IN no wise abashed by the rising sentiment against state aid to sectarianism, as seen in the attitude of Protestant churches and in decisions of the courts, the papal authorities in this country continue to ask for Government aid for their sectarian schools.
The latest instance of this of which we have notice is a plea made by Archbishop Ryan, before a committee of U. S. Senators, on February 3 last. It has been the policy of the Government to gradually reduce the customary appropriations for these schools, and the archbishop asked that no further reduction be made in the amount appropriated for 1898.
He presented a number of arguments in support of his plea; but not one of them was based upon any principle of justice or free government. Of course, no such principle will support an argument of that nature. His arguments were based on policy purely, and from the standpoint of policy they were somewhat plausible.
But in government, as in other matters, “honesty is the best policy,” always. Let the Government be honest with the people’s money.
The archbishop touched at some length upon the subject of sectarianism, and his remarks upon this topic are interesting, if not convincing.
“This word sectarianism, gentlemen,” he said, “is the most thoroughly misunderstood, and at present perhaps the most mischievous word in the English language. Properly speaking, sectarianism is the religion of sects, that is, of bodies cut away—as the term implies—from the original church. Unsectarian religion is the religion of that original church. But this is not the meaning popularly attached to it. Webster defines as sectarian ‘one of a party in religion which has separated itself from an established church or which holds tenets different from those of the prevailing denomination.’ Now as we have no established church, for union of church and state in our circumstances is out of the question, and there is a dispute as to which is the ‘prevailing denomination,’ a ‘sectarian’ is not easy to find. For a man to preach unsectarianism it is supposed that he must avoid all doctrines in which he may disagree with any one of his audience. Now as every doctrine of Christians has been denied by some one, unsectarian preaching is simply impossible when the audience is representative of all shades of religious opinion. What is called unsectarian teaching is attempted in some of our public institutions by what are known as ‘moral instructors,’ but it is sometimes the most sectarian of all teaching, as it represents simply the peculiar religious views not of a body, but of the individual who teaches.”
“One can therefore easily see that what is so-called unsectarian religion is logically impossible; and even if it existed, could not practically affect individual morality.”
As regards the logical impossibility of unsectarian religious teaching, the archbishop’s remarks are sound. There is simply no religious body in the world to-day which must not, from the human standpoint, be regarded as a sect. And this being so, the archbishop’s definition of sectarianism is of no practical value. As the Memorial of the Baptists and Quakers to the legislature of Virginia, truthfully said, “It is … impossible for the civil magistrate to adjudge the right of preference among the various sects professing Christian faith, without erecting a claim to infallibility.” It remains for God to reveal to the individual, by his Word and the Holy Spirit, what is the true religion,—the religion of the “original church.”
But as regards the appropriation of public money, it is not necessary to consider which is the original church and which of the religious bodies are sects; for it is not the province of civil government to give public funds to the original church any more than to a sectarian body. The principle upon which this fact rests is simply that it is not justice for the civil government to favor one party or class of the people at the expense of another class. This is a Government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and under it all classes must be treated alike. The believer must not be favored at the expense of the unbeliever. The latter must not be forced to contribute to the support of any religion, whether sectarian or otherwise.
A characteristic papal argument was presented by the archbishop in the following:—
“Gentlemen, we do not ask money from you to teach our religion, but to impart secular education, the value of which you can test by your own inspectors, as is done in Protestant England. If, in addition to this secular learning, we by the influence of religion make these Indian children purer and better now and more obedient to authority when they become men, will you reject our services simply because we teach the religion that has civilized the world?”
The chief quality of this paragraph is assumption. What religion is it that has “civilized the world”? Is it the Roman Catholic religion? or is it the Protestant religion? or the Jewish religion? Or has any religion done it? These are questions which cannot be settled by the word of an archbishop; nor is it the business of any committee of Congress to consider them. Congress has no more right to base an appropriation of public money upon the assumption that the papal religion has civilized the world, than it has to throw the people’s money into the sea. Congress has no business whatever to pronounce, either directly or indirectly, upon a religious question.
Will the papal religion, also, make the Indian children “purer and better” than they would be without it? This also is pure assumption, and one which many other people, both religious and otherwise, would deny. And that, as the archbishop stated, the papacy does not ask for state money to teach religion, but to impart secular education, is a piece of very thin sophistry. These Catholic  Indian schools are religious schools, and were it not for the religion which is taught in them they would not exist at all. For a prelate of the Catholic Church—or for that matter, of any church—to claim that religion is not the main thing in the eye of the church, is simply absurd. Religion is that upon which the church depends for her very existence; it is the mainspring of all her action.
Anyone familiar with Catholic literature knows that “secular education,” apart from religion, is frequently denounced in it as being worse than no education at all. But if any person, despite all other proofs, were still inclined to regard Rome as the friend of secular education, he has but to look to those countries in which Rome rules, or has ruled until recently, to find evidence which will convince him if he is open to conviction. Where, outside of the wilds of central Africa, would one go to find ignorance and superstition so dense and presenting such an impassable barrier to right and reason, as in the priest-ridden districts of Ireland, Mexico, or South America? To any one familiar with geography, it is impossible to dissociate in the mind the mention of one of these countries from the thought of a land where the masses of the people spend their lives in ignorance, superstition, and poverty.
If the archbishop had presented a true statement of the case, he would have spoken like this: Gentlemen, unless the United States Government pays for the maintenance of our Catholic Indian schools, the church will have to maintain them herself. But the church does not want to do this. It is true they are church schools, wholly under the church’s direction and control, and in which the foremost consideration is to bring the pupils into the Catholic fold; but we would like the Government to stand the expense, while we reap the benefit. Remember, gentlemen, that it is the bounden duty of the Government to educate these “wards of the nation”—in the Catholic belief. So, gentlemen, I ask that you will kindly appropriate the people’s money for this purpose: and if this is against their will, let it be remembered that the people ought not to have any will that is contrary to the Catholic Church.
And besides, it is a settle principle of our belief that the state ought to support the church; and this principle, which by the way is a very important one, seems in danger of being discarded here in the matter of these Government appropriations. Hence I particularly ask that the same be continued undiminished to the Catholic schools, since each such appropriation is a recognition of this principle as being just and right.
And remember also, gentlemen of the committee, that it will cost considerably more to build and maintain Government schools for the Indians than it costs to maintain our church schools, since these are already built and employ teachers who, having devoted their lives to the church, work for religion’s sake and not for money. Therefore to proceed upon the principle of separation of church and state, will cost you thousands of dollars; and I ask you to consider, gentlemen, whether it will pay to revert to constitutional principles of government at the cost of so much money.
This is what truth would compel one to say, and substantially all that one could say, in asking state aid for the maintenance of sectarian schools. Such aid is simply a misappropriation of money,—a use of it never authorized by those to whom it belongs. The state in giving such aid does that which, in the case of a private individual, would be counted a crime to be punished by a term in jail. The papal authorities ask that the state shall continue to do this, notwithstanding it has begun the establishment of a contrary policy. The SENTINEL asks that the Government discontinue these misappriations [sic.] and adhere to the foundation principles of free government, at whatever cost in money. The right way will be the cheapest way in the end.
We note, however, the statement made editorially in the journal which reported the archbishop’s plea—the Catholic Standard and Times, of the 19th inst.—that “We have just learned that since his plea was delivered the Senate committee has decided to recommend an addition of ten per cent. to the appropriation already voted by the House.” This certainly justifies calling the attention of the American people to the subject as one of practical interest to them at this time.