“The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible” ~ Patrick Henry
In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled in McCollum v. Board of Education District 71 that religious instruction in public schools was a violation of the Establishment Clause. And then, in 1962, in the infamous case of Engel v. Vitale, they ruled that school prayer was also a violation of the same, and deemed it unconstitutional. Under these two main cases, and ultimately those that followed, the slow erosion of the moral foundation within our public schools had begun. Are you surprised that this interpretation of the Establishment Clause is a fairly recent phenomenon? So if religion and morality in schools were a violation of the Establishment Clause, then why did it take over 200 years for our nation to figure that out? Wouldn’t the Framers and signers of our very founding documents have nipped this “religious establishment problem” in the bud long ago? The truth may surprise you.
Our Founding Fathers were staunch defenders of the public funding of education for the youth of our newly minted nation, but not for the reasons you may think. Our Founders knew that an educated populace would prevent future subjugation by government, as they would be better able to understand and discern truth for themselves, and thus able to hold their leaders accountable for their actions. Since they also believed that our liberties came from God, they also supported the idea of religion and the Bible being taught in public schools. However, this belief was nothing new to them, as our nation’s first education law, named “The Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647”, required all towns of 50 or more families to provide an elementary school where teachers were required to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and the Bible. The Puritans believed that if children learned to read, they would be better able to understand the Bible, thus leading to more educated and independent citizens, with the ability to self-regulate bad behavior in knowing that they were not only accountable to the law of man, but to the law of God.
The writer of the U.S. Constitution, Gouverneur Morris, stated that “religion is the solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God”. Benjamin Rush, signer of Declaration of Independence, ratifier of the U.S. Constitution and considered the father of America’s public schools, said that “the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible.” Even Thomas Jefferson, who as President of the District of Columbia school board, made the Bible one of the primary reading texts for DC public schools. He noted that “the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens”. He also questioned how “can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis–a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His justice cannot sleep forever.” If our very Founders did not see religion as a threat to good education and good citizenry, why suddenly do we?
We as a nation are appalled at the declining quality of education for our children. We are horrified at the increasing violence in our schools, both from within and from without. We don’t understand how our children could think that morals are relative, that liberty is negotiable, that life is worthless, and that government is to be obeyed like a god. We are desperate for solutions to pull us out of this morass, and our leaders continue to meddle, either throwing money at the problem (as if money will buy intelligence or improve behavior), or worse, sign onto draconian and untested federal mandates in the hope that unaccountable “experts” will somehow lead us down the right path. We ignore the fact that our schools are adrift, with no objective moorings to tie to, no Supreme Compass for direction or purpose.
I believe in the importance of public education. Even though I don’t have children, and I reap no direct or immediate benefit to the property tax dollars I pay towards my district, I am not one to focus on present benefits. I look to the future, to a time when I will be too old to get on my soapbox, and will need to pass the torch of liberty to the next generation. Therefore, I have a vested interest to ensure that our children not only understand where liberty comes from, but are well prepared with the educational fortitude to stand against those who regularly try to take it away.
In the following weeks I will share some of the ways our meddling government has negatively impacted the education of our nation’s children. In order to solve a problem, one must first recognize the problem, right? For the sake of our children’s future we will all need to do some research, get uncomfortable, make some enemies, buck process, and think outside the box. Our Founders refused to settle for anything less than excellence, no matter who it offended, because they knew that they were created for a purpose – and it resulted in the greatest nation on earth. Unless we wish to pass on an inheritance of mediocrity to our children, we must all now do the same.
“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” ~ Abraham Lincoln