Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Build Schools to Teach Religion?

Yesterday's post had this quote within, taken from John Adams' proclamation for a national day of prayer:

"That [God] would smile on our colleges, academies, schools, and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of sound science, morals, and religion;"

Does that sound radical? Not so much in the eyes of the Founding Fathers. The same Congress that ratified the First Amendment wrote the Northwest Ordinance. According to the United States Code, the Northwest Ordinance is one of the four principle documents on which our nation was founded (Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Constitution, and Northwest Ordinance). It says, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged and established in the Northwest Territory.” [note: it says that religion is one necessity for which schools must be established.]

Congress later required that all territories becoming states must have Constitutions which were “not repugnant to the Northwest Ordinance.”


The Kansas Constitution said: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the legislature to make suitable provision...for the encouragement of schools and the means of instruction."

The Ohio Constitution said in Article VIII, Section 3: "Religion, morality, and knowledge being essentially necessary to the good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of instruction shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision."

The Mississippi constitution said: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged in this state."

Is this a violation of "separation of church and state"? Since that phrase is a quote from Jefferson, consider how he believed the state-funded University of Virginia should be run. He proposed that all University of Virginia students be required to study as a matter of ethics "the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all relations within morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer."

Jefferson and many of our Founders believed that religion was important as a practical matter. They thought that our society could not govern itself unless our people had a belief in God (who gives us our rights) and an afterlife of rewards and punishments. In other words, citizens would behave better if they thought there was a God who notices what we do and cares about it.

Surely many of our early citizens and Founders wanted to be good evangelicals. That was their faith mission. But they also had a "secular" reason for wanting our people to be moral, and to have our schools teach about religion - that would help to create and sustain a better nation.

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