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would put an end to all discussion about any divis. ion of money “raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor.” This certainly would be a very important point to gain ; and possibly it is all that ought to be sought in an amendment to the National Constitution. Yet it manifestly does not cover the whole question in controversy. The manner of conducting public schools, including the subject of Bible-reading and religious worship therein, which is one of the sharpest issues between the Catholic and the Protestant, would be still left to the discretion of each State. So also there would be no inhibition upon the use of public funds for sectarian or religious purposes, raised by taxation or held by the State, unless they were so raised or held “for the support of public schools." The money that is the subject-matter of the restriction is public money, either raised by taxation or derived from some public fund therefor; and this, and this only, is the money that must not, according to the proposition, be placed “under the control of any religious sect,” or “divided between religious sects
, or denominations."
So much we offer in explaining the programme of ex-Speaker Blaine. If he designed to arrest public attention, he certainly has the satisfaction of having achieved a decided success.
The President also in his Message to Congress, December 7th, 1875, called the attention of the
public to the same subject. In the Message he says
" I suggest for your earnest consideration, and
I most respectfully recommend it, that a constitutional amendment be submitted to the Legislatures of the several States, for ratification, making it the duty of each of the several States to establish and forever maintain free public schools, adequate to the education of all the children in the rudimentary branches within their respective limits, irrespective of sex, color, birthplace, or religion, forbidding the teaching in said schools of religious, atheistic, or pagan tenets, and prohibiting the granting of any school funds or school taxes, or any part thereof, either by legislative, municipal, or other authority, for the benefit or in aid, directly or indirectly, of any religious sect or denomination, or in aid or for the benefit of any other object, of any nature or kind whatever." In addition to this, the President says: “I would
I suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation, exempting only the last resting-place of the dead, and possibly, with proper restrictions, church edifices." In his recapitulation, at the close of his Message, the President names the following questions which he deems of “vital importance, which may be legislated upon and settled at this session
1. “That the States shall be required to afford the opportunity of a good common-school education to every child within their limits."
No sectarian tenets shall ever be taught in any school supported in whole or in part by the State, nation, or by the proceeds of any tax, levied upon any community. Make education compulsory so far as to deprive all persons who cannot read and write from becoming voters after the year 1890 disfranchising none, however, on grounds of illiteracy who may
be voters at the time this amendment takes effect.”
3. “Declare Church and State forever separate and distinct, but each free within its proper sphere ; and that all Church property shall bear its own proportion of taxation.”
The President's programme fills a larger space and embraces more particulars, than that of Mr. Blaine. What he says about the taxation of Church property would be very appropriate in a Governor's message, addressed to a State Legislature ; but we do not see that Congress has any thing to do with the question in the exercise of its taxing power, or in that of proposing amendments to the Constitution. The President is right in his opinion that Church property should be taxed, in common with all other private property; yet the whole genius and spirit of the Constitution leave this question to be determined by the respective States. So, also, the President's theory as to an intelligence qualification for voting, may be very sound doctrine; yet there is not the slightest probability that two-thirds of Congress will propose the theory in the form of an
amendment to the Constitution, or that three-quarters of the States would ratify such an amendment. The principle is adopted in the constitutions of only three States in the Union ; and this one fact is quite sufficient to settle the point in the negative. The question, moreover, is one which, according to the general policy of the Constitution, should be determined by each State for itself.
The plan of the President in regard to the public schools is both positive and negative. The positive part consists in making it the constitutional duty of the States to establish and maintain such schools and to give adequate opportunity for “the education of all the children in the rudimentary branches within their respective limits, irrespective of sex, color, birthplace, or religion.” The public would be interested to learn from the President how such a duty would be enforced in case a State failed to comply with it. Without some method of enforcement it would be practically of but little consequence. Whether a State shall have a public school system or not is purely and absolutely a State question—as much so as the question whether it shall have a prison or a police system ; and it should be left to the sovereign discretion of every State. The General Government was not organized to educate the people, or take the superintendence of their education.
The negative part of the President's plan substantially coincides with the amendment proposed by Mr. Blaine in respect to the use of school funds, and goes beyond it in prohibiting the teaching of religious, sectarian, atheistic, or pagan tenets in any school sustained in whole or in part by the State. Whether Bible-reading, opening the school by prayer, and singing religious hymns would come within the prohibition, would be a question of construction, in regard to which we here express no opinion, because the President has not given the exact words of the amendment which he desires to have adopted All he has done is to indicate the subject in general terms, showing very clearly the drift of his own mind, but not showing the precise thing which he would have accomplished.
The only other idea in the President's programme in relation to religion is the one which “declares Church and State forever separate and distinct, but each free within its proper sphere." This language is altogether too general, too ambiguous, and too susceptible of diverse constructions to be of any practical service. The way to gain the end is not to delegate the powers which in their exercise involve a union of Church and State, or prohibit specifically the exercise of any powers which necessarily lead to the result.
A mere general dogma on any subject will not do for a constitutional law. Making constitutions which are to be the basis of powers to be exercised, or restraints to be imposed and enforced, is a work that demands the utmost accuracy in the use of words.