading question of all to be decided, if this resolution should be adopted, is, What are the non-sectarian principles of Christianity? Granting the assumption of the resolution that such a distinction exists, the question then is, How shall the United States Government discover just what they are? Christianity is represented in the United States by probably a hundred different denominations. Each one of these holds to something different from all the others, which makes it the particular denomination it is. No one of these, therefore, can be taken as representing the non-sectarian principles of Christianity. Therefore, the only course to be pursued by which the United States Government can find out what are the non-sectarian principles of Christianity, is, by a general concensus of the principles of Christianity as held by all of the denominations in which Christianity is represented in the United States. This could not be secured by an examination of the creeds of the different denominations, because the leading denominations themselves do not agree upon their own creeds. There would be no remedy, therefore, other than to call a general convention of all the denominations of the United States to discover what principles of the Christian religion are held in common by all and are therefore non-sectarian in this country. This is the idea of the author of the resolution, as stated in a letter to the secretary of the National Reform Association, December, 1888. He said:—
I believe that a text book of instruction, in the principles of virtue, morality, and of the Christian religion, can be prepared for use in the public schools by the joint effort of those who represent every branch of the Christian Church, both Protestant and Catholic, and also those who are not actively associated with either.
Let such a general convention of the representatives of Christianity in the United States be called; let the principles of Christianity which they should agree are non-sectarian, be formulated; that would be a national creed. Then let the United States Government adopt that creed and enforce it as a part of the instruction in all the schools of the nation, and that would be nothing less than the establishment of a national religion. All the children of the country from six to sixteen years of age would then have to receive that as Christianity, and so would have to receive their religion from the State.
Nor would it stop with the children, because the probabilities are that in a national creed there would be some things, if not many, that would not be Christian principles at all. The parents who are Christians and who desire that their children shall be Christians would soon discover this and when their children were taught in the schools those things which are not according to Christianity, the parent would at once tell the child that he had been falsely instructed, that such was not Christianity; and could read directly from the Bible to show that it was not Christianity. This at once would bring on a controversy between the United States Government and the parents of the children. The question then would be, whether the Government would allow its authority to be directly opposed, and its purpose to be frustrated in its task of inculcating the principles of Christianity on the minds of the youth in this country. If the Government should yield and allow the parents out of school to undo what the Government has done in school, then the Government might as well stop before it begins; for if one parent can do this they can all do it. On the other hand, if the Government insists upon teaching the child religiously, what the parent does not want that child taught, then the parent will take his child out of school and keep him out of school. And if that shall be allowed, the Government will be no better off in the work of securing general education that it is now.
But as section 3 pledges the power of the United States to the support and maintenance of such a system of public schools, and as section 4 empowers Congress to enforce the provisions of the whole resolution by legislation when necessary, it is not to be supposed that in the controversy the Government will yield to the parent. If, therefore, the Government hold on its course, compulsory attendance at the public schools would have to be the next step; and the next step after that prohibit the parents from teaching the children out of school that which is contradictory to what the Government has taught in school. Thus it is clearly seen that to say that under such an amendment as this all the children of the country will have to receive their religion from the Government does not fully state the case by any means. The truth is, that under it, all the people of the United States will have to receive their religion from the Government. What the Government should say the principles of Christianity are, that would have to be received as Christianity. There could be no appeal. The Government makes itself supreme in all things, steps in between the parent and child, and so lands itself at once into downright paganism under the garb of the Christian name.
Nor is this all. It could not be certainly known for more than two years at a time what the principles of Christianity were that should be received from the Government. Because in the general conventions of all the denominations that would have to be called at the first to discover what are the non-sectarian principles of Christianity, it would be to the interest, as well as the bounden duty, of each denomination to get just as many of the principles of that denomination into the creed as possible. No one denomination could get all its principles recognized for that would make the creed sectarian; consequently each one striving to get in all it could, the result would be a compromise, with the hope by some future effort to succeed in getting more of their principles into the creed. With the creed once formulated,  and Congress empowered to enforce it by legislation, it would then be to the interest of each denomination to secure just as large an influence as possible in Congress. This would be necessary to each one of the denominations as a matter of self-preservation if nothing else, in order that if each denomination could not get enough influence in Congress to control legislation positively in its own interests, yet so that might have sufficient influence to prevent legislation that would be prejudicial to its interests. Thus every church would be turned at once into a political club and every pulpit would become a stump. As a Congressional election occurs every two years, it would so happen that every two years the national creed would be put to the test. And as the majority would decide whether the creed should stand or be revised, it would depend altogether upon how the vote went—whether a man was orthodox or a heretic. The majority might be as narrow as a half dozen or even one, and everyone of that narrow majority might have been drunk when he voted, yet that would make no difference in the result. When the majority had once decided upon the question of orthodoxy or heresy that would be the end of the matter, you would be orthodox or heretic as the vote should stand.
Does anybody who has any acquaintance with history need to be shown that this is only a perfect parallel, in outline, to the formation of that union of Church and State in the fourth century which developed the Papacy and all the religious despotism and intolerance that afflicted Europe for ages? Constantine made Christianity the recognized religion of the Roman Empire. It became at once necessary that there should be an imperial decision as to what form of Christianity it was that should be the religion of the empire.
The emperor said, The Catholic Church. Then as there were two great bodies,—the Arian and the Trinitarian,—each claiming to be the Catholic Church, and as the question turned upon a hair-splitting point in theology, a council had to be called to decide what was the Catholic Church. Accordingly the Council of Nice was convened by imperial command. An imperial creed was established, which was enforced by the imperial power. Whoever would not subscribe to the creed should be banished. All but three in the convention signed the creed. These—Arius and two of his associates—were accordingly banished. Constantine’s sister was an Arian. When she came to die she had an Arian bishop to attend her and sent for Constantine to come to see her before she should pass away. He went; she besought him to recall Arius from banishment. He did so, and commanded that he should be received as a member in good and regular standing in the orthodox church. The orthodox bishops refused to receive him. The emperor declared that he should be received. The bishops persisted in their refusal, and the emperor called out the troops: for was it not an imperial religion that had been established? Was it not established by imperial power, and was it not to be maintained by imperial power? When the orthodox bishops saw things going so far as that, they prayed that Arius might die, rather than that the Church should be polluted by his presence so forced upon it. Accordingly, Arius very conveniently died.
Not long afterward Constantine himself died; the empire fell shortly to two of his sons, Constans and Constantius. Constans had the western part of the empire, Constantius the eastern. Constans was a Trinitarian, Constantius was an Arian. In the dominions of Constans all Arians were heretics under the ban of the law; in the dominions of Constantius all Trinitarians were heretics under the ban of the law. Soon Constans came to his death, and Constantius was sole emperor; then the Trinitarian was a heretic wherever he was. And all the time there was intrigue upon intrigue, and council upon council was called, to revise the creed. And all this to such an extent that the Christian profession was put to an open shame amongst the pagans. It was parodied in the pagan theaters; and one pagan writer said truly enough, that the bishops spent their time in nothing else than in rushing from one part of the empire to another, engaging in council after council to find out what they believed.
This is but a picture, and not in the least overdrawn, of what would occur in the United States should such a measure as Senator Blair’s proposed amendment ever be enacted into law. As that was the Papacy, this would be a living likeness to it. As nothing but evil ever come from that imperial recognition of Christianity, so would nothing but evil ever come from this national recognition of Christianity. And yet, as plain as all this is to any man who thinks, or who knows the A B C of history, there are some United States senators and many professed leaders of theological thought who are in favor of it. But are the American people ready to annul their Constitution, and to cast away all their rights under it?
No grander mark of political wisdom ever appeared upon this earth than was displayed when the fathers of this Republic declared that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this Government;” and that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But the lessons which these mighty men learned are now well-nigh forgotten. Let these noble lessons be newly learned and held forth before all the nations; so shall the principles of liberty indeed enlighten the world.
A. T. J.