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simply for secular purposes, to designate, even by a mere recommendation, any religious services for the people or any time for such services. This is the very utmost that the truth warrants; and whether there is any force in this objection would depend on the prevalent taste of the people. The great body of the American people find no fault with the practice and, hence, we conclude that it is not offensive to them. In respect to thanksgiving proclamations, they both accept and expect it as a long established usage. They do not regard it as involving any union between Church and State, or any interference with their religious liberty.
Another class of persons, especially those who advocate Bible reading and religious instruction in our public schools, fancy that thanksgiving and fastday proclamations may be argumentatively used as a precedent in support of their view. We remember an article published in 1870 by an eminent clergyman of this country, who appealed to Washington's thanksgiving proclamation of 1795 as furnishing a premise from which to infer that Christianity might and should be taught in our public schools, organized and conducted by the State, and supported by general taxation. This clergyman, in his haste to proceed to his inference forgot to notice the important fact that Washington was the President of the United States under a Constitution which makes legalized Christianity an impossibility in the government authorized by it; which bestows upon the President no religious power whatever; which denies all such power to Congress ; and which, therefore, reduced the proclamation to the mere category of simple advice, having no more legal authority to control the action of the people than it would have had if issued by the humblest citizen in the land. Washington himself participated in the work of drafting this Constitution. He signed it as the President of the Federal Convention, and recommended the people to ratify it. To infer, as this eminent clergyman did, that the prerogatives of the President's office were attached to the proclamation is to give it a character which it
a did not possess, and to make Washington do what he had not the remotest idea of doing, and what he really had no power to do.
This thanksgiving and fast-day argument in regard to our public schools is so transparently fallacious that it will hardly pass muster, even as a plausible trick in logic. If great men did not sometimes use the argument, it would not be worth while to refute it. The fatal objection to it is the total want of any analogy between the two cases.
The public school is an institution of law, established and managed by the authority of civil government. Its expenses are paid out of the money-chest of that government: and the funds are collected from the people by compulsory taxation. To introduce religion into the school as one of the branches of education is not only to determine what religion shall be thus introduced, but also to compel the people to pay for its propagation. It is to this extent the coerced support of religion ; and than this nothing can be more foreign or antagonistical to the genius of our political institutions. Tested by these institutions as a standard, it is a gross heresy.
Is there anything analogous to this in a thanksgiving or a fast-day proclamation issued by the President, the governor of a State, or the mayor of a city? Nothing, absolutely whatever. To reason from the one to the other is to build an argument upon a totally false analogy. One might as well say that, because the President thanks God before eating his meals, or attends public worship on the Sabbath Day, the Bible ought to be read and religious instruction given in the public school. These acts, whether of the President or a governor, like a religious proclamation, have no official character, and, hence, furnish no precedent from which to reason in respect to a legal institution.
There can hardly be a more striking instance in which the premises utterly fail to contain the conclusion, or a more palpable confession of the extreme paucity of arguments available for its support, than that of resorting to thanksgiving and fast-day proclamations as the means of showing that Christianity is a part of our legal system, and may, hence, be introduced into our public schools. The proper mode of proof would be to appeal to the constitutions of the country, or to the laws enacted in pursuance thereof. Here, if anywhere, we are to ascertain what is the legal position of Christianity in reference to civil government. If it be a State religion in any sense, or to any extent, here is the proper place to find the evidence thereof.
A much more plausible argument might be based on the tax-exemption of Church property: yet even th s would be a failure, since the exemption is not placed at all on religious grounds.
The legislature of the State of New York, by the act of April 23d, 1870, did indeed declare that “ any day appointed or recommended by the governor of this State or the President of the United States, as a day of fast or thanksgiving, shall, for all purposes whatsoever as regards the presenting for paym nt or acceptance and of the protesting and giving notice of the dishonor of bills of exchange, bank checks and promissory notes, made after the passage of this act, be treated and considered as is the first day of the week commonly called Sunday."
This statute makes such a day a legal holiday in respect to the business matters which it recites. It treats the first day of January, the twenty-second day of February, the twenty-fifth day of December, and the fourth day of July in the same way. The statute simply postpones to the next day payments pledged to be made on any one of these days : and
it does so on the general presumption that these days will not by the mass of the people be treated as ordinary business days. There is not the remotest reference to religion or to religious reasons in the statute. Its sole relation is to certain business stipulations : and in this respect it treats the first day of January, the fourth day of July, and a fast or thanksgiving day on precisely the same principle.
We are almost inclined to ask the reader's pardon for detaining him so long with this thanksgiving and fast-day question. It is, however, one of the points that has appeared in the discussion about the public schools ; and this is our apology for making any reference to it.
PREAMBLES TO STATE CONSTITUTIONS,
Reference is sometimes made to the recognitions and acknowledgments of God found in the preambles to our State Constitutions, as evidence that the State governments are invested with a religious character, and may, hence, very properly employ the public school as an instrument of Christian instruction and worship. That the premise of this argument may have the benefit of