November 6, 1889
JOSEPH COOK, of the Boston Monday lectureship, is the leading advocate of the Edmunds amendment to the United States Constitution. The topic of the Boston Monday lectures for 1889 is papal domination in American schools. This discussion is professedly in the interests of the public schools, but it is in fact only in the interests of Protestantism instead of Catholicism in the public schools. It is professedly against a union of Church and State, but it is in fact only against a union of Roman Catholicism and the State, while it just as certainly favors a union of Protestantism and the State. It is professedly in favor of American institutions, as against the domination of the Catholic Church; but it is in fact against American institutions and in favor of Protestant domination in civil affairs. This will more fully appear as we proceed. Of the amendment he says:—
“It covered almost precisely the ground now occupied by Senator Blair’s proposed amendment, but as its language was perhaps somewhat more cautious, and as it came so near passing, I quote Senator Edmunds proposal as a summary of the highest educational demand of the hour.”
He says it contains four great points:—
1. “It prohibits the establishment of a State church in any State of the Union.” This is true, but, as we have shown, it leads inevitably to the establishment of a State religion by the nation.
2. “It forbids the sectarian use of public-school funds by any State or municipality.” But it does not forbid a religious use of public funds by any State or municipality.
.3. “It prevents the formation of sectarian public schools.” But it does not prevent the formation of religious public schools.
4. “Nevertheless, it guards against the exclusion of the Bible from public schools, and so does not establish instruction on a purely secular basis.”
But it does establish instruction upon a purely religious basis. And all this is the very thing that no government has a right to do. The State that undertakes to teach religion in order to inculcate principles of good citizenship, will fail to secure either religion or good citizenship.
Of the prospects of the Edmunds resolution, he says:—
“If the Boston election of last December had occurred a few weeks before this vote in Congress, the necessary two-thirds, as I believe, would have been obtained, and the Edmunds amendment might now have been a part of the law of the land. We must launch this reform when the waves are running high. There are many sandbars, but I believe that to-day in Congress there would be a chance for the passage of the Edmunds proposal. Senator Blair’s bill covers substantially the same ground and a little more. I should not be sorry to see it passed, but I think it would be more difficult to pass it than it would have been to pass the Edmunds bill.”
If this prospect is correctly outlined, and if it be so nearly a practical scheme, which, as a matter of fact, we believe it is, then it is high time that the people of this nation were awaking to the fact, and, as far as possible, making it an impracticable scheme. It is probable that the Blair Amendment would be more difficult to pass, because its true intent is more plainly revealed.
Mr. Cook indorses the Edmunds resolution because, he says, “It prevents a sectarian division of the school funds.” But we should like to know why it would be any more unjust to divide the school funds amongst the sects than it would be to devote the whole of the school fund bodily to the benefit of those sects which, united, call themselves the majority, and proclaim themselves to be the “evangelicals,” even though they include the Mormons in their evangelicalism. For this is just what Mr. Cook’s scheme amounts to, and to us it would seem to be just as proper to divide the money amongst the different sects, as it would to devote the whole of it to one. Not that we believe for a moment that it should be so divided, nor that it should be so devoted, because the State must have nothing at all to do with the question of religion, whether in the schools or out of ‘the schools, but if public money is to be used for teaching religion, then the only fair way to do is to divide the public money amongst the different denominations according to their respective populations. Mr. Cook calls attention to the dangers that already threaten the public-school system from political influence. He says:—
“Scores of teachers within recent years have been dropped from their position by political school boards because their opinions on temperance were a little too strong to suit the school committees. Not a few who have studied the worst cases of this kind have fallen into a sort of moral nausea over the management of schools in certain cities by corrupt committees, mere ward politicians, many of them monstrously vile men, patrons of the saloons, and of the gambling dens, and of the brothels. There are cities in this country where little local committees, not fit to manage the investment of ten dollars, have the choice of school-teachers and the power to dismiss teachers  almost without reason, and who do all these things from purely political motives, and appoint their own relatives very often, practicing nepotism in its most glaring aspects. The political abuses of the common-school system are becoming a great public terror in mismanaged cities. What is the remedy for all these mischiefs?”
But how does he propose to remedy the mischiefs? Why, by simply adding a religious element to the already mischievous political strifes in connection with the public-school system. He exclaims:—
“So help me, Heaven, I see no way out of the alarming evils arising from the partisan management of common schools except by the success of the Edmunds amendment.” (Applause.)
Does any sober-minded man really believe that the success of the Edmunds amendment, or any other, can stop these mischiefs? If that or the Blair amendment were adopted, then a strife upon the question of what Bible it is that shall be used, or what is sectarian instruction, and many other questions, would be added to the already deplorable political mischiefs, and the evils would be increased a thousand-fold. This result would follow just as certainly as day follows night.
This is further proved by Mr. Cook’s own statement that “the chief power of the Roman Catholic Church to do mischief in this country is political.” Then how can it be expected to weaken that power, or to lessen the mischief, by making religious questions the essential element in politics? It is surprising to think that any thinking man can think so. Then he exhorts thus:—
“Stand up, then, for Senator Edmunds proposed constitutional amendment while yet you can pass it. Let us invoke the national power. Let us invoke it speedily, for if we do not carry an amendment like Senator Edmunds within the next twenty years, it is possible we shall never be able to carry it. The hour is critical. Remember that this amendment was once within two votes of passing in the Senate. Mr. Blaine’s proposed amendment upon the same topic had the overwhelming support of the House. And now Senator Blair is advocating substantially the same proposition. The Edmunds amendment is practicable; it is a vital public necessity; but it must be passed soon or never. Therefore let us make Senator Edmunds’ program our own concerning the school question. Let us join ranks. Let Protestants stand up, and all stand up, and stand together.”
Then in another place he says:—
“Professor Hodge went so far as to say that our conflict on the school question with the Romanist on the one side and the secularist on the other, is of more importance to this nation than the issues connected with slavery and intemperance.”
These extracts show, as plainly as need be, that this proposition to amend the Constitution of the United States upon the subject of religion in the public schools, is nothing else than a scheme to establish by constitutional amendment Protestantism as the State religion. This was shown also in the arguments made last winter before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, in behalf of the Blair amendment. Every argument there made was for Protestantism instead of Catholicism in the public schools.
If the American people want to be kept free from the despotism of a national religion, they need to be awake to the efforts that are being made to secure these amendments that have been offered and that are now advocated. Let the Constitution of the United States remain as it is upon the subject of religion. Keep religion out of the public schools; let the public schools be for the public. As surely as any such amendment shall ever be adopted as has been proposed, so surely will there be the establishment of a national religion, and the establishment of a national religion is the establishment of a national despotism.
The quotations in this article are taken from Mr. Cook’s lectures, as printed in Our Day for March, April, and May.
A. T. J.