REV. JUNIUS H. SEELYE, D. D., is President of Amherst College, one of the leading scholars and educators of the United States, and a Vice-President of the National Reform Association. In a late number of the Forum he discussed the question, “Should the State Teach Religion?” in which he presented the following as sound doctrine on that question:—
“Religion is not an end to the State. It is simply a means to the advancement of the State, and is to be used like any other means. To the individual person the sole question about a religion is, whether it is true; but the State only inquires whether it is adapted to the end at which the State is aiming. From this point of view the State is equally preserved from religious indifference and religious intolerance. What kind of a religion it should employ, and how far it should carry religious instruction in its schools, is a grave question of statesmanship, respecting which Governments may very easily make mistakes—very grave mistakes… But the greatest mistake any Government is likely to commit respecting religious instruction is to have none. And faith for a people is better than no faith. What faith shall be employed, and in what way, are points respecting which wise statesmanship will direct, as it does in other matters; and wise statesmanship will keep in view here as elsewhere the maxim, de minimis non curat lex…. If the conscience of the subjects approve, well; if` not, the State will be cautious, but courageous also; and, if it is wise, it will not falter.”
If a State is to adopt a religion at all, it is impossible to see how it could adopt any but the religion of the majority. Because, mark: the rule, the State is not to inquire whether the religion is true, but only, “whether it is adapted to the end at which the State is aiming.” Religion therefore being to the State a mere matter of policy, the religion adopted by the State must be the religion of the majority. And in that case the State is brought to the inevitable alternative, either to change its religion with every change of the majority, or else to exert its power to keep the religion which it has adopted, the religion of the majority.  Wherefore it is a most curiously interesting problem to know just how that “from this point of view the State is equally preserved from religious indifference and from religious intolerance”? And further, if this rule be such a safe preservative, how happens it that of all the States that have been on this earth, that have acted upon the Professor’s theory, not one has been preserved from religious intolerance?
The fact is, that under this theory, preservation from religious intolerance is impossible. The impossibility is inherent in the theory. Of this no better proof is needed than is furnished in President Seelye’s own words. He says, “To the individual person the sole question about a religion is whether it is true;” this is very properly said as to the individual, but to the State, whether a religion is true or not does not enter into the case. With the State the sole question concerning a religion is, Can it be used? Is it politic to adopt it? This at once sets the more policy of the State against the conscience of the individual, and this too upon the very point, and the only point, where conscience or principle is or can be involved. With the State the question is not one of conscience nor of principle, but of policy solely; while with the individual the question is solely one of conscience, and of principle. And when the State goes about to set itself thus against the individual upon a question, about the truth of which it is not to inquire at all but which is to be the solo inquiry of the individual, then says Mr. Seelye:—
“What faith shall be employed, and in what way, are points respecting which wise statesmanship will direct, as it does in other matters, and wise statesmanship will keep in view here as elsewhere the maxim, the law cares not for the few.
And then, as though to prevent all possibility of’ a misunderstanding of his doctrine, he adds:—
“If the conscience of the subjects approve, well; if not, the State will be cautious, but courageous also; and if it is wise, it will not falter.”
Was ever persecution or oppression for conscience’ sake more plainly argued or more coolly stated?
But there is no better way of putting a theory to the test than to see it in actual practice, and this theory is now in practice in Turkey; not to the perfection, however, that it would be in this country if the National Reform party should succeed; but all it lacks is the energy of the officials whose duty it is to enforce the law. In the New York Independent of September 2, 1886, is a clear account of the “Turkish policy toward the Christian schools” in which we find the following practical illustration of Professor Seelye’s theory:—
“It has enforced upon its Christian subjects the tax for the support of public schools, and it has opened a great number of primary and high schools for Moslems in all parts of the empire. But it has not opened a single school for Christians as provided by the law, so that the funds raised from the Christians, by taxation, go to the support of the Moslem schools of the empire. If a Christian wishes to send his children to one of the Government primary schools, he finds that the course of study consists mainly of the Koran and the biography of Mohammed; or, in case of a high school, he finds in addition to these some elementary sciences and a little history, carefully emasculated to avoid any impression on the mind of the pupil, that there is or can be any country in the world so glorious, or so peaceful and generally happy, as the empire of Turkey. He finds also that his children must give up the study of their own native language, and must be content to study Turkish and Arabic. If, with these drawbacks, he still wishes to profit by the schools which are supported by his taxes, he finds that, except in two or three of the largest cities, no Christian will be allowed to study in a Moslem primary or high school, because the Moslems feel that it is wrong for infidels to read so holy a work as the Koran, which is the chief text-book in these schools.”
Now we should like for President Seelye, in accordance with his theory, to point out any wrong in this action of the Government of Turkey. In the Government of Turkey the Koran embodies the religion which it has settled as the one which “is adapted to the end at which the State is aiming.” The Christians are taxed for the support and propagation of that religion. And if children of the Christian are to receive any benefit from the taxes which he is forced to pay, they must receive it from the Koran in the schools where the Koran and its religion is taught. Now the conscience of no Christian subject, there nor anywhere else, will approve of such a system in Turkey thus enforced upon Christians. But the State of Turkey is “courageous,” it does not “falter,” and therefore upon Mr. Seelye’s theory it must be “wise.” If the few Christians there, or anywhere in behalf of those who are there, lift up their voices against this practice, then the Turkish Government may say in Mr. Seelye’s own words, “We keep in view here the maxim, de minimis non curat lex.” And what reply can be made by Mr. Seelye or those who favor the National Reform movement in this country?
Now, if this theory is wrong in Turkey, how can it be right in the United States? But the practical working of this theory is precisely what the National Reform party is aiming to establish in this country. Are the Americans ready for it? To what is this country coming when such monstrous doctrines are so plainly avowed by such men as Professor Seelye? Is America ready to copy after the “unspeakable Turk”?
A. T. J.