Church-State Relationships in America

By Gerard V. Bradley | Go to book overview

(in 1786), Sunday schools taught students "to read and . . . to fear and love God." Prayer and singing were part of this weekend curriculum. These schools, designed to bring up children "in nurture and adminition of the Lord," were run by many denominations. At the same time, the state set up a literary fund intended to promote statewide education, and by 1825 the school commissioners of Richmond, declaring that "the object of the Literary Fund would be promoted by encouraging these institutions," distributed $50 among the Richmond Sunday schools for the purchase of books. The Richmond commissioners increased their aid to Sunday schools to $100 in 1828. Historian Sadie Bell interpreted the lack of notoriety attending these actions:

Apparently there was no recognition, on the part of the advocates of Sunday Schools, of any impropriety in receiving appropriations from the Literary Fund for these schools. This was probably due to the fact that, in many localities, these schools represented combined denominational efforts, and there had arisen a tendency, upon the part of some in Virginia, since the Presbyterian pronouncement of its "Christian" education policy, to regard support for Christian, that is non-sectarian, education, as a perfectly legitimate charge upon the state. It is quite probable that as no objections seem to have been raised by the officers of the Literary Fund, that the precedent set by the school commissioners of Richmond, in appropriating part of their quota to Sunday Schools, was followed in many places without being noted in the Reports of the Second Auditor. There was an evident disposition on the part of many commissioners to favor Sunday Schools. 72

Here is a true Virginia analogy. After a painfully self-conscious disestablishment, the nonestablishment home state of Jefferson and Madison aided--through tax exemptions, escheated lands, lottery dispensations, and cash grants--sectarian and nondenominational Protestant schools. Given Everson's near obsession with Virginia's experience, is any more necessary to validate (for instance) tuition tax credits for parochial school students? The true, and truly vast, extent of religion's penetration of public education in the early national period should prove that the most basic components of the framers' worldview will not permit the no-aid attribution of the Everson Court. Not only did they not erect a wall of separation between religion and government, the givens in their mental world mean that they literally could not.


NOTES
1.
J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 1868 ( 1970).
2.
Ibid.
3.
E. Smith, Religious Liberty in the United States 50 ( 1972).
4.
Ibid. at 102-3.
5.
J. Murray, We Hold These Truths 51 ( 1960).
6.
Smith, Religious Liberty, at 104.
7.
Adams to Jefferson, June 28, 1813, in C. Adams, ed., 10 Life and Works of John Adams 45 ( 1854).

-131-

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