October 30, 1889
LAMST week we gave the history of the Edmunds Resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States in regard to religion in the public schools. We had not space then to discuss it, and propose to do that now, and for the convenience of the reader we print again the resolution:—
“No State shall makes any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under any State. No public property, and no public revenue of, nor any loan of credit by or under the authority of, the United States, or any State, Territory, district, or municipal corporation, shall be appropriated to, or made or used for the support of, any school, educational or other institution under the control of any religious or anti-religious sect, organization, or denomination, or wherein the particular creed or tenets of any religious or anti-religious sect, organization, or denomination shall be taught. And no such particular creed or tenets shall be read or taught in any school or institution supported in whole or in part by such revenue or loan of credit; and no such appropriation or loan of credit shall be made to any religious or anti-religious sect, organization, or denomination, or to promote its interests or tenets. This article shall not be construed to prohibit the reading of the Bible in any school or institution; and it shall not have the effect to impair rights of property already vested.
“SEC. 2—Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation, to provide for the prevention or punishment of violations of this article.”
As we said of this resolution before, it is an excellent illustration of how not to say it. If it be intended to prohibit religious instruction in the public schools, it misses it. If it be intended to prohibit sectarian instruction in the public schools, it misses that. Because—
1. The second clause only prohibits the appropriation of public money for the support of schools which are under the control of any religious or  anti-religious sect, organization, or denomination. In other words, this clause prohibits the appropriation of any public money to parochial or denominational schools. But this would allow the teaching of religion in the public schools, and at the public expense. This is further proved by the last sentence of section 1, which distinctly allows the reading of the Bible in any school or institution, and the intention of those who ask that the Bible may be read in the schools is distinctly and solely for the purpose of having religion, that is, “broad, general religion,” but not sectarian, taught in the schools.
Secondly, the third sentence proposes that no “particular creed or tenets shall be read or taught in any school or institution supported in whole or part by such revenue or loan of credit,” that is, in any public school. Yet the section expressly grants the reading of the Bible in any school or institution. Now every sect or denomination that makes any pretension to Christianity gets its peculiar tenets from the Bible. Then, if a certain sect derives from the Bible its peculiar tenet, and the Bible is read in the public schools, assuredly that does grant the reading of that particular tenet, and the resolution distinctly allows what it pretends to prohibit.
For instance, there are two denominations in this country, which together would probably be called a sect. They are the Seventh-day Adventists and the Seventh-day Baptists. It is a distinct and peculiar tenet of these denominations that the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord. This tenet is derived from the plain reading of one of the most familiar portions of the Scriptures, the ten commandments, the fourth of which distinctly says, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” Now how is the Bible to be read in the schools without allowing that particular tenet to be read? Shall that particular tenet be skipped in the reading of the Bible? If not, to allow the reading of the Bible will assuredly allow the reading of that particular tenet, yet the reading of any particular tenet is forbidden by the article! The article therefore contradicts itself.
Again, the doctrine of predestination, of foreordination, is a peculiar tenet of the Calvinistic creeds. They derive this from the Bible, where it reads, with other texts, that God “hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” And again, it speaks of Christ, who “verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” These scriptures express the peculiar tenet of the Calvinistic creed. If the Bible be allowed to be read in the schools, that will surely allow the reading of that particular tenet, unless such portions shall be skipped to avoid reading the tenet. But to read all the Bible except these and undertake to skip them would only the more definitely direct the attention of the pupil to them, and he would read them anyhow.
Again, it is a peculiar tenet of Christianity as a whole that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. How shall the Bible be read without reading that peculiar tenet, the reading of which does violence to the religious convictions of the Jew, who, with the unbeliever, is taxed equally with all others for the support of the schools, and who has equal rights in all things, in school as well as out, with all others under the government. This supreme principle of Christianity is therefore a peculiar tenet, and to allow the reading of the Bible in the public schools, as this resolution expressly does, is to allow the reading, of a peculiar tenet, which the resolution expressly prohibits.
Once more. It is a peculiar tenet of the Roman Catholic faith that the Virgin Mary is so intimately connected with the divine plan of salvation as to be so entirely a part of that plan as properly to be an object of adoration. Accordingly, to the Roman Catholic the Bible reads, in the third chapter of Genesis and fifteenth verse: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie wait for her heel.” The reading of this passage would be declared by every Protestant in Christendom to be the reading of a particular tenet.
But it will be said at once, by every Protestant especially, that that is not the way the Bible reads. That that is the Catholic Bible, and that it is corrupt. Oh! ah! to be sure. There is more than one kind of a Bible, then! But the Edmunds Resolution does not make any such distinction as that. It simply says: “This article shall not be construed to prohibit the reading of the Bible in any school or institution.” It does not say that this article shall not be construed to prohibit the reading of King James’ Version of the Bible. It simply says the Bible, and that would leave the question as to what is the Bible, to be decided by the majority in a school district, a county, or a State. If the majority are Roman Catholics, then the article could not be construed to prohibit the reading of the Roman Catholic Bible in the public schools. But to allow the reading of the Roman Catholic Bible in the public schools would be to allow the reading of that particular tenet of the Roman Catholic faith which is forbidden by this same article.
If the Mormons were in the majority, as in Utah, then the Mormon Bible would be the one allowed, but the reading of the Mormon Bible would be almost wholly the reading of particular tenets. If the Protestants were in the majority, then King James’ Version of the Bible would be the one to be read, which, as we have shown, would be but to allow the reading of the peculiar tenets of the Sabbatarians, the Presbyterians, and Christianity as a whole, which the article professes to intend to prohibit.
This list of particular tenets might be traced through all the creeds, but what we have here given is sufficient to illustrate the point that we make that the Edmunds Resolution is not only vague and uncertain, but that it is plainly self-contradictory.
It may be said that it would be the office of Congress, or of the Supreme Court of the United States, to decide what is meant in the article by the term, the Bible. Then that would be only to have Congress or the Supreme Court settle by law a religious question, and to fix a standard of religion for the nation which would be inevitably the establishment of a national religion. For “wherever there is a system of religious instruction endowed and patronized by law with a preference given to it by the State over all other systems, and a preference given to its teachers over the teachers of all other forms of belief,” that is a religious establishment. And that is precisely and inevitably the result of the State’s undertaking to define what the Bible is.
This, again, shows that the Edmunds Resolution, although not strictly self-contradictory in its letter, is so in its spirit, because it prohibits any State from making any law respecting an establishment of religion. And as our national Constitution already prohibits the same to the national Legislature, it is properly to be presumed that the spirit of this resolution is intended to be in harmony with the first amendment. But, as we have seen, although it forbids the State to do such a thing, it inevitably involves the nation in the doing of that very thing.
There is one more point in this: Whether it be left to majorities in the school districts, the counties, or the States, or whether it be decided by Congress or the Supreme Court, what Bible it; shall be which may be used in the schools, another most important question is involved. Suppose it should be decided what the evident intention is in all this work, that King James’ Version, or the Protestant Bible, is the one that is meant, and that that shall be used in the schools, then every teacher would be required to read the Protestant version of the Bible as the standard of religion and as the word of God. But no Catholic nor Jew, nor one who does not believe the Bible to be the foundation of true religion, could be a teacher in the public schools. All these would be disqualified, and that would be, to all intents and purposes, the establishment of a religious test as a qualification for the office of school-teacher. But that would not only be contradictory to the sixth article of the Constitution as it is, but it would again make this proposed article self-contradictory, because its second clause says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under any State.”
These are the merits of the Edmunds Resolution, proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution. Are the people ready for it?
Next week we shall tell of some who favor it, and of some of the arguments used in favor of it.
A. T. J.