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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Online LibraryA. D. (Amory Dwight) MayoReligion in the common schools. Three lectures delivered in the city of Cincinnati, in October, 1869 → online text (page 6 of 6)
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logical friends can see no difference between this assertion and the
assertion of the European idea of a state-established religion, they
simply do not understand the practical genius of the American
people. In the language of Chief Justice Story, "the attempt, by
the framers of the Constitution of the United States, to ignore, or
be indifferent to, religion in that instrument, would have been met
with universal indignation." Doubtless, there is a sect of political
philosophers who believe in a government that lets religion alone,
but the American people never joined that sect. The whole con-
ception of such a government as looms through the rhetoric of
Pike's Hall is as foreign to our American idea of society as the
imperialism of Russia. It is a scholar's dream, well enough for
platform emergencies, which disappears at a moment's contact with
real American life.

The strongest point in these elaborate discourses is a perpetual
and offensive charge of persecution against the people of the United
States as respects Catholics and Atheists, especially in the common
schools. Now, what are the facts in regard to this matter ? The
Catholic, or Atheist, is "persecuted" because compelled to pay a
tax to support the government of the United States, and the State
governments, which secure to all men the greatest amount of lib-
erty yet possessed by any people in the world. The Catholic and
Atheist are "oppressed" because that government acknowledges
the obligation of states and men to obey God and do good to man,
and expresses that obligation by protecting the citizen in the enjoy-
ment of all forms of religion, and making certain public acknowl-
edgment of the dependence of the whole people on Almighty God.
Such acknowledgments are public worship, reading of the Bible,
and imposition of oaths by the paid servants of the people. The
use of the Bible in the schools is simply on this ground. There is
more religious acknowledgment in the public schools, because it is
most important that the youth of the country should be impressed
with their religious obligations as citizens of the State. In private
instruction, in the family, in the church, they learn the value of
religion in their private, social, and eternal life. By these observ-
ances in the school, they are taught those great first truths of
religion and morality essential to them as citizens of the Sta':e.
This, then, is the amount of the "persecution" so ostentatiously
and offensivelv charged against the American people: the enforce-

CoTYimon Schools. ^7

ment of a tax to support a government, and public institutions,
which assert that ''religion and morality being essential to good
government," some public observance of religion and morality
shall be made. Now, this seems to me about the mildest form of
persecution yet invented by man ; and to conjure out of this the
visions of bloodshed and slaughter that shocked the audience at
Pike's Hall, seems to me to prove that more than one man in Cin-
cinnati is afflicted with a " gigantic imagination."

To what does this whole style of reasoning conduct us ? If cor-
rect, one Catholic citizen of the United States, or any State, may
demand that all recognition of religion shall be put out of public
affairs because there is no other religion than the Catholic, which
the State will not adopt. One atheistic father may demand that all
acknowledgment of God shall be put out of our common schools
because it is an offense to his conscience to pay a tax to a govern-
ment that acknowledges the truth of religion. And if the nation
or the schools decline this modest demand, they are classed among
the tyrants and oppressors of the earth, with Nero and Robespierre.
What is this but our old Southern friend, the doctrine of State
Rights, pushed to its finest point ? The nation can do nothing
without the consent of the state; the state nothing without the
consent of every citizen ; the school nothing without the consent
of every tax-payer. This whole reasoning lands us in a slough of
absurdity and anarchy worthy a professor of German transcend-
ental philosophy, or a French socialistic politician. The new gos-
pel of American rights, as expounded in Pike's Hall, is only John
C. Calhoun's doctrine of state rights, run to seed ; a demonstra-
tion of the impotence of scholastic theories of society when brought
in collision with the solid facts of American life.

Both these speakers denounce the Rev. Mr. Mayo in unsparing
terms as guilty of criminal misrepresentation of the tendency and
purport of Mr. Miller's resolutions now before the School Board.
They indignantly deny that it is the intention of such resolutions to
banish religion from the schools of Cincinnati, and make a public
profession of religious belief in their own case in proof of their
assertion. After such public confession, certainly nobody will
charge Judge Stallo or the Rev. Mr. Vickers with being an atheist.
So far the Rev. Mr. Mayo has made this charge concerning no
individual by name. The point of my first lecture was that, under
Mr. Miller's resolution, religion in any form of written, spoken or
musical expression could not exist in our common schools. Teach-
ers, scholars, and trustees might be religious, but there could be no
expression of religion such as I have described, and this utter
ignoring of all religion, I asserted, was essential Atheism.

Now, leaving outside the cloud of peculiar rhetoric, in which my
assailants have enwrapped their offensive charge of misrepresenta-

^8 Religion in the

tion, I point once more to the resolutions themselves. If words
mean anything, those resolutions banish religious instruction, the
reading of religious books, the reading of the Bible, and the singing of
religious songs, from the school-room. Nothing is said about prayers,
but as the only prayer used in our schools is Lord's prayer, which
is a part of the Bible, praying goes too; for I believe nobody has
accused Mr. Miller of omitting this prohibition in order to change
the common school of Cincinnati to a morning prayer-meeting.

Now, when all these things are put out of the school, I respect-
fully ask these gentlemen how much religion in any outward form
of expression will be left 1 You may say, the practice of religion
in the conduct of teachers and scholars. It 's constitutional to be
religious, but unconstitutional to say anything about it. If you
should propose to cut off a man's head, both his arms and both his
legs, the poor victim would not get much consolation from your
assertion that the heart, the source of life, was left, and that you
were the dearest friend of his physical existence. I am inclined to
think if all methods of verbal expression of religion were forbidden
in the schools, their moral and religious life would bleed to death
through these ghastly wounds. Suppose, when the Rev. Mr.
Vickers entered his new church, on Plum street (which is, probably,
after his confession of faith, not to be dedicated to " that weak de-
coction of religion called Unitarianism,") suppose his trustees should
ofFer to him, as the decision of his congregation, a resolution, say-
ing, " that religious instruction, reading of religious books includ-
ing the Holy Bible, and singing of religious hymns were forbidden
within its walls," it strikes me the reverend gentleman would con-
clude that his occupation as a teacher of religion in that house was
gone. We are not all gifted with the masterly logical faculty that
illuminated Pike's Hall so magnificently, last evening, but the plain
people of Cincinnati understand those resolutions to be aimed at
any recognition of religion itself in the common school. If gentle-
men who support them are indignant at this popular understanding,
they can easily remove this misapprehension by withdrawing the
resolutions and substituting those of a different style.

But I now take one step farther, and boldly charge that this
movement of the School Board is part of a well-understood rriove-
ment, dating back for some years, to drive religion, in all its forms
of verbal expression, out of the schools; made by men who do not
regard it a personal offense to be charged with this intention ; who
are what men in all ages have called materialists and atheists.
Every member of the Board of Education, for the last 'i^^ years,
knows of the existence of such men and such intentions in that body,
not by inference, but by an observation of the spirit and a weighing
of the utterances there made. It has been declared, and that not con-
fidentially, that our public schools would not be perfect until the

Cominoji Schools. J^O

name of God could not be mentioned therein. More than a year
ago, a prominent member of the Board, and understood supporter
of these resolutions, in an address before all the teachers, at their
autumnal institute, announced the doctrine that religion and morality
should not be taught at all in the schools, save as a special topic of
investigation in the highest department. A few months later the
Board adopted the phonic system of teaching the children to read.
By this system the teaching of reading, spelling, writing, and, to
some extent, grammar, in the two lower grades of the district
schools, which contain more than a third of our school children, is
almost wholly oral in connection with the black-board and the use
of objects ; a vast improvement on all former systems of in-
struction. It became necessary to dispense with the two reading
books then in use in these grades and to substitute one better adapted
to the new system. The gentleman before alluded to, presented to
the Committee on Course of Study a new published work, "The
Phonic Reader," understood by them to have been compiled by the
principal and assistant of a school of which he was the influential
trustee. On examination of this book, the Committee on Course of
Study and the Superintendent of the schools were startled by certain
remarkable omissions. It contains 128 lessons and 112 pages; each
lesson being a syllabus suggesting subjects and words for the use of
the teacher, with reading lessons for beginners. Almost every topic
connected with the purely material life of childhood is introduced,
but if there is the slightest recognition of God, of a spirit in man, of
the immortal life, of any religious obligation of duty, or even more
than the faintest recognition of the social affections and the im-
agination, it was so disguised that it could not be found after careful
search. A child may read that book through, from beginning to
end, and never suspect from it that he is different in kind from
other animals; has any Creator, or any life beyond the narrowest
plane of materialistic existence. As one member of that commit-
tee, I called attention to this fact and asked an explanation. Several
were given which did not touch the point, but the consideration
was urged that the book was only a syllabus, and that every teacher
could supplement these lessons with those in which the spiritualities
of life would be introduced. This was true; and with such assu-
rance the book was permitted to come in on trial. The teachers
have found that it has other deficiencies ; that its circle of topics
shuts the children up in the dryest enclosure of childhood's life, and
have supplemented it with such topics and illustrations outside this
region as they had the right to produce.

But now comes in the other half of the programme, in these
resolutions, under vi^hich no teacher can supplement the Phonic
Reader with any illustrations which involve the recognition of relig-
ion in any form ; and if those resolutions pass, the parents of Cin-


50 Religion in the

cinnati will probably be interested to know that one-third the chil-
dren in the schools will be shut up in a reading book which
ignores almost every thing outside their animal life. That will do
for a beginning. On its heels, of course, in due time will follow a
whole series of school-books of the same type. I only half believed
at the time that this book was urged upon us with such a view. I
now believe it was thus introduced by the presiding spirit of this
movement in the Board of Education; and if religion is not alto-
gether rooted out in that body, I shall use my best endeavors to
put it out of use in the public schools. Now I assert that here is
a fair chain of proof that there is a party in the Board of Educa-
tion laboring to put all religion out of the schools. It may be
that the speakers at Pike's Hall and the mover of these resolutions
were ignorant of these facts ; but they are thoroughly known to
every man who has sat in that circle for the last two years. I
may overrate the importance of such facts, but [ have made no
intentional misrepresentation of anything.

I have charged that the original plan, concocted in private session
between certain members of the Board and certain Catholic priests,
included the provision that the use of Catholic school-houses rented
to the Board should be reserved by the priests two days in the week
for religious purposes, while all religious instruction whatever should
be excluded from other public schools. I said this was in effect
to establish a Catholic mission in the heart of our public school
system. To break the force of this charge, one of these speakers
point to another provision which forbids religious instruction in all
school-houses owned by the Board. This does not touch the point
at all. A case just in point now exists in San Francisco. The city
has hired a Catholic school-house for a public school. The Cath-
olic priest of the parish persists in holding Catholic religious services
for the children on Saturday and Sunday of every week in that, his
old school-house. The city has repeatedly ordered him to desist,
but he will not budge an inch. That is just what this provision
contemplated. The facts are that the Catholic priesthood well
knew of an element in the Board opposed to any religion in the
schools. They offered a union which, on one hand, banished all
religion from the public schools on five days in the week, and gave
up a dozen school-houses for two days to them for the Catholic
training of the school children, and Mr. Vickers says twenty-six
members of the School Board agreed to it. I am glad so many of
them are now ashamed of that whole proceeding.

This whole public excitement has not been called into existence
by any demand of the people, but precipitated upon the people by
a combination of two parties, well known to every man. First,
the attempt was made to put out all religion from the schools except
the Catholic ; that child was still-born. Next came the peremptory

CoTmnon Schools. 51

demand in Mr. Miller's resolutions to put out all religion whatever
from the public schools. That has become so offensive that its
friends are making haste to repudiate their own offspring. Then
the assailing column fell back on the proposition to put out only the
Bible. A vast majority of the people declare this shall not be done.
Now, after abusing and ridiculing every body who has resisted these
demands, the Rev. Mr. Vickers offers a compromise, that a manual
shall be made, containing the best portions of the Bible ; in other
words, the passages that are usually read by our teachers shall be
gathered into other books or a book and read there; but this on
condition that the whole Bible shall first be put out. Gentlemen
must pardon my lack of confidence if I prefer to have the whole
Bible kept in, and leave our able principals and faithful teachers
themselves to make the selections, rather than turn the old book
outdoors and then call these gentlemen to preach in such fragments
as may be agreeable to themselves. My notion is, that the Board
will do better to turn the resolutions outdoors, thereby quieting this
public excitement, and leave the common school to go on in the
ways of pleasantness and peace.

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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 6 of 6)