« ForrigeFortsett »
Two cases of comparatively recent occurrence seem to force this question upon us. The case (no doubt fresh in your minds of the boy Wall, in this city of Boston, who was punished by his teacher for a persistent and firm refusal to join in the religious exercises recommended by the School Committee of the city, having been instructed by his father and by his religious teacher not to take part in them.
The other, the more recent difficulty in the city of New York, in which it is alleged that teachers of one religious faith were removed from the public schools, and their places filled by those of another faith, not on grounds of incompetency or unfitness, but on strictly sectarian grounds. I do not cite these cases to discuss them at all, nor to advance any opinions upon particular circumstances in either case, which might be urged to palliate or excuse what, at first, might . seem the plainest and most flagrant violation of the rights of conscience. I refer to them simply and earnestly to call your attention to the fact that these differences of opinion exist, that they are endangering our public school system, and are crippling its usefulness for a large class, whom to neglect is to consign
enemies to social order and to the security of the State “ the dangerous class,” as they are expressively termed in Europe.
It must be remembered, too, that this contest has its origin in the religious differences of those who are equally taxed to support the public schools, and who, by right, can claim equal benefits in them. And when we consider the tenacity with which we, our
selves, cling to the religious faith of our fathers, — the faith taught us at our mother's knee, hallowed by the recollections of early childhood, and made stronger and more real in our mature manhood by the severe discipline and trial of life, - we shall not, I am sure, wonder that others have as strong convictions and as real attachments to an early faith deeply rooted in the soul, but shall be constrained to exercise that generous charity, " which suffereth long, and is kind,” the chiefest ornament of Christian character!
In discussing this question of the differences between the two great divisions of Christians, the Catholics and the Protestants, in regard to religious instruction in the Common Schools, two capital errors seem to be widely entertained. The first error is, the assumption that our State and Federal governments are Protestant, or, in other words, that the State is Protestant because a majority of the present inhabitants of the United States are Protestants.
Now the State is Christian in its laws and institutions, but there is no State form of religion. England and Prussia are Protestant States, for Protestantism is the form of Christianity officially recognized by the State. Protestantism is the State religion. The Constitution of the United States establishes no form of religion. It is neutral and wholly tolerant. There is no direct word in it upon the subject. The only clause that I can find bearing at all upon this question is negative in character. A part of Art. IV. of the Constitution, regarding the oath of public officers,
reads : “But no religious test shall ever be required · as a qualification to any office of public trust in the
As in the United States Constitution, so in most of the State Constitutions that I have been able to examine, there is no assumption that the State is Protestant. This Commonwealth of Massachusetts has struck out from its Constitution the only word which could justify the assertion that the State is Protestant. A clause in Art. III. of that part of the Massachusetts Constitution, called “A declaration of the rights of the inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," as it originally stood, reads : “ As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, therefore the people of this Commonwealth have the right to invest the Legislature with power to authorize and require the several towns, parishes, &c., to make provision for the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.”
Now, note the growth of tolerant opinion! An amendment adopted by the Legislatures of the years 1832 and 1833, and approved and ratified by the people, was substituted for this article. It is Art. XI. of the amendments to the Constitution, and in the Revised Statutes of 1835 is described by the title, “ Religious Freedom Established.” The amendment, after the same general recital, proceeds : “ Therefore the several religious societies of the Commonwealth, whether corporate or unincorporate, shall have the right to elect their pastors or religious teachers.” Thus striking out the word Protestant, and the re
quirement, by State authority, to support any form of religious worship. The State of New Hampshire has an article in her Constitution prohibiting a Catholic from holding office, but the spirit of the people is opposed to such a test; and the largest city in the State was represented, in part, in the last Legislature, by a Catholic, and no movement was made to enforce this obsolete clause of the Constitution. In the discussion of this question, it is important to remember that the State is not Protestant, but that our civil institutions were founded in toleration of all shades of religious opinion, without partiality to any.
The second error, - one quite as common, and more prejudicial to a hopeful settlement of these unfortunate differences, — is the belief that the Bible, in King James? version, which is to the Protestants the revealed will of God, cannot be conscientiously regarded by any as a sectarian book, and therefore that conscientious scruples against our common English version are entitled to no respect. This is neither the time nor place, if one had the inclination, to enter into a discussion of the merits, historical correctness, or points of difference, between the King James and the Douay versions of the Scriptures. It would add nothing to the argument, to show that there are unimportant differences, that the division of the first commandment, as it is contained in the Catholic Catechism, into a first and second, as by the Prostestants, or the division of the Protestant tenth commandment into the ninth and tenth by the Catholics, is right or wrong. I leave such inquiries to those who wish to thread them, simply asking either party, who conscientiously believes himself to be right and another wrong, in regard to this question, whether this other may not have precisely the same reason that he himself has for his belief, namely; the religious influences, opinions and teachings by which he is surrounded, and may conscientiously believe no version of the Scriptures to be the true word of God, unless sanctioned and approbated by his religious teachers and church.
Having thus attempted to show that the State is not Protestant, but neutral and wholly tolerant in its spirit, I ask your attention to the position of the State (in most, if not all our separate States, the same), towards the different religious sects so far as our Public Schools are concerned. I quote the Massachusetts Constitution as reflecting the sentiment of nearly all our States. After establishing the right of each individual to worship God, according to the dictates of his own conscience, and proclaiming the equality of all religious sects and denominations, in the eye of the law, it thus guards the common school :
Art. 18 — (amendment to Constitution of Massachusetts) — “All moneys raised by taxation, in the towns and cities, for the support of Common Schools, shall be applied to and expended for no other schools than those which are conducted according to law, under the order and superintendence of the authorities of the town or city in which the money is to be expended, and such money shall never be appropriated by any religious sect for the maintenance, exclusively, of its own schools."
This is the answer of the State of Massachusetts,