America's Founders - Bibles in the Schools: Yes or No?

(George Brooks) #1

The article linked above is a very interesting discussion about the topic of Bibles in the schools. It features Benjamin Rush, who was a post-Revolutionary activist for religious instruction in the country’s schools!

“In 1791, Rush wrote a letter on education to Jeremiah Belknap which was republished by the American Tract Society in 1830. In the letter, Rush Benjamin Rush defended the use of the Bible in schools. However, Rush’s defense should raise a question. If the Bible was in such wide use, then why would Rush need to argue for its inclusion? In fact, Rush said in his letter that the Bible in schools was out of fashion, so to speak.”

His Letter:
“To the arguments I have mentioned in favour of the use of the bible as a school book, I shall add a few reflexions. The present fashionable practice of rejecting the bible from our schools, I suspect has originated with the deists…”

“They discover great ingenuity in this new mode of attacking Christianity. If they proceed in it, they will do more in half a century, in extirpating our religion, than Bolingbroke or Voltaire could have effected in a thousand years. I am not writing to this class of people. I despair of changing the opinions of any of them…”

“I wish only to alter the opinions and conduct of those lukewarm, or superstitious Christians, who have been misted by the deists upon this subject. On the ground of the good old custom, of using the bible as a school book, it becomes us to entrench our religion…”

“It is the last bulwark the deists have left it ; for they have rendered instruction in the principles of Christianity by the pulpit and the press, so unfashionable, that little good for many years seems to have been done by either of them. (emphasis added).”

What a state of affairs! Even the pulpits have become wary of teaching from the Bible?! Surely Benjamin exaggerates!

The article continues:
“One Founder Doesn’t Mean All Founders - [one] problem is that Barton generalizes from Rush to All founders. This, of course, is not appropriate method[ology]. At least one other founder spoke against using the Bible with young children — Thomas Jefferson. On that subject in his Notes on the State of Virginia. . .”

Jefferson wrote:

“Instead therefore of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children, at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured for religious enquiries, their memories may here be stored with the most useful facts from Grecian, Roman, European and American history.”

The Far Right loves to quote Jefferson on his views regarding taxation . . . but I must remember to quote Jefferson’s views on teaching religion in the schools. Maybe the Far Right would be willing to compromise…

(George Brooks) #2

The correspondence discussed in the article is circa 1791. The American Revolution ended just 10 years before. And in the run up to the festivities of 1776, the pulpits were quite busy!

It has been pointed out by some historians that the greatest fear American men of religion had prior to 1776, and especially after the Glorious Revoution (1680’s), was that the British Crown and Parliament would eventually flex their muscles in favor of an Established Church in the colonies!

America was a unique creature of the Sectarians, the Heretics, the Sabbatarians, the Brownists, the Congregationalists and just about every “ist” that ever spoke out against Papistry, Catholics and the Catholic Proxies - the Anglican Church! Even Presbyterians, a perfectly fine alternative, was the mark of Scottish defiance and semi-treasonous rumblings!

When modern readers wonder how the minority faction of the American rebels came to prevail against the silent majority who loved their King and were perfectly in favor of American representatives in the British Parliament - - it is because they forget that Americans elected into Parliament would not be enough to save the independent churches!

And so even when this idea was mentioned, it was quickly shushed down as being unworkable and the siren call of an enslaved people!

And so it goes … the pulpits excited the masses against the demon papists (many of whom would eventually join local Episcopalian congregations, post Revolution, as bastions of Anglican sympathies) and the Revolution would march forward in a religious unity that would be rarely felt again once the Revolution had closed.

(Larry Bunce) #3

I remember hearing on a Paul Harvey show that the man who wrote the freedom of religion amendment personally believed that the only textbook a school needed was a Bible. I haven’t looked that up to see if it is true, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was. In a day when books were expensive, that would have saved a lot of money for the schools, since most homes already had a Bible. The Puritans instituted free public schools because they wanted their children to be able to read the Bible.

I read in The history section of a New England Congregational church’s website that in 1810, a court ruling in New York meant that their minister was no longer permitted to teach religion in public schools. That would seem to indicate that the First Amendment very quickly started to be interpreted as not merely preventing the establishment of a church.

(George Brooks) #4


I’ve come to agree with the writers who say that the early difference between the Protestant cultures vs. Catholic cultures was that the general literacy that Bible teaching gave the population made them more productive workers, and contributed to an overall prosperity of Protestant nations.

Eventually the main Catholic countries caught up in overall all literacy.


Let’s not forget that many Americans had fled countries where the government dictated theology. Even today, I highly, highly doubt that even a small fraction Christians would want the federal government determining how Christianity should be taught in schools.

“And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”–James Madison

(system) #6

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