RT. REV. MSGR. Fulton J. Sheen
Address delivered on February 21, 1943
There are three points we should like to make in today’s broadcast. First, it is a sound American principle that democracy cannot function without religion and morality. Secondly, American democracy is not making provision for religion and morality. Hence, thirdly the necessity of restoring religious education in order to preserve democracy.
First, democracy cannot survive without religion and morality.
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence is at the same time a Declaration of Dependence, for it states that our rights have come to us from God, and therefore are “unalienable.” If our rights come to us from God, as, rays come from the sun, does it not follow that only on condition that we preserve our dependence on God will we preserve our dependence from tyranny? A negative support is given to this thesis by the totalitarian systems, for it is universally true that where religion is most persecuted, there is man most tyrannized.
This intrinsic connection between democracy and religion is part of the American tradition.
As George Washington the founder of our country said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness...”
In the year 1928, Calvin Coolidge stated: “Unless our people are thoroughly instructed in the great truths of religion, they are not fitted to understand our institutions, or to provide them with adequate support.”
President Roosevelt said in 1940:
“…Practical steps should be taken to make available to children and youth through education the resources of religion as an important factor in the democratic way of life and in the development of personal and social integrity.”
We have now come to our second point, namely, democracy is not at the present time making provision in education for religion and morality. About the only group modern education really caters to is the group that neither practices nor believes in any religion.
In order that this fact may be developed without provoking any prejudices we shall quote only protestants and Jews in testimony of its truth.
On December 29, 1940, Mr. Walter Lippman, addressing the American Association for the Advancement of Science stated: “. . . Modern education is based on a denial that it is necessary, or useful, or desirable for the schools and colleges to continue to transmit from generation, to generation the religious and classical culture of the Western world.”
Professor Hutchins of: the University of Chicago, in June 1940, stated: “in order to believe in democracy we must believe that there is a difference between truth and falsity, good and bad, right and wrong, and that truth, goodness, and right are objective (not subjective) standards, even though they cannot be verified experimentally. Are we prepared to defend these principles? Of course we are not. For forty years and more our intellectual leaders have been telling us that they are not true.
The White House Conference of 1940 stated that of the thirty million children in the United States between the ages of five and seventeen, sixteen million received no religious education whatsoever. When you take out of this fourteen million those who are being educated by the Catholic Church, at its own expense, the proportion becomes more staggering still. It was this growing irreligious element, consisting of those who are devoid of all training in religion and morality that prompted President
Roosevelt in 1940 to say: “We are concerned about the children who are outside the reach of religious influences and are denied help in attaining faith in an ordered universe, and in the Fatherhood of God.”
Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University commenting upon the fact that the pagan element alone in our population is given the benefit of our tax money stated: ‘‘Even the formal prayer that opens each session of the United States Senate and each session of the House of Representatives, and which accompanies each inauguration of the President of the United States, would not be permitted in a tax supported school,”
As regards the higher seats of learning, such as colleges and universities, very few of them have retained religion as an integral part of education. Columbia university, for example, was established in 1753 with the chief objective to “teach and to engage children to know God in Jesus Christ.” An investigation made some years ago revealed that one college had reduced the number of students believing in God from one in five at entrance, to one in twenty at graduation.
If this condition of ignoring religion and morality existed in less important matters it would have been remedied long ago. If, for example, it had been discovered that the geography of Russia was left out of our schools, how quickly it would be inserted. Why is nothing done about that which our tradition says is the indispensable condition of democracy?
This brings us to our third point, the necessity of restoring religious education in order to preserve democracy. Just as Christian principles demand that democracy be extended economically, so as to give both capital and labor a share in the profits, management, and ownership of industry, so too the Christian Order demands that education be made more democratic by widening its influence so that it satisfies not only the atheist, but also the believer in God. For that reason those interested in the preservation of democracy have suggested that some assistance be given to those who are aiding it by teaching religion. As Professor Hutchins has stated it clearly: “The States may, if they choose, assist pupils to attend the schools of their choice. Since we want all American children to get as good an education as they can, since we know that some children will not voluntarily attend public schools, and since we are not prepared to compel them to do so, it is in the public interest to give States permission to use Federal grants to help them to go to the schools they will attend and to make these schools as good as possible.”
What possible objection could there be given in a democracy to equal opportunities for education along religious and cultural lines? The first objection urged is that education should be “neutral” and “neutral,” in this sense, means that religion should not be taught. This is a fallacy. The fact is that there is no such thing as neutral education, that is an education without morality and religion.
Religion and morality are not related to education like raisins to a cake, but as a soul to a body. There can be a cake without raisins, but there cannot be a man without a soul. If education does not inculcate a moral outlook, it will inculcate a materialist or a Communist or a Nazi outlook. Neutrality is absolutely impossible in education. By the mere fact that religious and moral training is neglected, nonreligious, non-moral and in consequence antireligious, anti-moral ideology is developed. Religion is either included or excluded in education. Hence a school from which religion is excluded, is bound to become irreligious.
The old notion of ‘‘no indoctrination of religion” really meant “indoctrination of doubt and unbelief.’’
To say we want an education without; dogmas is to assert a dogma the false dogma that man has no soul, no supra-temporal purpose, no other goal than to make money, wed, and die. Without religion and morality there is no philosophy of life, and therefore no proper understanding of the man to be educated. After all, what is the use of living as human beings if we do not know the purpose of being human? Those who are given a so called “neutral” education have no reason for being anything other than anti-social, or of using society for their own personal ends. The only way this egotistic impulse in man can be combated is by a renewal of his nature from above. This rebirth by God’s grace enables man to be a member of society without losing his personal dignity. There is no disputing the necessity of controlling selfish tendencies. All education admits this.
The choice is in whether the State will control it by its omnipotence, or whether man will control himself with the aid of God’s omnipotence. The whole of civilized man is today confronted with this question: “To whom do you belong?” Education will give the answer.
A second objection against extending democracy in education to those who believe in God and morality, is that America was founded on the principle of the separation of the Church arid the State. This is absolutely true and we have no desire to change this principle. But our country was not founded on the principle of the separation of religion and the State. Our Founding Fathers intended that no particular religion should be the national religion, but they never intended that the State should be devoid of religion. it never entered their minds that We Would grow up to be an irreligious nation, nor did they ever think that education would be divorced from religion and morality. This is evident from the fact that no signer of the Declaration of Independence was educated in a non-religious school. For a century the United States did not have a President who was educated in a non-religious school. It is true that the First Amendment of the Constitution forbade the establishment of any religion as a national religion. This was because there was an established religion in ten of the thirteen colonies: The Congregational religion in three; the Episcopalian in seven. But the same amendment ordered that Congress should make no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
In the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, our Government insisted that “schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged,” because “religion, morality, and knowledge” are necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.
Nor is the insinuation true that religious schools are not American schools. A Lutheran school which teaches religion, or a Baptist school which teaches religion, or a Catholic school which teaches religion, even though they are maintained at the expense of these religious groups, are public schools.
Why is it more important now than at any other time to restore religion and morality to education? Because we are entering into a new era of history wherein the grave threat to man’s freedom is from the Omnipotent State. Once a nation ceases to believe it begins to obey. As William Penn warned: “Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.” The choice before the world is this:
Truth or Power, that is, either live by God’s Truth or exist under State Power. We are coming into the days of Omnipotence where we will live under the Omnipotence of God or squirm under the Omnipotence of Power.
When Hitler came into power in 1933, the first to capitulate were the professors, and the one force which has never capitulated is religion, as the Catholic bishops and pastor Niemoeller bear witness. It was the professors who allowed the independent administration of the universities to be abolished, the universities offering no objections to State elected “Rektoren” and “Dekane” who were forced upon them. It was a bitter disappointment for all who considered the German universities the defenders of right and justice; but when one considers that specialization had been carried so far, and a unified philosophy of life so universally abandoned, there was no one idea around which they could rally.
Given a crisis in any country in the world in which Totalitarianism in any form threatens the liberty of its citizens, and the first to capitulate will be the non-religious educators. How could it be otherwise, for without a faith, how could they oppose a faith? It will be only those schools which give a moral and religious training which will challenge the right of the State to dominate the soul of man.
That is why the safeguard of American democracy and freedom is in the extension of religious and moral training, and not in its suppression through excessive burdens. There is no reason in the world why any school in the United States which teaches religion and morality should be penalized for being patriotic, or why it should bear all the expenses for giving to the nation the two supports without which, as Washington told us, a nation cannot endure.
It is not fair, it is not democratic, to cater only to the nonreligious in education. A child who goes to a religious school may walk on streets maintained by public funds, but in many instances may not ride to school in a bus operated at public expense. The State will build a chapel for citizens when they get into a penitentiary; how about building a few schools to prevent them through moral discipline from getting into a penitentiary? We are preparing an army of ten million men to defend Christian liberty and justice on the battlefields. Shall we not tell them something about that Christian liberty before we give them a gun?
A government “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” should respect the will of those who believe in religion and morality, even though they be in the minority for democracy is not the custodian of majority privileges, but the preserver of minority rights.
Would it not be a good idea for America to cease talking about the right to worship, and to begin talking about the duty to worship? We may need God’s help and need it badly before this war is over, and it is not too soon now to begin asking for it. For 150 years we have been celebrating our Bill of Rights. How about celebrating our Bill of Duties? The first ten amendments to the Constitution are our Bill of Rights; the Ten Commandments of God are our Bill of Duties.
God grant that America will not be blind to its duties to God Who has given us our rights; that parents will realize that when God made each of their children, He made a crown for each in heaven, and that a vacant crown is their unfulfilled responsibility and their severe judgment; that children will harken to the call of Him Who said:
“Suffer the little children to come unto Me, . . . For such is the Kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10:14). Given another generation of Godless education and we will have tyranny; given religion and morality in education and we will be the most potent national influence for peace in the world. Then shall America be great. And we will love it not because it is great; it will be great because we will love it in the name of God and that makes anything great.
Some time ago a Nazi soldier in occupied France took his French wife into a hospital. Seeing a crucifix on the wall, he ordered the nun to take it down. She refused! He ordered her again saying that he did not want his child ever to look upon the image of the Jewish Christ. The nun took it down under threat. The father’s wish was fulfilled to the letter. The child was born blind.
God grant that we may never deny to our children the right to gaze upon the image of the Saviour of the World.