As young people around the nation graduate from academic institutions of all types, I espouse that we all graduate in our understanding of what our Founders wanted for public education.
A while ago, I read a few blogs in which skeptics were taking issue with information I presented in my column on our Founders’ endorsement of the Bible being taught in public schools, which is even now happening in 373 school districts in 37 states, including my home state of Texas.
Because my wife, Gena, and I are on the board of the National Council of Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, I’m hand delivering the coup de grace to any opposition of our Founders’ educative intent of the good book – in their own words. Granted space doesn’t permit an exhaustive treatment, but the following select citations should suffice all but those who remain defiant to historical fact.
Can you imagine a politician or president saying these things today?
Samuel Adams, who helped draft the Articles of Confederation, once wrote, “If we continue to be a happy people, that happiness must be assured by the enacting and executing of the reasonable and wise laws expressed in the plainest language and by establishing such modes of education as tend to inculcate in the minds of youth the feelings and habits of piety, religion and morality.”
Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, stated, “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty, is the object and life of all republican governments. Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind.”
Fisher Ames, a Massachusetts representative to the First, Second, and Third Congresses and a Federalist to the Fourth Congress, made a case for the Bible as a textbook in schools: “Its morals are pure; its examples captivation and noble. The reverence for the sacred book that is thus early impressed lasts long, and, probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind.”
George Washington once addressed Delaware chiefs among the Lenape Indians who desired to train their young people in American schools, saying, “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.”
In 1789, during the same time when the First Amendment was written, then President Washington signed into law the Northwest Ordinance, which states, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
Gouverneur Morris, who represented Pennsylvania at the convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and subsequently signed the U.S. Constitution, said, “Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man towards God.”
John Adams, who served as America’s first vice president and second president, stated, “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. … What a Utopia. What a Paradise would this region be. I have examined all (religions)… and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.”
Noah Webster, the “father of American scholarship and education,” stated, “In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. … No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
Joseph Story, associate justice of the U. S. Supreme Court and the “father of American jurisprudence,” asked, “Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as divine revelation in the college (school) – its general precepts expounded, its evidences explained and its glorious principles of morality inculcated? … Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?”
Lastly, dispelling the myth that Thomas Jefferson never intermixed Christianity and government, in 1805 he was elected the first president of the Washington, D.C., public school board, under which schools used the Bible as a text for learning. Just three years after Jefferson left the school board and Washington, D.C., for retirement at Monticello, one principal reported to the board of trustees the progress his students made in reading and spelling, using the Bible as a text:
Fifty-five have learned to read in the Old and New Testaments and are all able to spell words of three, four, and five syllables; 26 are now learning to read Dr. Watts’ Hymns and spell words of two syllables; 10 are learning words of four and five letters.
In fact, the first hundred colleges in America were founded upon Judeo-Christian tradition, belief and practice, including Yale, Princeton and Harvard, the last of which had the official motto, “For Christ and the Church.” My, how times have changed!
If our Founders advocated biblical learning – why won’t we?
Most of our Founders were clear advocates for biblical teaching in public schools, a religious education that the First Amendment never intended to prohibit or restrict.
If the Bible was endorsed by our Founders as a textbook, how can we not follow suit by doing the same? The fact is, to leave out of educative curricula the most influential text in Western civilization, including in American history, law and literature, is a blatant and biased withholding of proper public instruction.
It’s time to answer in the affirmative the question of Fisher Ames, who assisted in the creation of the First Amendment and was also chosen, but declined (for health reasons), the presidency of Harvard University in 1805, “Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book?”
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