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to a religious sect, and at the public expense inculcated the special ideas of that sect; and this is plainly contrary to the doctrine.
The same objection applies with equal force to the Protestant public school, in which King James's version of the Sacred Scriptures and religious exercises, Protestant in their type and tendency, are incorporated into its educational system. The Catholic, the Jew, the Infidel, and, indeed, all who dissent from Protestantism, being citizens in common with Protestants and having precisely the same rights, complain of the injustice done to them in taxing them for the support of such a school. Their complaint is a valid one. We do not see how it is possible to answer it without ignoring the cardinal principles upon which our national and State life is founded. The same method of reasoning is equally applicable to a Catholic public school, a Jewish public school, or any public school which is made the organ of religious instruction or worship in any form.
The fatal difficulty with all such schools consists in the fact that, while they assign to civil government functions that do not belong to it, they come into direct collision with the American doctrine as to the nature and scope of its functions. They make the State a religious teacher at the public expense, and this is just what it cannot be in consistency with its own doctrine. Shall, then, the doctrine, when applied to popular education, be
abandoned as false, or shall our public school system be adjusted to it? Shall all religious and all anti-religious sects be placed on a common ground in the full and impartial enjoyment of their citizenrights, with no discrimination against or in favor of any class ? Shall the public school be the common school of the people, of all the people, and for all the people, and in this respect be like the government that authorizes it, and taxes the people for its support ? Shall it, by a wise and just omission, remit the subject of religion in all the forms of the idea, and in all the processes of its propagation, to other agencies, neither controlled nor supported by the State, but left entirely free at their own charges to consult their own pleasure ?
The design of this entire series of articles has been to supply the true answer to these questions. That answer is this :—THE PUBLIC SCHOOL, LIKE THE STATE, UNDER WHOSE AUTHORITY IT EXISTS, AND BY WHOSE TAXING POWER IT IS SUPPORTED, SHOULD BE
CIVIL INSTITUTION, ABSOLUTELY SECULAR AND NOT AT ALL RELIGIOUS IN ITS PURPOSES, AND ALL PRACTICAL QUESTIONS INVOLVING THIS PRINCIPLE SHOULD BE. SETTLED IN ACCORDANCE THEREWITH.
We submit this answer, without qualification or reservation, as the logical result of the argument. We are quite aware that it excludes the Bible from the public school, just as it excludes the Westminster Catechism, the Koran, or any of
the sacred books of heathenism. It pronounces no judgment against the Bible, and none for it; it simply omits to use it, and declines to inculcate the religion which it teaches. This declinature, while expressing no hostility to the Bible, is founded on the fact that an American State cannot, in consistency with the principles of its own organization, and impărtial justice towards all the people, undertake the work of religious teaching or worship in any form of the idea. A State differently organized, might do so in consistency with its own principles, but an American State cannot.
If there be any fault with the result to which we have come, then the fault really lies with the structure of our governmental system. The way to correct the fault is to take the back track, to reproduce and re-establish the theory that was imported from the Mother Country and generally prevailed before the Revolution, and thus radically change our present doctrine of government. This might be done if the people should so ordain; and if it were done, then the Bible and the Catechism would be in order for the public school. Puritanism would be in order for New England, and Episcopacy for Virginia. The appointment of ministers by the civil authority and the taxation of the people for the support of religion, would be in order. Even persecution on religious grounds would not be out of order. If, however, the people are not prepared to abandon the doctrine in regard to religion which the last century of their history has slowly and steadily incorporated into their political system, and if, moreover, they thoroughly believe in it as the true doctrine for every government, then let them have the consistency and the courage to apply it to the public school. Let the citizen rather than the sectarian, the democrat in the true sense rather than the bigot and the zealot, decide the School question ; and there will soon be no such question to decide. The religious controversy about the public school will come to an end. It ought not to exist at all, and would not exist if the people would here apply the principles which they have placed in the fundamental laws of the land. The mere zealots on this subject can never agree because their preferences are incompatible. There is, however, no good reason why American citizens, if willing to meet each other on the basis of their common citizenship, should not come to a perfect agreement in regard to this much-disputed question.
Protestants who, as Protestants, fight Catholics and seek to resist their demands in respect to the public school, are handling very dangerous weapons, though many of them do not seem to know it. They conduct the war upon a principle which may at any time be turned against themselves.
The true ground, whether for attack or defense, is the one that places the Protestant and the Catholic on an equal footing; and the moment the former takes this position, the whole power of our system of government at once comes to his support. The position is impregnable ; and taking it, the Protestant is sure of a victory, not as a Protestant, but as a citizen. He concedes to the Catholic all his rights and simply claims his own. He demands for himself no more than he is willing to grant to others. This position is a strong one, because it is just and because it exactly accords with the letter and spirit of our civil constitutions.