“Where the Difficulty Lies” The American Sentinel 5, 23, pp. 180, 181.

PROFESSOR BLAISDELL, of Beloit College, Wisconsin, in The Christian Union of May 8, criticises the decision of the Supreme Court of that State on the Bible in the schools. He raises the same cry as other enemies of the public school, that the public school is thus made godless, and says:—

There are multitudes of thoughtful people in Wisconsin who will say, If information about a Supreme Being, and addressed to the highest and most productive sentiments in the school training of my children is to be ruled out of our schools so that they become godless and morally colorless, we will have our parish schools.

Very well, such persons had better have their parish schools than to have the public school turned into a parish school. They had better teach their own children the religion which they want them to be taught, at their own expense, than to undertake to do it at other people’s expense.

To talk about the public schools being thus made morally colorless is another piece of sophistry, because those very persons claim that the religion to be taught shall not be dogmatic, nor sectarian. It must be of such a kind as that all may receive it with equal favor. And to demand that in a community where there are many different views, and where every man is free to think for himself, is only to demand that the teaching shall be morally colorless. The objection that the public schools are made godless and morally colorless, is a fraud. There is not a particle of fairness in it, and those who make it must know it, because it is difficult to conceive how men who can write as intelligently as these, can be so dull as not to detect the sophistry of their own argument.

The Professor next objects to the decision because if it is sound, then the State cannot teach religion in its asylums, for the blind, the deaf and the insane. Then he begins to beg his question by appealing to the sympathies of the people for these unfortunates. But that is no objection to the decision. If the State has the right to teach religion in its asylums and in the penitentiaries, then it has a right to teach it in the public schools. If it is right to teach it in the public schools, it is right to teach it everywhere else. The trouble is that those who argue this way miss the whole point, and that is, that it is impossible for the State to teach religion. Before the State can teach religion, it has to have a religion to be taught. And as the Supreme Court of Ohio just said:— [181]

Properly speaking, there is no such thing as religion of the State. What we mean by that phrase is the religion of some individual or set of individuals taught or enforced by the State. The State can have no religious opinions; and if it undertakes to enforce the teaching of such opinions, they must be the opinions of some natural person or class of persons. If it embarks in this business, whose opinion shall it adopt?”

All that the State ever can do is to give a certain class of persons the power to force their views in religion upon others at the public expense. But the State had a good deal better let that be done at the expense of those who want to teach that doctrine. It is clear that the State cannot do it without at once making a distinction between its citizens and establishing a preference in religious things, which is only to establish a certain religion.

To the parent and the Church is committed by the Lord the task of teaching religion. It is the place and the duty of the Church to carry to the unfortunate tho consolations of religion, and even to criminals the hope of being made righteous. But the Professor argues that especially in the asylums for the deaf and blind, “young children are gathered for four, six, eight, or ten years in the forming period of life.” The idea is that these young children need careful training in religion and as the State has assumed charge of them, that therefore if they get such training, the State must give it. We are willing to admit that these young children, blind or deaf, should be taught religion and should be trained in righteousness, but, as it is only the parent and the Church to whom this work has ever been committed, it is they only who can do it. If the parents fail to do it, then it is the place of the Church to do it. If the Church fails to do it, then it goes undone because the State cannot do it.

The difficulty in this whole matter is that the Church in this and a good many other things, has proved recreant to her trust, and has deplorably failed to do the very work which belongs to her, which God has committed to her, and which the failure to do is a disgrace to her. And having done this, it is a poor plea for the Church to stand up and insist that the State shall teach religion to the children, and that the State shall not leave them godless when she herself, through the failure to teach them the religion of Christ has left them godless.

Next the Professor mentions the reform school and the penitentiary, and of the latter says:—

There is a penitentiary at Waupun, in the heart of our beautiful State, whither go up under sentence of these courts, and amid the deep solicitude of our people, five hundred vigorous young men annually to be recovered to citizenship, a problem concerning which the perhaps most successful and experienced criminal officer in America says, “I know of nothing which will solve the problem of penal discipline but the religion of Jesus Christ.” This decision, if it means anything, hazards the banishment of the religion not only of Jesus Christ, but of any religion whatever from that prison.

To be sure it does, so far as any teaching by the State is concerned. But it does not preclude the Church from doing her work, that which is committed to her, of teaching these persons the religion of Christ. By the way, does Professor Blaisdell mean hereby to intimate that “any religion whatever” should be taught to anybody, but the religion of Jesus Christ? If so, what religion should it be? and how much would they be bettered?

But, aside from this, these people do not go to the penitentiary to be reformed; they are not sent there for that purpose. They are sent there in punishment for the crimes they have committed, and that their fellow citizens may be protected from their, further depredations. It is a false theory—this mawkish sentimentalism—that the criminal is unfortunate, and that it is misfortune that overtakes him when he is convicted of his crime and sentenced to the penitentiary to pay the penalty. He is not unfortunate, he is bad. It is not misfortune, but justice that has overtaken him. It will not do to give the criminal to understand, as this theory does, that his conviction and the infliction of the penalty is a misfortune, it will not do for the State to undermine its own authority, destroy respect for its own laws, and put a premium upon crime, by counting justice a misfortune.

We admit that the religion of Jesus Christ will solve the problem, not only of penal discipline, but of parental and every other kind of discipline; but it is impossible for the State to apply it either in the penal institutions or anywhere else. Besides if the State is to apply this remedy in penal institutions, why shall the State not apply it outside? If the State is to teach the religion of Jesus Christ to people in the penitentiary to make them good while they are there, and to keep them out when they get out, why shall not the State teach that religion to the people before they get into the penitentiary, and in order that they may not get in there? And if the State shall do this then what is there for the Church to do, and what is the Church for?

Thus, and so surely, does the State become a Church, and a Church the State, by every theory that would have the State undertake to the slightest extent the work of teaching religion. And every plea that the State shall do so is a confession that the Church either has no place in the world, or else has forgotten her place.

A. T. J.

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