A. D. (Amory Dwight) Mayo.

Religion in the common schools. Three lectures delivered in the city of Cincinnati, in October, 1869 online

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OCTOBER, 1869.

Rev. a. D. MAYO


65 West Fourth Street.

Relip-ion in the Common School.

For the last month the Board of Education in Cincinnati has
been agitated by two questions, on whose decisi'on the very exist-
ence of our present system of free pubhc education depends.

First, a proposition was made to the Board by the Catholic
Archbishop Purcell for a conference respecting the conditions on
which the Catholic schools of this city should be united with the
public schools. The Board, with great courtesy, appointed a com-
mittee, every member of which was understood to be favorable to
a union if it could be achieved without sacrifice of the fundamental
principles of the American system of free schools. A conference
was held, and the Archbishop virtually proposed that the city of
Cincinnati should support Catholic religious schools with the public
money. As this proposition was in direct hostility both to the fun-
damental idea of the American free school system, and the Con-
stitution of the State of Ohio, both of which forbid the support of
sectarian religious schools by the taxation of the whole people, it
was unanimously rejected — not one member of the Board uttering
a word in its favor. The Archbishop suggested that the Com-
mittee of Conference should remain in session until he was able to
consult Pope Pius IX upon the whole subject ; and several of the
members of the Board, including the President, voted in favor of
waiting for consultation with a prince, politically the most insig-
nificant in Europe, the only prince in the world who recognized
our late rebel confederacy, in regard to the education of the citizens
of the Republic of the United States. This astounding proposition
was buried under an overwhelming majority, and there is no prob-
ability that the question of the union of Catholics and public
schools will again come before the present Board. Next spring,
twenty of the forty seats in that body become vacant, and the peo-
ple can determine whether they shall be filled by men who favoj
the surrender of the great vital principle of American public educa-
tion to the demands of any religious sect.

But now comes up another question, equally momentous, alike
involving a fundamental change in our system of public instruction.

^ Religion in the

The Constitution of Ohio declares that the public school moneys
shall not be used in support of any religious or other sect. The
proposition now is to banish religion itself from all the public
schools of Cincinnati ; a proceeding which would deliver up our
magnificent system of instruction to the smallest, least influential
and most intolerant of all sects, the sect of atheists \ "the other
sect" which denies the existence of God, the spiritual nature of
man, the union of religion and morality and the immortality of the
soul'. It proposes virtually to place the million dollars, now raised
for the education of the people in this city, and the fifty thousand
school-children of Cincinnati, in the ha:nds of a sect which denies
every great religious belief that has prevailed since the creation of
the world.

This is a proposition narrower and more intolerant than that of
the Archbishop, inasmuch as it favors a sect of far less importance,
and cuts up public religion itself by the roots. It is equally obnox-
ious to the Constitution of Ohio, and should it prevail, would be
the instantaneous destruction of our public schools. The former
proposition came from without, and was unanimously rejected.
The latter was offered by Mr, S. A. Miller, a new representative
from the seventeenth ward, who informed the Board that twenty-
six members were pledged to its adoption. Twenty-one members
are required to pass it, and as there has yet been no real discussion
on the merits of the question, this boast was doubtless premature.
The resolution lies upon the table, a slumbering monster, ready to
sleep the sleep of death, or start into tremendous life, according to
the will of its mover.

Understand me. I do not charge that any member of the Board
of Education is an atheist. On the broad field of public affairs, I
bandy theological epithets with no man. I do not charge on the
mover of these resolutions, or any gentleman who will vote for
them, the premeditated design of either destroying our public schools
or delivering them into the hands of any sect whatever. I impugn
the motives of none of my colleagues. I only look on the face of
these resolutions, so carefully drawn, so deep and comprehensive
in their scope, supported by men whose boast is their admiration of
strict logic, and I declare my conviction that, if adopted, they will
make the public schools of Cincinnati, schools of atheism, and place
the whole education of the people's children in the hands of that
" other sect," whose one point of theology is the denial of the pos-
sibility of religion for any human soul. The following are the
resolutions :

^'■Resolved, That religious instruction and the reading of religious
books, including the Holy Bible, are prohibited in the common
schools of Cincinnati, it being the true object and intent of this
rule to allow the children of the parents of all sects and opinions

Cormnon Schools.

in matters of faith and worship, to enjoy alike the benefit of the
common school fund.

'■'■ Resolved., That so much of the Regulations on the Course of
Study and Text Books, in the Intermediate and District Schools
(page 213, Annual Report) as reads as follows : 'The opening ex-
ercises, in every department, shall commence by reading a portion
of the Bible, by or under the direction of the teacher, and appro-
priate singing by the pupils,' be repealed."

The gist of the whole matter is found in the first two lines :
" That religious instruction and the reading of religious books are
prohibited in the common schools." This goes to the bottom of
the whole matter, and sets not only the Bible and religious music,
but religion itself, adrift down stream, leaving the schools utterly
expurgated of every thing to which any materialistic atheist could
object. The public conscience has been aroused, as bv a thunder-
clap, at the suggestion that the Bible must be removed from the
public schools. Even that genial optimist, the Cincinnati Com-
mercial, is grieved that Old Hundred can no longer be sung to
soothe the rampant passions of naughty boys and wrathful peda-
gogues. But these are subordinate considerations. Were it pro-
posed so to read the Bible that only those passages which most
simply and concisely express the religious faith of mankind should
be read, omitting all outside and above the average comprehension
of little children, especially those portions on whose interpretation
the greatest of Biblical scholars are divided, that would be a different

Were it proposed to expurgate our music books of all sectarian
hymns and songs, if such there be, or to inquire if any teacher
is going outside the common platform of religion in the matter of
instruction, that would be another question. If abuses of this kind
exist, there is a remedy at hand, amply provided for under the
present school regulations. But the friends of this resolution have
charged no such abuses and invited no such investi2;ation. In their
eyes, the sovereign offense is that religion in any form is brought
in contact with the public schools. For this disease, they propose
the heroic treatment of the destruction of religion itself in every
school-house in the city. Almost every religious sect in the United
States has been guilty of persecuting its rival sects, in behalf of its
own religion ; but I apprehend this is the first time in America
when a persecution and prohibition of religion itself has been or-
ganized in the very heart of the commonwealth, the republic of the
little children.

Let us trace the practical effect of this prohibition in the public
schools in Cincinnati.

First. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are wholly excluded

6 Religion in (he

and no verse therefrom can be read or quoted inside the public

Second. All reliEjious music, including, of course, most of the
highest music in the world, which is religious, is turned out, and the
children are left to find such comfort as they may in harmony
divorced from all the higher sentiments of man.

Third. All literature, ancient and modern, which refers to or
recognizes religion, must be put out from the public schools. Thus,
by one atheistic " bull" an interdict is placed over all the highest
literature of the world. Homer, and Plato, and Virgil, Milton and
Shakspeare, and Humboldt and Goethe, and all the highest En-
glish and American literature goes, and the scholars are left to read
and digest only works of pure science, mathematics, such philoso-
phy and history as repudiate religion, and such poets as the Roman
Lucretius, the German Heinzen and the American Walt. Whit-

Fourth. All religious art is banished by the same blow. Not
one of the master-pieces of religious art, which we cross the ocean
to behold, could be hung upon the walls of the public school-

Fifth. Our whole series of American school-books, excepting,
perhaps, the mathematical books, must be swept out as so much
waste paper. The school-readers now in use contain not only the
choicest passages from the Bible, but also many of the noblest
selections from the best authors of the English and German tongue
which inculcate religion. We banish, with these books, the sweet-
est poems of our own Longfellow, and Bryant, and Sprague, of
Mrs. Hemans and Wordsworth, the grand soliloquy of Cato on
Immortality by Addison, the glorious strains of Milton, the Farewell
Address of Washington. Every series of school readers in Amer-
ican use recognizes and inculcates religion. They must all go.
Everything in history that touches upon the religious progress of
the race must go. If the geography, or the book of science, de-
clares the world was made by God, that, too, must go, and a com-
mittee must be appointed to prepare a series of school books worthy
to be read by children who have no souls — who recognize no
Father in heaven.

Sixth. Every little boy that declaims on the school platform, must
be watched lest he should declaim in favor of religion. If, in fond
imitation of us in our youthful days, he starts off" with the resound-
ing lines :

" The spacious firmament on high.
And all the bhie ethereal skv.
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim,"

Common Schools. 7

the Principal shouts: "Stop, boy; the great Original is an uncon-
stitutional and unknown quantity in the schools of Cincinnati." A
little girl, brooding over her first composition, may tell the story of
her loves for pussy and canary ; but if, fresh from the bereavement
at home, she writes: "Our little baby died yesterday, and God has
taken it to heaven to be an angel forever," blotting the paper with
her tears, her little essay goes into the waste-basket; for within
these walls there is no God, there are no angels, there is no forever
in heaven.

Seventh. All instruction, or exhortation, or conversation by the
teachers, enforcing the religious duty of love to God and love to
man, must come to an end, and nothing must be said which will
provoke the objection of any man who believes that the common
moralities of life have no deeper root than the varying custom of
the hour.

Eighth. The new Public Library is established and will be sup-
ported by the money of the whole people, and will be an educator
of our youth not inferior to the public schools. Do these gentle-
men propose to carry their logic inside those spacious alcoves, and
make it solely a collection of the atheistic writings of the world ?

But this is only the superficial result of this proposition. After
all, the children in our public schools are educated by the manhood
and womanhood of their teachers more than all their studies. Do
these educational reformers suppose that our present teachers, who
believe in religion — many of them eminent for the elevation of
their religious character — will submit to this revival of religious
persecution ? What noble. God-fearing man, what tender Christian
or Hebrew woman, will stand there to be worried, and watched and
pestered by a little sect that repudiates all that makes man and
woman divine ? And when they shake the dust from their feet
and leave those godless halls, and their places are filled by men
who scorn the imputation of a spiritual nature, and wome;i — oh !
save us from that — who have cut adrift from the eternal verities of
life, do these reformers suppose the people will pay a million dol-
lars a year to perpetuate this new philosophic Utopia, or hand over
their fifty thousand children to be experimented with and educated
on the theory that they are only thinking animals !

If it be probable that the bodies of men are shaped and toned by
the physical region in which they live, so is it a thousand times more
probable that the souls of children are exalted and expanded, or de-
pressed and narrowed by the spiritual climate and style of character
with which they are brought in contact. They now grow up in
the genial and enlivening atmosphere of religious faith, and hope,
and trust ; are we ready to banish them to the bleak and wintry
realm of a life without a future, and a universe without a God.?

For religion is no sect,. no book, no interloper in human affairs.

8 Religion in the

Religion is older than Protestant or Catholic, than Christian or
Hebrew, than Mohammedan or Pagan faith. The Bible and all
special forms and creeds are but its children.

If there is one thing that is universal, one sentiment that makes
men human, one influence that is cosmopolitan, one golden chain
which, clasped by Adam's hand and felt after by the trembling
fingers of the last new-born child, binds all created men in one
family, unites nations and races and ages in a sublime brotherhood,
and passing upward is lost in the mysterious universe peopled by
myriads of created intelligences and pervaded by the spirit of infi-
nite love, that golden chain is Religion. No nation ever existed
that was not founded upon it ; no human institutions that have re-
pudiated the worship of God and the religious and moral duties of
man, have been able to stand upright in this world. All the occu-
pations of human life are organized around the universal religious
faith of man. The family, the school, the whole machinery of
human government, no less than the church, are built upon this
universal faith. Whether expressed or understood, religion is pres-
ent, visible like the light or invisible like the air, the element which
binds all together and makes life itself a blessing.

There has always been in the world a class of people who have
denied the possibility of religion in their philosophical theories,
though compelled to recognize it in every act of their lives. A
gracious providence for a brief hour committed the destinies of one
nation to their charge, and they ruled it long enough to make that
one chapter in the history of France the " bloodiest record on the
book of time." That sect exists to-day in the United States, or-
ganized and engineered by men who have thought themselves out
of the world of divine realities into a universe of philosophical

Its chief strength is in the new cities of the West, those strange
accumulations of humanity, where every phase of human folly and
madness, every conflict between good and evil that has vexed man-
kind in the past, is to be confronted anew. We meet it at every
step. It challenges every idea and institution especially dear to the
American heart. It proposes nothing less than to empty American
public and private life of everything that has been held divine and
eternal by the human race; to blot out the spiritual firmament
above; to pull down the mountain ranges of aspiration, and fill up
the oceans of deep and fathomless trust, and change life to a level
plain of materialistic existence. By playing upon the political and
social ambitions of the people, it has acquired a temporary and
factitious power.

And now, emboldened by past success, it stalks into that sacred
realm of American society, the people's common school, demand-
ing that all recognition of religion shall be expelled therefrom. It

Common Schools. 9

is prepared to unite with the bitterest enemy of public education to
achieve its purpose. It boasts that "it is ready to fight this battle
through to the bitter end." Well, so let it be. For one, I am fully
prepared for the issue, and have not a moment's doubt which side
to take. Let us put by all compromises, "lay aside every weight,"
and stand up square to the fight. Shall religion be banished from
the public schools of the United States? I will work with men of
all religions and of no religion, asking no questions, making no com-
parisons, in the glorious common cause of American civilization.
I will not even ask what is the religion of my colleagues in the
Board of Education so long as we toil together as brethren to build
up that beautiful system of instruction, which, repudiating alike
sectarianism and atheism, abides on the high plateau of the religious
obligation of all mankind.

But the moment either archbishop or atheist demands the sur-
render of that citadel of American liberty, that stronghold of the
human race, the right to apply religion everywhere in public and
private life, I can no longer vote with that man though he were
the son of my own mother and the dearest friend of my life ; and
I warn the people of this city and this State that the moment when
they begin to yield either to the threats or the blandishments of a
religious or an atheistic sect, though the one may appear clad with
all the sacred associations and awful sanctions of the infallible
church of the living God, or the other may boast itself as the
infallible leader of the only science and culture of the age, that
moment the great system of the public education of the American
people, built up by the toil and treasure of our fathers, sanctified
by the prayers and watered by the tears of generations of parents,
cherished in the grateful memory of succeeding generations of their
children, the guardian of our liberties and the hope of our republic,
will begin to dissolve, and every step that way is a step toward its

What are the potent reasons for this expulsion of religion from
the common schools of Cincinnati ? It is whispered about that if
we will put religion out, many parents who believe in the Catholic
faith will put their children in. But if there is anything fixed in the
Catholic church, it is that religion and education must go hand in
hand. The Catholic church all over the world, through its infalli-
ble authorities, is engaged in drawing Catholic youth into schools
exclusively controlled by itself, on the very ground that in all other
institutions of learning, religious instruction is neglected. We are
now gravely told that the one condition of bringing Catholic youth
into our public schools, is to make the schools atheistic ! When
the Catholic clergy and laity of Cincinnati will appear before the
Board of Education, and declare that if religion is expelled they

10 Religion in the

will come in and abide with us, it will be time to give this argument
a serious and prayerful consideration.

But the grand argument for this "reform" is a legal argument.
The Board of Education, in days past, has not been wanting in
respectable lights of the law. A Storer, a King, a Fisher, have
presided over its deliberations with consummate dignity and knowl-
edge. Other well-known eminent lawyers have graced those seats,
and have not been unwilling to instruct their colleagues in the
mysteries of the law. The legal brigade of the board has not been
so feeble, either in numbers or in commanding reputation for years ;
perhaps never has there been so little commanding legal talent in
that body as at present. It is somewhat significant that as the great
lawyers go out, this new legal crusade against religion comes in.
The great men, whose legal nod was enough to quiet our parlia-
mentary strifes, were so blind that they never discovered that we
were supporting an illegal institution in the public schools. Now
comes the new day of illumination, in which it is suddenly and
triumphantly announced that not onlv in the common school, but
through the whole length and breadth of American public affairs,
religion is unconstitutional.

It is also a little remarkable that this announcement so far is
bottomed solely upon the decision of Judge Thurman and the
Supreme Court of the State, which decision, it is asserted, is to the
effect that to the Constitution of Ohio religion is unknown; that
the State and all our public institutions are secular in the sense that
they are atheistic. For atheism itself is onlv the denial of God,
and the State that through all its public policy utterly ignores
religion is an atheistic State. Now, I do not propose to intrude
upon the province of the law, or presume to crowd upon the path
so ably trod by the eloquent and learned orators of last Tuesday
evening. But, as a citizen of Ohio and the United States, cer-
tainly not indifferent to religion by my calling in life, I would say a
word on the general bearings of this astounding assertion.

Even were there such a decision as is claimed, we must remem-
ber that in the American republic all official power is delegated,
and not even a supreme court is infallible authority. Especially on
such mighty themes as liberty and religion, which are the founda-
tions of civilization itself, there is no infallible authority outside
the final, solemn, deliberate judgment of the people ; and even that
decision only holds until, by appeal to the God of truth and justice,
the hearts of the people themselves may be changed and an un-
righteous judgment reversed. Plato says: "Atheism is a disease
of the soul before it becomes an error of the understanding ;" and
certainly the people of Ohio have never delegated to anv body of
lawyers the infallible authority to expel Almighty God from the
State. It would be strange, indeed, if they should deny to the

CoTtnnon Schools. 11

church the infallible power to establish a sect of religion and confer
upon the courts the infallible power to declare the State of Ohio
an atheistic political corporation. We have not forgotten that ten
years ago a majority of the judges of the Supreme Court of the
United States denied the right of American citizenship to one-
eighth of the American people, and declared the Constitution of the
United States the great propagandist of human slavery, suggesting
that black men had no rights that white men are bound to respect.
The people of the United States found that decision, with a good
deal of unwholesome rubbish of the same sort, among the rebel
effects at Appomattox Court-house, and it now sleeps in the same
museum as the Confederate bonds, the captured robes of the rebel
president, and the C. S. A.

They reconstructed their Supreme Court, and presented every
judge with a new pair of spectacles, whereby he could behold
liberty interlined through all the history and the fundamental law
of the nation, and, lest those glasses should become dim, they have
been engaged for the last five years in writing human freedom all
over the Constitution in letters so large and brilliant that even the
wayfaring man, though a fool, might read their sovereign will aright.
It now appears that the courts of Ohio are called upon to make the
more amazing decision that this glorious State, as a government,
repudiates religiofi. Had any court thus decided, it might be pru-
dent, in view of past events, to wait two years, when the people
of Ohio will reconstruct their constitution, and obtain their final
judgment, before the School Board embarks on the extensive
operation of reading Almighty God out of the common schools.

But we are comforted by the assurance of our most eminent
lawyers, that this decision referred to has no such meaning as is
forced upon it; that it is simply a strong rhetorical statement of
the well-known principle that the State of Ohio does not punish
crimes and offenses because they are contrary to the Christian or
any other form of religion ; that in view of the strife between

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Online LibraryA. D. (Amory Dwight) MayoReligion in the common schools. Three lectures delivered in the city of Cincinnati, in October, 1869 → online text (page 1 of 6)