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Nonsectarian religion in our schools: a mini-history

I’m delighted to make persuasively argued edits to the following, if advanced with civility.

(Corollary: I don’t even care if you’re right if you’re rude…)

1. Framers of our Constitution had a wild and crazy idea (that was more likely than not to get them hung) about people being the bosses instead of kings. Not only would we run the whole dang country, but we’d make our own decisions about God. No one, really NO ONE had ever had the unmitigated gall to do this before. They were pretty dang sure that God looked favorably upon their endeavor because they succeeded against some ridiculously long odds.

2. Many of their ideas were firmly planted in Protestant soil, more or less the only religious game in town at the time. The idea of liberty of conscience (the basket the Framers put all their eggs in) was very mushed up together with the Protestant concept of a personal relationship with God, vis-a-vis direct study of the Bible, not mediated by the Catholic dudes in funny hats or even those bossy Brits in purple.

3. All those old guys in tights and wigs saw religion and talk of good behavior and the threat of a good eternal comeuppance as an important influence on the masses of people who might otherwise have been a bit prickly and hard to manage.

4. Sooner or later, they figured out that well-educated citizens would make better bosses, so – tada – they formed common schools. Religion and morality were fundamentally critical to that education.

5. But, hmmm, since this new country of theirs had a bunch of bosses with a bunch of different Protestant religions, exactly whose religion and morality would be taught? They decided to agree where they could and not get too fussy about doctrinal differences. Nonsectarian Protestant Christianity was officially the coin of the realm in schools.

6. A lot of Catholics died in Ireland during the Great Famine.

7. A lot of Catholics came to America because the word had gotten out about all these people who could be their own bosses in America. And when they got here they noticed that when they went to school they were taught things that the Pope didn’t exactly intend to teach them. So they asked if they could not come during the Bible reading part of the day, or if they could have their own schools paid for that the Pope liked better.

8. They were pretty much told “no” because of the republican ideas and Protestant ideas that were pretty mushed up together. (And, truth be told, because there were fewer of them to squawlk about it.) They learned to live with it and some of them paid to go to their own schools. (Some states even passed some laws making it so government wouldn’t ever pay for the Pope’s sort of schooling.) The Catholics did learn a lot about being American in these schools and pretty soon started to fit right in.

9. Then, because the word got out about this country that let people be their own bosses, Mormons came. And Jehovah’s Witnesses came. And eventually just about every stripe of religious people came. Even people who didn’t believe in God liked the idea of liberty of conscience. And they came too.

10. Darn it if there weren’t just so many different sorts of beliefs that they had a really hard time agreeing about what they agreed about.

11. Eventually some of these people started speaking up about their different ideas about God and the dudes in black robes agreed with them that they had liberty of conscience too and told the schools they couldn’t read the Bible anymore. The schools can teach the things that you need to know to be an American, but without the religion part of it that we can’t possibly agree on.

12. Many of the Protestants who had actually started this whole ball of a country rolling considered it so fundamental to the success of their country that morality be teamed with democracy that they were very worried indeed and also pretty seriously sore at the dudes in black robes.

13. Some of them even started to reconsider those laws that say government can’t pay for religious schooling, even the Pope’s kind.

14. They were in a bit of a pickle. But, then again, this country full of individuals had already learned a lot about working things out…

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1779, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is worth a read. At the time of its writing, the Church of England was Virginia’s official church and there had been a run of violence against Protestant dissenters. It was the hotbed of religious disagreement in the founders’ day. Here’s a clip:

…that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry…

Team of Rivals; Team of Neighbors


Back when The Village Square was just a gleam in a few of our eyes, the concept of “A Team of Rivals”, as described in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book of the same title, was highly recommended to us as intellectual fodder by journalist, friend, thinker and all-around-smart-guy Neil Skene.

Perhaps our Village Square version could be best described as a “Team of Neighbors”?

We’re glad to see that President-Elect Barack Obama is finally falling in line behind our “Big Idea.” (Yes, it should be duly noted that we had this idea well before Barack Obama, although – to be honest – a few years after Lincoln.)

To be sure, Lincoln’s team contained a component of the adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” But political calculation aside, a connection between divergent camps of prominent thought yields an expansion of creative thinking (even if difficulty comes in holding its hand), serving to improve the success of any solution chosen.

Better discover the weaknesses of your “side” with an “opponent” before finding out in blood and money.

The low road, version 1.0

As news from the campaign trail get uglier and uglier, as fact takes a back seat to whatever the character assassination flavor-of-the-day, as one needs to bathe after the simple act of watching the evening news, it’s about time for this blast from the past:

In 1800, the Federalist Gazette suggested that if Jefferson were elected over Adams, they would see a devastation of “those morals which protect our lives from the knife of the assassin – which guard the chastity of our wives and daughters from seduction and violence.”

In their version of today’s editorial endorsement, they wrote:

At the present solemn and momentous epoch, the only question to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart, is “Shall I continue in allegiance to GOD AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT; or impiously declare for JEFFERSON AND NO GOD!!!”

Worth noting for an advocate of civility in politics (and perhaps duly noted by media critics)?

Jefferson won anyway.