The School Question
THE SCHOOL QUESTION.
[From the Catholic World for April, 1870.]
The number of The Christian World, the organ of the American and Foreign Christian Union, for February last is entirely taken up with the school question, and professes to give “a carefully digested summary of the views and reasonings of all parties to the controversy.” The views and reasonings of the Catholic party are not misstated, but are very inadequately presented; those of the other parties are given more fully, and, we presume, as correctly and as authoritatively as possible. The number does not dispose of the subject; but furnishes us a fitting occasion to make some observations which will at least set forth correctly our views of the school question as Catholics and American citizens.
It is to the credit of the American people that they have, at least the Calvinistic portion of them, from the earliest colonial times, taken a deep interest in the education of the young, and made considerable sacrifices to secure it. The American Congregationalists and Presbyterians, who were the only original settlers of the eastern and middle colonies, have from the first taken the lead in education, and founded, sustained, and conducted most of our institutions of learning. The Episcopalians, following the Anglican Church, have never taken much interest in the education of the people, having been chiefly solicitous about the higher class of schools and seminaries. The Baptists and Methodists have, until recently, been quite indifferent to education. They have now some respectable schools; but the writer of this was accustomed in his youth to hear both Baptists and Methodists preach against college-bred parsons, and a larned ministry. In those states which bad as colonies proprietary governments, and in which the Episcopalians, Baptists, and Methodists have predominated, universal education has been, and still is, more or less neglected. Even the Presbyterians, while they have insisted on a learned ministry and the education of the easy classes, have not insisted so earnestly on the education of the children of all classes as have the Congregationalists; and, indeed, it is hardly too much to say that our present system of common schools at the public expense owes its origin to Congregationalists and the influence they have exerted. The system, whatever may be thought of it, has undeniably had a religious, not a secular origin.
The system originated in New England; strictly speaking, in Massachusetts. As originally established in Massachusetts, it was simply a system of parochial schools. The parish and the town were coincident, and the schools of the several school-districts into which the parish was divided were supported by a tax on the population and property of the town, levied according to the grand list or state assessment roll. The parish, at its annual town meeting, voted the amount of money it would raise for schools during the ensuing year, which was collected by the town collector, and expended under the direction of a school committee chosen at the same meeting. Substantially the same system was adopted and followed in New Hampshire and Connecticut. In Vermont, the towns were divided or divisible, under a general law, into school-districts, and each school-district decided for itself the amount of money it would raise for its school, and the mode of raising it. It might raise it by tax levied on the property of the district, or, as it was said, on “the grand list,” or per capita on the scholars attending and according to the length of their attendance. In this latter method, which was generally followed, only those who used the schools were taxed to support them. This latter method was, in its essential features, adopted in all, or nearly all, the other states that had a common-school system established by law. In Rhode Island and most of the southern states, the inhabitants were left to their own discretion, to have schools or not as they saw proper, and those who wanted them founded and supported them at their own expense. In none of the states, however, was there developed at first a system of free public schools supported either by a school fund or by ageneral tax on property levied by the state, though Massachusetts contained such a system in germ.
Gradually, from the proceeds of public lands, from lots of land reserved in each township, especially in the new states, for common schools, and from various other sources, several of the states accumulated a school fund, the income of which, in some instances, sufficed, or nearly sufficed, for the support of free public schools for all the children in the state. This gave a new impulse to the movement for free schools and universal education, or schools founded and supported for all the children of the state at the public expense in whole or in part, either from the income of the school fund or by a public tax. This is not yet carried out universally, but is that to which public sentiment in all the states is tending; and now that slavery is abolished, and the necessity of educating the freedmen is deeply felt, there can be little doubt that it will soon become the policy of every state in the Union.
The schools were originally founded by a religious people for a religious end, not by seculars for a purely secular end. The people at so early a day had not advanced so far as they have now, and did not dream of divorcing secular education from religion. The schools were intended to give both religious and secular education in their natural union, and there was no thought of the feasibility of separating what God had joined together. The Bible was read as a class-book, the catechism was taught as a regular school-exercise, and the pastor of the parish visited the schools and instructed them in religion as often as he saw proper. Indeed, he was, it might be said, ex officio the superintendent of the parish schools; and whether he was chosen as committeeman or not, his voice was all potent in the management of the school, in the selection of studies, and in the appointment and dismissal of teachers. The superiority in a religions and moral point of view to the schools as now developed may be seen by contrasting the present moral and religious state of New England with what it was then.
The religion, as we Catholics hold, was defective, and even false; but the principle on which the schools were founded was sound, and worked well in the beginning, did no injustice to anyone, and violated no conscience; for Congregationalism was the established religion, and the people were all Congregationalists. Even where there was no established religion and different denominations obtained, conscience was respected; for the character of the school, as well as the religion taught in it, was determined by the inhabitants of the school district, and nobody was obliged to send his children to it, and those only who did send were taxed for its support.
But in none of the states is there now an established religion, and in all there are a great variety of denominations all invested with equal rights before the state. It is obvious, then, the Massachusetts system cannot in any of them be adopted or continued, and the other system of taxing only those who use the schools cannot be maintained, if the schools are to be supported from the income of public funds, or by a public tax levied alike on the whole population of the district, town, municipality, or state. Here commences the difficulty — and a grave one it is, too — which has as yet received no practical solution, and which the legislatures of the several states are now called upon to solve.
Hitherto the attempt has been made to meet the difficulty by excluding from the public schools what the state calls sectarianism — that is, whatever is distinctive of any particular denomination or peculiar to it — and allowing to be introduced only what is common to all, or, as it is called, “our common Christianity.” This would, perhaps, meet the difficulty, if the several denominations were only different varieties of Protestantism. The several Protestant denominations differ from one another only in details or particulars, which can easily be supplied at home in the family, or in the Sunday-school. But this solution is impracticable where the division is not one between Protestant sects only, but between Catholics and Protestants. The difference between Catholics and Protestants is not a difference in details or particulars only, but a difference in principle. Catholicity must be taught as a whole, in its unity and its integrity, or it is not taught at all. It must everywhere be all or nothing. It is not a simple theory of truth or a collection of doctrines; it is an organism, a living body, living and operating from its own central life, and is necessarily one and indivisible, and cannot have any thing in common with any other body. To exclude from the schools all that is distinctive or peculiar in Catholicity, is simply to exclude Catholicity itself, and to make the schools either purely Protestant or purely secular, and therefore hostile to our religion, and such as we cannot in conscience support.
Yet this is the system adopted, and while the law enables non-Catholics to use the public schools with the approbation of their consciences, it excludes the children of Catholics, unless their parents are willing to violate their Catholic conscience, to neglect their duty as fathers and mothers, and expose their children to the danger of losing their faith, and with it the chance of salvation. We are not free to expose our children to so great a danger, and are bound in conscience to do all in our power to guard them against it, and to bring them up in the faith of the church, to be good and exemplary Catholics.
Evidently, then, the rule of allowing only our supposed “common Christianity” to be taught in schools does not solve the difficulty, or secure to the Catholic his freedom of conscience.
The exclusion of the Bilbe would not help the matter. This would only make the schools purely secular, which were worse than making them purely Protestant; for, as it regards the state, society, morality, all the interests of this world, Protestantism we hold to be far better than no religion — unless you include under its name free-lovism, free-religion, woman’s-rightism, and the various other similar isms struggling to get themselves recognized and adopted, and to which the more respectable Protestants, we presume, are hardly less opposed than we are. If some Catholics in particular localities have supposed that the exclusion of the Protestant Bible from the public schools would remove the objection to them as schools for Catholic children, they have, in our opinion, fallen into a very great mistake. The question lies deeper than reading or not reading the Bible in the schools, in one version or another. Of course, our church disapproves the Protestant version of the Bible, as a faulty translation of a mutilated text; but its exclusion from the public schools would by no means remove our objections to them. We object to them not merely because they teach more or less of the Protestant religion, but also on the ground that we cannot freely and fully teach our religion and train up our children in them to be true and unwavering Catholics; and we deny the right of the state, the city, the town, or the school district, to tax us for schools in which we are not free to do so.
We value education, and even universal education — which overlooks no class or child, however rich or however poor, however honored or however despised — as highly as any of our countrymen do or can; but we value no education that is divorced from religion and religious culture. Religion is the supreme law, the one thing to be lived for; and all in life individual or social, civil or political, should be subordinated to it, and esteemed only as means to the eternal end for which man was created and exists. Religious education is the chief thing, and we wish our children to be accustomed, from the first dawning of reason, so to regard it, and to regard whatever they learn or do as having a bearing on their religious character or their duty to God. Mr. Bulwer — now Lord Lytton — as well as many other literary men of eminence, have written much on the danger of a purely intellectual culture, or of the education of the intellect divorced from that of the heart, or sentiments and affections. We hold that education, either of the intellect or of the heart, or of both combined, divorced from faith and religious discipline, is dangerous alike to the individual and to society. All education should be religious, and intended to train the child for a religious end; not for this life only, but for eternal life; for this life is nothing if severed from that which is to come.
Even for this world, for civilization itself, the religious education which the church gives is far better than any so-called secular education without it. The church has not always been able to secure universal secular education for all her children; but there can be no question that the illiterate classes of Catholic nations are far more civilized and better trained than are the corresponding classes of Protestant nations. There is no comparison in personal dignity, manliness, self-respect, courtesy of manner, refined feeling, and delicate sentiment, between an unlettered Italian, French, Spanish, or Irish peasant, and an unlettered Protestant German, English, or American. The one is a cultivated, a civilized man; the other is a boor, a clown, coarse and brutal, who perpetually mistakes impudence for independence, and proves his self-respect by his indifference or insults to others. The difference is due to the difference of religion and religious culture; not, as is sometimes pretended, to difference of race. The church civilizes the whole nation that accepts her; only the upper classes in Protestant nations are civilized.
Of course, we do not, and cannot expect, in a state where Protestants have equal rights with Catholics before the state, to carry our religion into public schools designed equally for all. We have no right to do it. But Protestants have no more right to carry their religion into them than we have to carry ours; and carry theirs they do, when ours is excluded. Their rights are equal to ours, and ours equal to theirs; and neither does nor can, in the eyes of the state, override the other. As the question is a matter of conscience, and therefore of the rights of God, there can be no compromise, no splitting of differences, or yielding of the one party to the other. Here comes up the precise difficulty. The state is bound equally to recognize and respect the conscience of Protestants and of Catholics, and has no right to restrain the conscience of either. There must, then, be a dead-lock, unless some method can be discovered or devised by which the public schools can be saved without lesion either to the Protestant or the Catholic.
Three solutions have been suggested:
1. The first is to exclude the Bible and all religious teaching, or recognition, in any way, shape, or manner, of religion, from the public schools. This is the infidel or secular solution, and, so far as Catholics are concerned, is no solution at all. It is simple mockery. What we demand is, not that religion be excluded from the schools, but schools in which we can teach freely and fully our own religion to our own children. It is precisely these purely secular schools, in which all education is divorced from religion — from the faith, precepts, services, and discipline of the church, as well as education combined with a false religion — that we oppose. Nor will this solution satisfy the more respectable Protestant denominations, as is evident from the tenacity with which they insist on reading the Bible in the schools. They do not believe any more than we do in the utility, or even practicability, of divorcing what is called secular learning from religion. All education, they hold, as well as we, that is not religious, is necessarily anti-religious. This is a case in which there is and can be no neutrality. We find this conclusively shown by some remarks in The Christian World before us, credited to Professor Tayler Lewis, the most learned and able thinker we are acquainted with among our Protestant contemporaries. The professor’s remarks are so true, so sensible, and so much to our purpose, that, though not so brief as we could wish, our readers will hardly fail to thank us for transcribing them:
“Let us test this specious plea of neutrality. What does it imply? If carried strictly out to the exclusion of every thing religious, or having a religious tendency, it must consistently demand a like exclusion of every thing that in the least manifests the opposite tendency, under whatever specious disguise it may be veiled. It does not alter the case in the least that opinions, regarded as irreligious, or as undermining or in any way weakening the grounds of belief, take to themselves the specious names of literature, or politics, or political economy, or phrenology, or the philosophy of history. No such sham pass-words should give to Buckle and Combe admittance where Butler and Chalmers are shut out. Every thing that makes it less easy for the child to believe his catechism, ‘taught at home,’ as they say, is a break of the supposed concordat. The mere objection is to be heeded. It is enough that things seem so to serious men, as capable of correct reasoning as any on the other side; or that it is the opinion, the prejudice, if any choose so to call it, of a devout ignorance. The thoughtful religious man might be willing to forego his objection if there were or could be real impartiality. He might trust a true moral and religious training as fully able to counteract any thing of an opposite tendency. But to let in the enemy, and then take away the weapon of defence — this is a neutrality hard to be understood.
“Now, there can be no doubt of the fact that there is admitted into our schools, our colleges, our educational libraries, into the reading rooms connected with them, much that is thus deemed irreligious in its tendency — at least, by the holders of our stricter creeds. There is much that is silently alienating the minds of their children from the doctrines held sacred by their fathers. We might go further: there is much that tends to undermine all religious belief, even of the freest cast. What young man can have his mind filled with the atheistical speculations of Mill and Spencer, or be exposed to the uncounteracted theories of Darwin and Huxley, and yet retain unimpaired his belief in a providence as taught by Christ — a providence that ‘numbers the very hairs of our heads’ — or listen as before to the prayer that ascends from the family altar? These writers profess a kind of theism, it is said; but wherein, as far as any moral power is concerned, does it differ from a belief in quadratic equations, or the dogmas of heat and magnetism?
“The matter, as we have stated it, would be too plain for argument were it not for those magical words, secular and sectarian, that some are so fond of using. ‘The state knows no religion,’ they say; it is wholly ‘a private concern’ between the individual and his Maker. ‘The state knows no God.’ They wonder the zealous bigot cannot see how clear this makes every thing. If he would only assent to propositions so easy, so self-evident, we should have peace. But set these confident logicians to define what they mean by terms so fluently employed, or ask them to show us how the state can keep clear of all action, direct or indirect, for or against an interest so vital as religion, so all-pervading, so intimately affecting every other, and how soon they begin to stammer! What is secular? The one who attempts to define it would perhaps begin with a negative. It is that which has no connection with religion; no aspects, no relations, no tendencies, no suggestions, beyond this world, or, the narrowest view of it, this age or seculum. Now, let him apply it to particular branches of education. There is the learning of the alphabet, spelling, reading. But what shall the child read? It would be very difficult to find a mere reading-book — unless its contents were an empty gabble, like the nonsense Latin verses of some schools — that would not somewhere, and in some way, betray moral or immoral, religious or irreligious ideas, according to the judgment of some minds. But let us waive this, and go on. Arithmetic is secular. Geography is secular; though we have seen things under the head of physical geography that some classes of religionists might object to as betraying a spirit hostile to the idea of the earth’s creation in any form. But go on. Including the pure mathematics, as being pure mathematics and nothing else, we have about got to the end of our definition. No thinking man would pretend that the departments of life and motion, chemistry, dynamics, physiology, could be studied apart from a higher class of ideas. But secularity would interfere here in a very strange way. When these roads of knowledge thus tend upward toward the eternal light, it would shut down the gate and eject the book. Natural philosophy, as taught by Newton and Kepler, gets beyond secularity. When, on the other hand, after the manner of Humboldt, Lamarck, and Darwin, its progress is in the direction of the eternal darkness, the study of it becomes entirely unsectarian; it violates no rights of conscience!
“In other departments, it is still more difficult to set the secular bound. History, the philosophy of history, political philosophy, psychology, ethics, however strong the effort to dereligionize them, do all, when left to their proper expansion, spurn any such bounds. Art, too, when wholly secularized; poetry stripped of its religious ideality; how long would they resist such a narrowing, suffocating process? A lower dogma was never maintained than this of a wholly secular education, or one more utterly impracticable. The subject must inevitably die under the operation, and religion must come back again into our schools and colleges, to save them from inanity and extinction.
“There may be stated here some reasons why this plea of neutrality, though so false, is yet so specious and misleading. It arises from the fact that the statement of moral, religious, and theological ideas demands clear and positive language. The hostile forms, on the other hand, are disguised under vague and endlessly varying negations. They are Protean, too, in their appellations. They take to themselves the names of literature, art, philosophy, reform. This procedure shows itself in reading-books intended for our primary schools; In text books prepared for the higher institutions; in essays and periodicals that strew the tables of reading-rooms attached to our colleges and academies; and, above all, in the public lecturing, male and female, which may be said to have become a part of our educational system. For example, should the writer of this attempt to explain before such an audience, ‘the doctrines of grace,’as they are called, or that unearthly system of ideas which can be traced through the whole line of the church — patristic, Roman, and Protestant — in their production of a strong unearthly character, then would be immediately heard the cry of bigotry, or the senseless yell of church and state. And now for the opposing ‘dogmas,’ as they really are, notwithstanding all their disguises. They make their entrance under endlessly varied forms. Pantheism has free admittance; but that is not dogmatic — it calls itself philosophy. In some lecture on progress, or history, the most essential of these old ‘doctrines of grace’ may be sneeringly ignored or covertly assailed; but that is literature. Darwinism is expounded, with its virtual denial of any thing like creation; or Huxleyism, which brings man out of the monkey, and the monkey out of the fungus; that is science. Or it may be the whining nonsense which glorifies the nineteenth century at the expense of the far honester eighteenth, and talks so undogmatically of the deep ‘yearning’ for something better — that is, ‘the coming faith.’ And so goes on this exhibition of impartiality, with its exclusion of every thing dogmatic and theological.”
Neither Catholics nor Protestants who believe at all in religion will consent to be taxed to support infidel, pantheistic or atheistic education; and all so-called purely secular education is really nothing else. The temporal separated from the eternal, the universe from its Creator, is nothing, and can be no object of science. The first suggested solution must then be abandoned, and not be entertained for a moment by the state, unless it is bent on suicide; for the basis of the state itself is religion, and is excluded in excluding all religious ideas and principles.
2. The second solution suggested is to adopt in education the voluntary system, as we do in religion, and leave each denomination to maintain schools for its own children at its own expense. We could accept this solution, as Catholics, without any serious objection; but we foresee some trouble in disposing of the educational funds held by several of the states in trust for common schools, academies, and colleges, and in determining to whom shall belong the school-houses, and academy and college buildings and fixtures, erected, in whole or in part, at the public expense. Besides, this would break up the whole public school system, and defeat the chief end it contemplates — that of providing a good common education for all the children of the land, especially the children of the poorer classes. Catholics, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Episcopalians would establish and support schools, each respectively for their own children; but some other denominations might not, and the infidels, and that large class called nothingarian, most certainly would not. Only they who believe in some religion see enough of dignity in man, or worth in the human soul, to make the sacrifice of a penny for education. The Darwins, the Huxleys, the Lyells, and other unbelieving scientists of the day, were never educated in schools, academies, colleges, or universities founded by infidels. They graduated from schools founded by the faith and piety of those who believed in God, in creation, in Christ, in the life and immortality brought to light in the Gospel; and if they have devoted themselves to severe studies, it has not been from love of science, but in the ignoble hope of being able to dispense, in the explanation of nature, with God the Creator, and to prove that man is only a monkey developed, a condensed gas, or, as Dr. Cabanis defined him, simply “a digestive tube open at both ends.”
Moreover, though we deny the competency of the state to act as educator, we hold that its duty toward both religion and education is something more than negative. We hold that it has positive duties to perform in regard to each. It cannot decide what religion its citizens shall accept and obey; but it is bound to protect its citizens in the free and full enjoyment of the religion they adopt for themselves. We cannot, for the sake of carrying a point which we hold to be true and certain, to be of great importance, ally ourselves with infidels, or lay down as a universal principle what our church has never approved, and what we may in the change of the tide be ourselves obliged to disavow. The state, with all its powers and functions, exists for religion, and is in all its actions subordinate to the eternal end of man. As the church teaches, and as the New England Puritans held, this world is never the end; it is only a means to an end infinitely above itself. We will never dishonor truth so much as to concede for a moment that the state is independent of religion, that it may treat religion as a coordinate power with itself, with indifference, or look down upon it with haughty contempt, as beneath its notice, or to be pushed aside if it comes in its way. It is as much bound to consult the spiritual end of man, and to obey the law of God, which overrides all other laws, as is the individual.
We, of course, deny the competency of the state to educate, to say what shall or shall not be taught in the public schools, as we deny its competency to say what shall or shall not be the religious belief and discipline of its citizens. We, of course, utterly repudiate the popular doctrine that so-called secular education is the function of the state. Yet, while we might accept this second solution as an expedient, we do not approve it, and cannot defend it as sound in principle. It would break up and utterly destroy the free public school system, what is good as well as what is evil in it; and we wish to save the system by simply removing what it contains repugnant to the Catholic conscience — not to destroy it or lessen its influence. We are decidedly in favor of free public schools for all the children of the land, and we hold that the property of the state should bear the burden of educating the children of the state — the two great and essential principles of the system, and which endear it to the hearts of the American people. Universal suffrage is a mischievous absurdity without universal education; and universal education is not practicable unless provided for at the public expense. While, then, we insist that the action of the state shall be subordinated to the law of conscience, we yet hold that it has an important part to perform, and that it is its duty, in view of the common weal, and of its own security as well as that of its citizens, to provide the means of a good common school education for an its children, whatever their condition, rich or poor, Catholics or Protestants. It has taken the American people over two hundred years to arrive at this conclusion, and never by our advice shall they abandon it.
3. The first and second solutions must then be dismissed as unsatisfactory. The first, because it excludes religion, and makes the public schools nurseries of infidelity and irreligion. The second, because it breaks up and destroys the whole system of free public schools, and renders the universal education demanded by our institutions impracticable, or unlikely to be given, and in so far endangers the safety, the life, and prosperity of the republic. We repeat it, what we want is not the destruction of the system, but simply its modification so far as necessary to protect the conscience of both Catholics and Protestants in its rightful freedom. The modification necessary to do this is much slighter than is supposed, and, instead of destroying or weakening the system, would really perfect it and render it alike acceptable to Protestants and to Catholics, and combine both in the efforts necessary to sustain it. It is simply to adopt the third solution that has been suggested, namely, that of dividing the schools between Catholics and Protestants, and assigning to each the number proportioned to the number of children each has to educate. This would leave Catholics free to teach their religion and apply their discipline in the Catholic schools, and Protestants free to teach their religion and apply their discipline in the Protestant schools. The system, as a system of free schools at the public expense, with its fixtures and present machinery, would remain unimpaired; and a religious education, so necessary to society as well as to the soul, could be given freely and fully to all, without the slightest lesion to any one’s conscience, or interference with the full and entire religious freedom which is guarantied by our constitution to every citizen. The Catholic will be restored to his rights, and the Protestant will retain his.
This division was not called for in New England in the beginning; for the the people were all of one and the same religion; nor when only those who used the schools were taxed for their support. It was not needed even when there were only Protestants in the country. In demanding it now, we cast no censure on the original founders of our public schools. But now, when the system is so enlarged as to include free schools for all the children of the state at the public expense, and Catholics have become and are likely to remain a notable part of the population of the country, it becomes not only practicable, but absolutely necessary, if religious liberty or freedom of conscience for all citizens is to be maintained; and it were an act of injustice to Catholics, whose conscience chiefly demands the division, and a gross abuse of power, to withhold it. It may be an annoyance to Protestants that Catholics are here; but they are here, and here they will remain; and it is never the part of wisdom to resist the inevitable. Our population is divided between Catholics and Protestants, and the only sensible course is for each division to recognize and respect the equal rights of the other before the state.
One objection of a practical character has been brought against the division by the New York Tribune. That journal says that, if the division could be made in cities and large towns, it would still be impracticable in the sparsely settled districts of the country, where the population is too small to admit, without too great an expense, of two separate schools, one Catholic and one Protestant. The objection is one that is likely to diminish in force with time. In such districts let each school receive its pro rata amount of the public money; if too little, let Catholic charity make up the deficiency for the Catholic, and Protestant charity for the Protestant school. Besides, in these sparsely settled districts there are few Catholics, and their children are far less exposed than in cities, large towns, and villages.
The more common objection urged is, that if separate schools are conceded to Catholics, they must not only be conceded to the Israelites, but also to each Protestant denomination. To the Israelites, we grant, if they demand them. To each Protestant denomination, not at all, unless each denomination can put in an honest plea of conscience for such division. All Protestant denominations, without a single exception, unless it be the Episcopalians, unite in opposing the division we ask for, and in defending the system as it is, which proves that they have no conscientious objections to the public schools as they are now constituted and conducted. The division to meet the demands of the Catholic conscience would necessitate no change at all in the schools not set apart for Catholic children; and the several denominations that are not conscientiously opposed to them now could not be conscientiously opposed to them after the division. We cannot suppose that any denomination of Protestants would consent to support a system of education that offends its own conscience for the sake of doing violence to the conscience of Catholics. Do not all American Protestants profess to be the sturdy champions of freedom of conscience, and maintain that where conscience begins there the secular authority ends? If the present schools do violence to no Protestant conscience, as we presume from their defence of them they do not, no Protestant denomination can demand a division in its favor on the plea of conscience; and to no other plea is the state or the public under any obligation to listen. If, however, there be any denomination that can in good faith demand separate schools on the plea of conscience, we say at once let it have them, for such a plea, when honest, overrides every other consideration.
But we are asked what shall be done with the large body of citizens who are neither Catholic nor Protestant? Such citizens, we reply, have no religion; and they who have no religion have no conscience that people who have religion are bound to respect. If they refuse to send their children either to the Hebrew schools or the Catholic schools, or, in fine, to the Protestant schools, let them found schools of their own, at their own expense. The constitutions of the several states guaranty to each and every citizen the right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience; but this is not guarantying to anyone the freedom of not worshipping God, to deny his existence, to reject his revelation, or to worship a false God. The liberty guarantied is the liberty of religion, not the liberty of Infidelity. The infidel has, under our constitution and laws, the right of protection in his civil and political equality; but none to protection in his infidelity, since that is not a religion, but the denial of all religion. He cannot plead conscience in its behalf, for conscience presupposes religion; and where there is no religious faith, there is, of course, no conscience. It would be eminently absurd to ask the state to protect infidelity, or the denial of all religion; for religion, as we have said, is the only basis of the state, and for the state to protect infidelity would be to cut its own throat.
These are, we believe, all the plausible objections that can be urged against the division of the public schools we demand; for we do not count as such the pretence of some over-zealous Protestants that it is necessary to detach the children of Catholics from the Catholic Church in order that they may grow up thorough Americans; and as the public schools are very effectual in so detaching them, and weakening their respect for the religion of their parents, and their reverence for their clergy, they ought on all patriotic grounds to be maintained in full vigor as they are. We have heard this objection from over-zealous Evangelicals, and still oftener from so-called liberal Christians and infidels; we have long been told that the church is anti-American, and can never thrive in the United States; for she can never withstand the free and enlightened spirit of the country, and the decatholicizing influence of our common schools; and we can hardly doubt that some thought of the kind is at the bottom of much of the opposition the proposed division of the public schools has encountered. But we cannot treat it as serious; for it is evidently incompatible with the freedom of conscience which the state is bound by its constitution to recognize and protect, for Catholics as well as for Protestants. The state has no right to make itself a proselyting institution for or against Protestantism, for or against Catholicity. It is its business to protect us in the free and full enjoyment of our religion, not to engage in the work of unmaking our children of their Catholicity. The case is one of conscience, and conscience is accountable to no civil tribunal. All secular authority and all secular considerations whatever must yield to conscience. In questions of conscience the law of God governs, not a plurality of votes. The state abuses its authority if it sustains the common schools as they are with a view of detaching our children from their Catholic faith and love. If Catholics cannot retain their Catholic faith and practice and still be true, loyal, and exemplary American citizens, it must be only because Americanism is incompatible with the rights of conscience, and that would be its condemnation, not the condemnation of Catholicity. No nationality can override conscience; for conscience is catholic, not national, and is accountable to God alone, who is above and over all nations, all principalities and powers, King of kings and Lord of lords. But the assumption in the objection is not true. It mistakes the opinion of the American people individually for the constitution of the American state. The American state is as much Catholic as it is Protestant, and really harmonizes far better with Catholicity than with Protestantism. We hold that, instead of decatholicizing Catholic children, it is far more necessary, if we are to be governed by reasons of this sort, to unmake the children of Protestants of their Protestantism. We really believe that, in order to train them up to be, in the fullest sense, true, loyal, and exemplary American citizens, such at can alone arrest the present downward tendency of the republic, and realize the hopes of its heroic and noble-hearted founders, they must become good Catholics.
But this is a question of which the state can take no cognizance. We have under its constitution no right to call upon it to aid us, directly or indirectly, in unmaking Protestant children of their Protestantism. Of course, before God, or in the spiritual order, we recognize no equality between Catholicity and Protestantism. Before God, no man has any right to be of any religion but the Catholic, the only true religion, the only religion by which men can be raised to union with God in the beatific vision. But before the American state, we recognize in Protestants equal rights with our own. They have the same right to be protected by the state in the freedom of their conscience that we have to be protected by it in the freedom of ours. We should attack the very freedom of conscience the state guaranties to all her citizens, were we to call upon it to found or to continue a system of public schools, at the public expense, intended or fitted to detach Protestant children from the religion of their parent, and turn them over to be brought up in the Catholic religion. We should prove ourselves decidedly un-American in so doing. Yet, we regret to say, this is precisely what the non-Catholic majority, inconsiderately we trust, are doing; and if the popular ministers of the several sects, like Dr. R.W. Clark, Dr. Sheldon, Dr. Bellows, Henry Ward Beecher, and the sectarian and secular press have their way, they will continue to do to the end of the chapter to us Catholics. They probably are not aware that they belie the Americanism they profess, and abuse the power their superiority of numbers gives them to tyrannize over the consciences of their fellow-citizens. This strikes us as very un-American, as well as very unjust.
We place our demand for separate schools on the ground of conscience, and therefore of right — the right of God as well as of man. Our conscience forbids us to support schools at the public expense from which our religion is excluded, and in which our children are taught either what we hold to be a false or mutilated religion, or no religion at all. Such schools are perilous to the souls of our children; and we dare avow, even in this age of secularism and infidelity, that we place the salvation of the souls of our children above every other consideration. This plea of conscience, which we urge from the depth of our souls, and under a fearful sense of our accountability to our Maker, ought to suffice, especially in an appeal to a state bound by its own constitution to protect the rights of conscience for each and all of its citizens, whether Protestant or Catholic.
One thing must be evident from past experience, that our children can be brought up to be good and orderly citizens only as Catholics, and in schools under the supervision and control of their church, in which her faith is freely and fully taught, and her services, discipline, and influences are brought to bear in forming their characters, restraining them from evil, and training them to virtue. We do not say that, even if trained in Catholic schools, all will turn out to be good practical Catholics and virtuous members of society; for the church does not take away free-will, nor eradicate all the evil propensities of the flesh; but it is certain that they cannot be made such in schools in which the religion of their parents is reviled as a besotted superstition, and the very textbooks of history and geography are made to protest against it; or in which they are accustomed to hear their priests spoken of without reverence, Protestant nations lauded as the only free and enlightened nations of the earth, Catholic nations sneered at as ignorant and enslaved, and the church denounced as a spiritual despotism, full of craft, and crusted all over with corruption both of faith and morals. Such schools may weaken their reverence for their parents, even detach them from their church, obscure, if not destroy their faith, render them indifferent to religion, indocile to their parents, disobedient to the laws; but they cannot inspire them with the love of virtue, restrain their vicious or criminal propensities, or prevent them from associating with the dangerous classes of our large towns and cities, and furnishing subjects for the correctional police, our jails, penitentiaries, the prisons, and the gallows.
We are pointed to the vicious and criminal population of our cities, of which we furnish more than our due proportion, as a conclusive argument against the moral tendency of our religion, and a savage howl of indignation, that rings throughout the land, is set up against the legislature or the municipality that ventures to grant us the slightest aid in our struggles to protect our children from the dangers that beset them, though bearing no proportion to the aid granted to non-Catholics. Yet it is precisely to meet cases like ours that a public provision for education is needed and supposed to be made. Protestants make the great mistake of trying to cure the evil to which we refer by detaching our children from the church, and bringing them up bad Protestants, or without any religion. The thousand and one associations and institutions formed by Protestant zeal and benevolence for the reformation or the bringing up of poor Catholic children, and some of which go so far as to kidnap little papist orphans or half orphans, lock them up in their orphan asylums, where no priest can enter, change their names so that their relatives cannot trace them, send them to a distance, and place them in Protestant families, where it is hoped they will forget their Catholic origin, all proceed from the same mistake, and all fail to arrest, or even to lessen, the growing evil. They necessarily provoke the opposition and resistance of the Catholic pastors, and of all earnest Catholics, who regard the loss of their faith as the greatest calamity that can befall Catholic children. So long as faith remains, however great the vice or the crime, there is something to build on, and room to hope for repentance, though late, for reformation and final salvation. Faith once gone, all is gone.
It is necessary to understand that the children of Catholics must be trained up in the Catholic faith, in the Catholic Church, to be good exemplary Catholics, or they will grow up bad citizens, the pests of society. Nothing can be done for them but through the approval and cooperation of the Catholic clergy and the Catholic community. The contrary rule, till quite recently, has been adopted, and public and private benevolence has sought to benefit our children by disregarding, or seeking to uproot, their Catholic faith, and rejecting the cooperation of the Catholic clergy. The results are apparent to all not absolutely blinded by their misdirected zeal.
The public have not sufficiently considered that by the law excluding our religion from the public schools, the schools as established by law are Protestant schools, at least so far as they are not pagan or godless. We do not suppose the state ever intended to establish Protestantism as the exclusive religion of the schools; but such is the necessary result of excluding, no matter under what pretext, the teaching of our religion in them. Exclude Catholicity, and what is left? Nothing of Christianity but Protestantism, which is simply Christianity minus the Catholic Church, her faith, precepts, and sacraments. At present the state makes ample provision for the children of Protestants, infidels, or pagans; but excludes the children of Catholics, unless we consent to let them be educated in Protestant schools, and brought up Protestants, so far as the schools can bring them up.
Now, we protest in the name of equal rights against this manifest injustice. There is no class of the community more in need of free public schools than Catholics, and none are more entitled to their benefit; for they constitute a large portion of the poorer and more destitute classes of the community. We can conceive nothing more unjust than for the state to provide schools for Protestants, and even infidels, and refuse to do it for Catholics. To say that Catholics have as free access to the public schools as Protestants, is bitter mockery. Protestants can send their children to them without exposing them to lose their Protestantism; but Catholics cannot send their children to them without exposing them to the loss of their Catholicity. The law protects their religion in the public schools by the simple fact of excluding ours. How then say these schools are as free to us as they are to them? Is conscience of no account?
We take it for granted that the intention of the state is that the public schools should be be accessible alike to Catholics and Protestants, and on the same risks and conditions. We presume it has had no more intention of favoring Protestants at the expense of Catholics, than Catholics at the expense of Protestants. But it can no longer fail to see that its intention is not, and cannot be realized by providing schools which Protestants can use without risk to their Protestantism, and none which Catholics can use without risk to their Catholicity. As the case now stands, the law sustains Protestantism in the schools and excludes Catholicity. This is unjust to Catholics, and deprives us, in so far as Catholics, of all benefit to be derived from the public schools supported at the public expense. Were the law to admit Catholicity, it would necessarily exclude Protestantism, which would be equally unjust to Protestants. Since, then, Catholicity and Protestantism mutually exclude each other, and as the state is bound to treat both with equal respect, it is not possible for it to carry out its intention and do justice to both parties, but by dividing the schools, and setting apart for Catholics their portion of them, in which the education shall be determined and controlled by their church, though remaining public schools supported at the public expense, under the provisions of a general law as now.
This would be doing for its Catholic citizens only what it now does for its Protestant citizens only; in fact, only what is done in France, Austria, and Prussia. The division would enable us to bring all our children into schools under the influence and management of our pastors, and to do whatever the church and a thoroughly religious education can do to train them up to be good Catholics, and therefore orderly and peaceful members of society, and loyal and virtuous American citizens. It would also remove some restraint from the Protestant schools, and allow them more freedom in insisting on whatever is doctrinal and positive in their religion than they now exercise. The two classes of schools, though operating separately, would aid each other in stemming the tide of infidelity and immorality, new setting in with such fearful rapidity, and apparently resistless force, threatening the very existence of our republic. The division would operate in favor of religion, both in a Catholic sense and in a Protestant sense, and therefore tend to purify and preserve American society. It would restore the schools to their original intention, and make them, what they should be, religious schools.
The enemy which the state, which Catholics, and which Protestants have alike to resist and vanquish by education is the irreligion, pantheism, atheism, and immorality, disguised as secularism, or under the specious names of science, humanity, free-religion, and free-love, which not only strike at all Christian faith and Christian morals, but at the family, the state, and civilized society itself. The state has no right to regard this enemy with indifference, and on this point we accept the able argument used by the serious Protestant preachers and writers cited in the number of The Christian World before us against the exclusion of the Bible and all recognition of religion from the public schools. The American state is not infidel or godless, and is bound always to recognize and actively aid religion as far as in its power. Having no spiritual or theological competency, it has no right to undertake to say what shall or shall not be the religion of its citizens; it must accept, protect, and aid the religion its citizens see proper to adopt, and without partiality for the religion of the majority any more than the religion of the minority; for in regard to religion the rights and powers of minorities and majorities are equal. The state is under the Christian law, and it is bound to protect and enforce Christian morals and its laws, whether assailed by Mormonism, spiritism, free-lovism, pantheism, or atheism.
The modern world has strayed far from this doctrine, which in the early history of this country nobody questioned. The departure may be falsely called progress and boasted of as a result of “the march of intellect;” but it must be arrested, and men must be recalled to the truths they have left behind, if republican government is to be maintained, and Christian society preserved. Protestants who see and deplore the departure from the old landmarks will find themselves unable to arrest the downward tendency without our aid, and little aid shall we be able to render them unless the church be free to use the public schools — that is, her portion of them — to bring up her children in her own faith, and train them to be good Catholics. There is a recrudescence of paganism, a growth of subtle and disguised infidelity, which it will require all that both they and we can do to arrest. Fight, therefore, Protestants, no longer us, but the public enemy.*
* We desire to call attention to another point which could not be discussed in the foregoing article, and to which we can at present only allude to in the briefest manner. Large sums of money have been granted by legislatures to universities and colleges which are controlled by the clergy of different Protestant denominations, in which they teach their religious opinions without restraint, and which they make as far as they can, training-schools for their theological seminaries. Now, if the outcry against any grant of public funds to schools in which the Catholic religion is taught is taken up and sustained by Protestants, it follows that they must advocate the total secularization of all institutions, without exception, which enjoy any state subsidies, and, if they wish to keep control of religious instruction in any of the above-mentioned colleges, must refund to the state every thing which they now possess by grant from the state, and give up all claim to receive any further endowments. Catholics would never disendow or despoil these Protestant institutions, even if they had full power to do it; but if the party of infidelity ever gains, by the help of Protestants, full sway over our legislation, the latter may prepare themselves for a wholesale spoliation.