September 1, 1957

In the last broadcast, I cited a United Press dispatch to the effect that school administrators are feeling steadily increasing pressure to add a fourth “R” to the traditional “readin’, ritin’, and rithmetic,” namely “religion.” Jews and other (mostly minority) groups insist upon a hands-off policy in this respect. Protestants and Catholics are largely the ones who urge that if the schools ignore religion they discriminate against the majority of Americans who, they say, believe in God. Some rock-ribbed fundamentalists have gone so far as to propose that the Constitution be revised to permit schools to teach Christian religious doctrines. A segment of the agitants has suggested schools teach children the basic elements common to the major faiths. But here, by “major faiths” they usually mean the Christian faiths. Few would include, for example, the common elements contained in the Moslem religion. Still others recommend teaching the pupils “about” religion, insisting this can be done without teaching religion “to” the students.

All these proposals have their appeal to many people, and many of them take the position that unless schools do teach religion, they are godless institutions, implying or asserting that they must therefore be anti-religious. This reporter has worked with and in a number of schools where this pressure was exerted and can understand the dilemma of school administrators and teachers as well as the seeming sincerity of the proponents of the idea. The fact is, however, that those who propose religious teaching in the school mean “their” religion, i.e., they would have the schools tinge whatever teaching they do with a slant towards the Baptist, the Methodist, the Presbyterian, or the Catholic faith. They won’t admit it very often, but push them hard enough, and they admit it, inadvertently or otherwise.

And certainly they mean by “religion” the Christian variety, and here in the so-called Bible Belt of the South they certainly in 99.44% of the cases, they mean the Protestant religion. The teacher here who had anything good to say about the Catholic faith in classes in religion would soon find himself the target of suspicion, opposition, and perhaps worse, by many of the parents.

Few doubt the sincerity or the well meaning of proponents of religion in the schools, but many of us doubt their fairness or common sense judgment about the matter. Two or three facts stand out stubbornly in this controversy. The most immediate one is that preachers, priests, and rabbis who are strongest for embarking upon such a course admit by their actions that their messages in church do not have enough of a compelling attraction to hold a congregation, hence they wish to invoke the aid of the state to force students, who must attend the public schools, to spend part of their time listening to a religious instruction which they cannot escape. Some minister and priest friends of mine have finally admitted this when driven to do so. I must admit they have done so ruefully and reluctantly.

Another fact is the one mentioned above, namely that when these people say “religion,” they mean their own particular brand of it. They would be very disturbed if they heard that teachers were taking turns about reading devotional lessons from the Mohammedan Koran bible, or the Mormon “Book of Mormon” bible, or any other bible but their own.

A third fact, and one that cuts across all the others is that such a program runs counter to our whole history and tradition as a nation, i.e., separation of church and state. To use a statement that Christ made, we have tried to make a distinction between things that are Caesar’s and those that are God’s, though the line has not always been easy to draw. We have said that religion must survive or perish on its own appeal merits; that we had, and have, no place in this country for an established church; that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Those who urge teaching of religion in the schools ignore or are ignorant of that well-established fact. The public schools are charged with instruction of children of all faiths and those of no faith, for one does not have freedom of religion unless he at the same time has freedom from religion. To depart from this basic fact is to venture into a quagmire of danger that would embroil the school and community in controversy and would do violence to the conscience of many young school citizens.

The public schools have no responsibility to be either godly or godless. Certainly religion must come in for considerable consideration in the course of public school instruction. One cannot understand much of the impetus back in early colonization without learning of religious persecution, which the Puritans, Catholics, Quakers, and others sought to escape by coming to America. One cannot understand the founding of Rhode Island, for example, without knowing why Roger Williams disagreed with the Puritan fathers of New England. A knowledge of religious bigotry is indispensable to understand the Know-Nothing movement in American history that reached its climax in the 1840s and 1850s, especially the ridiculous and fictitious but harmful “awful disclosures” of Maria Monk that inflamed people against Catholics and set off a chain of persecution. There was an element of religion also in the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, at least to the extent that Klanism was opposed to Catholics, Jews, and other non-Protestants. The schools do teach these things, as a part of our history, and to leave them out would make of history instruction an unbalanced, incomplete program.

To teach these things in the natural course of instruction is necessary and desirable; to embark upon a program of teaching religion in the public schools is quite a different matter entirely. The courts have made this quite clear in an unbroken line of decisions, highlighted in recent years by the celebrated McCollum case in Illinois. Despite all this, schools, and some colleges, go on year after year violating the law. They hold baccalaureate services in high schools, which, incidentally, the court held, in at least one case, to be a violation of religious freedom if students were required to attend as a requisite to graduation. In one school which I know, there are (or were last year) at least two teachers in the elementary division who, each Monday, asked their pupils whether they attended church or Sunday school the day before. All who did were commended, were given stars, or other insignia of merit, while the little fellows who did not soon caught on to what was happening and several of them admitted they told the teacher thereafter they had gone to church, whether they had or not. Those teachers should have been told in no uncertain terms to stop this outrageous practice.

Schools do have an obligation to stress the importance of such basic elements as truth, honesty, fair dealing, respect for the rights of others, sincerity, and all the other generally recognized factors that go into the making of commendable characters. But this can and should be done without any religious and sectarian flavor. If preachers and zealous laymen who urge upon the schools the teaching of their particular brand of religion would confine their efforts to improving upon the religious program and appeal of their respective churches, they would be doing not only their churches a service, but would not be violating one of the most consistent traditions of the American people. Moreover, they would not be cluttering up the schools with nonsensical advocacy of an un-American course of action by these schools. One can admire their sincerity; it is difficult to have much respect for either their sense of fairness or their knowledge of and respect for our basic constitutional principle of church and state separation. I am a Methodist, but I do not want any school teacher trying to make a Methodist out of my children; neither do I want them to be in a classroom where disparaging remarks are made, by implication or otherwise, about any religion. And that goes for all religions, non-Christian as well as Christian ones. Schools and teachers are simply getting out of their province when they do this. Preachers and others should know and respect this fact.


Fairfield, Connecticut: The Rev. Joseph F. Mulligan, of Fordham University, has been elected president of the Eastern States Division of the American Association of Jesuit Scientists. He was elected at the close of the organization’s 32nd annual meeting at Fairfield University.


Chicago: A Roman Catholic priest has criticized the Knights of Columbus on charges of racial discrimination. The Rev. Louis Twomey, of Loyola University in New Orleans, charges that the K of C has (in his words) “a policy that forced Negro Catholics to form a separate organization. The Knights of Columbus wouldn’t take them in.”


Rome, Italy: A General Congregation of the Roman Catholic Jesuit order will be held in Rome starting next Thursday, September 5. The General Congregation, which is the guiding authority of the order, meets only to elect a new superior-general who is chosen for life, or when important problems of general character arise affecting the society as a whole. It has met only 30 times in 400 years.


New York: Billy Graham, an itinerant preacher who has already received considerable publicity recently in New York, has compared today’s young hoodlums with Belshazzar, the corrupt, immoral, and bullying biblical ruler of Babylon. Belshazzar, who succeeded his father, Nebuchadnezzar to the throne, is the one who witnessed the handwriting on the wall and later was killed by the conquering Persians and Medes. Well, even a minister, I suppose, has a right to let his imagination help make a colorful impression. Anyway, comparisons are hazardous, as well as sometimes odious. Besides, such analysis does not take into consideration the differences in statuses of today’s delinquents with that of the king. And finally, one can find almost any kind of character in the Bible to compare to about anyone he meets on the street anywhere today.


Washington: The head of the South’s largest religious denomination says church members have three clear duties to perform in seeking a Christian solution to racial problems. Representative Brooks Hays of Arkansas, recently elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, says the first duty is to keep free the prophetic voice of the church (whatever that means); second, he said, is to throw all the influence of religion on the side of a non-violent adjustment of racial tensions; and third, church members must display imagination and Christian courage in correcting specific situations where the actual practice of the community has produced injustice.


Mackinac Island, Michigan: The prime minister U Nu of Burma has sent a message of support to the Moral Rearmament Assembly of Nations meeting at Mackinac Island. Said the prime minister, “The world has need of the lead that is being given by moral rearmament in the moral and spiritual realm. The standards of honesty, purity, and unselfishness and love forming the basis of this ideology, if universally and sincerely accepted, will insure a safe and happy future for humanity.” Well, it may not insure such, but few there are who would argue that it would not help to bring such a future about.


Canterbury, England: Church authorities are preparing a report for the archbishop of Canterbury on an Anglican priest who won’t stop using the word “bloody.” The Anglican priest, the Rev. Frederick Richmond, says he sees nothing wrong in using what he calls “a 17th century word.” But the word in England is considered vulgar and a cuss word. But at a trial, after his automobile had hit a truck, the Rev. Richmond admitted he used the word four times. He was fined $30 and lost his driving license for a year. And the archbishop wants a report of the whole affair. Of course it is easy to poke fun at our British cousins, but one cannot help but wonder what this world is a comin’ to when brethren of the cloth use such bloody words.

Leave a Reply