Co-operation of Church and State - Part III
In American Education
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The most important area of Church and State
co-operation is that of education. It is also the most delicate because it
involves something more than collaboration in external details and presupposes
a degree of harmony on the deepest issues that affect a mans relations with
God and his fellowmen. There is room for serious difficulties even in the
ideal situation where Church and State leaders share the same ideas about
the nature of man and his final destiny, as seen in medieval Europe or in
modern Spain. But where, as in America, the people are so widely divided
in religious belief, we should expect the problem to be complicated beyond
solution. Yet, unexpectedly, the history of the country shows that religion
and the government have cooperated in the field of education in many ways,
not just incidentally but through concerted effort, and with calculable benefits
to both parties.
Bible Reading in Public Schools
Three stages are discernible in the history
of Bible reading in the public schools. During the nineteenth century only
one state, Massachusetts, made such reading obligatory by statute (1826),
ostensibly because it was not necessary to place legal sanctions on a custom
that was fairly universal from colonial times. As opposition to the practice
increased, twelve states followed the lead of Massachusetts during the two
decades from 1913. 
A typical law was the one enacted by the District of Columbia, which is federal
territory under the jurisdiction of Congress. Each teacher, it prescribes,
shall, as a part of the opening exercises, read, without note or comment,
a portion of the Bible, repeat the Lords prayer, and conduct appropriate
singing by the pupils. 
In direct contrast, eleven other states gave in to the negative criticism
and passed laws which forbid the reading of the Bible in tax-supported schools
on the grounds that such reading is a violation of the freedom of
Actually, though, there is no statutory prohibition which identifies the Bible
as forbidden literature but only directs that no sectarian books or periodicals
may be used and then allows the courts to decide if the Scriptures are sectarian.
Litigation surrounding the question in Illinois was a reaction to an abuse
of the Bible as a means of indoctrination. Not only were passages read from
the King James version, but the teacher added her own comments and then questioned
the pupils on the meaning of what she had read. Certain taxpayers and members
of the Catholic Church brought action against the school board. The court
decided in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring that, In our judgment the exercises
mentioned in the petition constitute religious worship, and the reading of
the Bible in the school constitutes sectarian instruction. 
Unfortunately the decision of 1910, which is still in effect, went beyond
the intent of those who brought suit. They were not against the Bible as
such, but against the use of a Protestant version with additional comment
imposed without discrimination on all the children.
According to a recent survey, 13 states besides
the District of Columbia require daily reading from the Bible in all public
schools; 24 make such reading optional or permissible; and 11 are interpreted
to forbid the practice as a result of court decisions to the contrary. It
is estimated that most public schools in the country open their daily sessions
with reading without comment from the Scriptures. Even in states where sectarian
influence is forbidden, lawmakers generally do not consider the Bible sectarian.
Several states, like Alabama, go beyond requiring or permitting the Old and
New Testaments for daily reading. They offer in public high schools special
elective courses on the Bible to be taken for credit toward graduation.
At time 1955 conference on religion and public
education sponsored by the National Council of Churches, one of the recommendations
stated that Legislation is not generally necessary, but in states where laws
now prohibit any use of the Bible in public schools, permissive legislation
should be sought, allowing use of the Bible when it has bearing on courses
of public school study. 
This is in keeping with the century-old policy of the Protestant churches
to promote the use of Scripture in state-supported institutions. Catholics,
as a rule, have been wary of approving the custom, at least officially. A
notable exception was Cardinal Gibbons, who believed that a judicious selection
of Scripture readings; appropriate presentation of the various Scripture incidents,
born of reflection on the passages read and scenes presented, cannot but contribute
to the better education of the children of our public schools. 
It is highly significant that as often as
a disputed case of Bible reading was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court, the
latter declined to assume jurisdiction, on the principle that this is a matter
for each state to decide for itself.
Released Time Religious Instruction
Co-operative religious instruction for public
school children was first organized in 1914 by William A. Wirt, superintendent
of schools at Gary, Indiana. Pupils were released for instruction during
regular school hours. The movement gradually spread to other cities, until
by 1932 one out of ten school systems followed either the Gary system or the
variant plan of dismissed time, which meant that students were let out of
school an hour or so earlier one day a week for religion classes, usually
outside the school building.
Before long released and dismissed time were
brought before the courts under pressure from such agencies as the American
Civil Liberties Union. Within five years there were two Supreme Court decisions
on the subject. In the McCollum case (1948) the court decided that released
time as practiced in Champaign, Illinois, showed the use of tax-supported
property for religious instruction, and was therefore unconstitutional. 
But the decision served only to brace the efforts of released time advocates
like the International Council of Religious Education, which now urged Protestants
to find other and more effective means to combat secularism in public education.
As was hoped, the Supreme Court practically reversed itself in the Zorach
school case (1952) discussed in the second article of this series. Apparently
the court approved released time in New York on the score that religion classes
were held off the school premises; but really there was a change in basic
outlook. Instead of arguing, as in the McCollum case, that complete separation
between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion,
the court declared that we cannot read into the Bill of Rights
of hostility to religion, and should therefore approve when the state
cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public
events to sectarian needs. 
In 1949 the National Educational Association
made a study of programs of religious education connected with public schools.
Replies were received from 2,600 out of 5,100 school systems. The data showed
that 26.8 per cent of the systems had some kind of religious program. This
represents an increase of 150 per cent since 1932. Moreover 45.9 per cent
of the cities with a population over 100,000 had released time religious instruction.
On the legal side, in 1955 some nine states, including New York, Illinois
and Pennsylvania, officially sanctioned the practice. Statute provisions
are about the same in every state, as in Oregon, where the law provides that
Any child attending the public school, on application of his guardian or
either parent, may be excused from such school for a period or periods not
exceeding 120 minutes in any week to attend weekday schools giving instruction
in religion. 
Transportation to Parochial Schools
The Everson school bus case decided by the
Supreme Court in 1947 is too well known to be treated here in detail. It
is enough to isolate certain elements preceding and following the courts
judgment which highlight the governments willingness to co-operate with religious
bodies in the field of education. We shall not examine the animosity aroused
in radical circles which are bent on nullifying the benefits of the Everson
Up to 1946, eleven state courts had examined
the legality of free bus transportation for children attending parochial schools,
seven opposed and four in favor. Against this background, in 1947 the Supreme
Court upheld (5 to 4) the constitutionality of the New Jersey bus law of 1941,
which provided that Whenever in any district there are children living remote
from any schoolhouse, the board of education of the district may make rules
and contracts for the transportation of such children to and from school,
including transportation of such children to and from school other than a
public school, except such school as is operated for profit in whole or in
The law was contested by a taxpayer because the local town had reimbursed
parents when their children rode to a parish school on the highway buses.
In its majority opinion, the court laid down
the norm that the state cannot exclude Catholics, Lutherans, Mohammedans,
Baptists, Jews, Methodists, Non-Believers, Presbyterians, or the members of
any other faith, because of their faith or lack of it, from receiving the
benefits of public welfare legislation. Correctly interpreted, the First
Amendment requires the state to be a neutral in its relations with groups
of religious believers and non-believers; it does not require the state to
be their adversary, as would be the case if parochial school children were
denied tax-raised public transportation. 
Many Protestants are greatly perturbed over
this breach in the wall of separation between Church and State. The Seventh
Day Adventists, who conduct 900 elementary schools of their own, were told
to not use buses which are operated at public expense. 
A general assembly of Methodist bishops protested that the verdict carries
with it a serious threat to our public educational system which is a bulwark
of democracy. 
Baptist churchmen, representing 17 million adherents, declared, We feel that
the majority opinion must be acknowledged as turning back the hands of the
clock as far as religious liberty and the separation of church and state are
Catholics, on the other hand, believe that the Everson decision is a standing
protest to those who advocate secularism in education and in every department
of our government. 
In 1956 at least fifteen states had approved
free transportation for all children, but in some cases only after heated
litigation. Thus, in Kentucky the original statutes, did not discriminate
against pupils attending parish schools, until in 1942 the state supreme
court ruled that this was unconstitutional. Three years later another decision
qualified the previous ruling and allowed the county superintendents to provide
public funds for transporting parochial children, as long as the money came
from the general budget and not by special taxation. 
Free Textbooks to Parochial Schools
Provisions in state constitutions have until
recently prohibited the appropriation of public funds for free textbooks to
other than public schools. As far back as 1854, the Maine legislature decided
that such appropriation would be assistance to religious sects. In 1922 a
similar position was taken by the courts in New York. But in 1928 the Louisiana
legislature decreed that no matter what institution was attended, the school
board of education shall provide
school books for school children free
of cost. 
Cochran, a citizen and taxpayer, brought suit against the new law because
it violated the state constitution which declared that No money shall ever
be taken from the public treasury
in aid of any church, sect or denomination
of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister, or teacher thereof. 
He also contended that the Fourteenth Amendment was violated. The Supreme
Court of Louisiana upheld the constitutionality of the textbook legislation
because the appropriations were made for the specific purpose of purchasing
schoolbooks for the use of the school children of the state, free of cost
. The schools are not the beneficiaries of these appropriations.
They obtain nothing from them, nor are they relieved of a single obligation
because of them. 
On appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, a unanimous decision
supported the lower court and defended the appropriations as an exercise of
exerted for a public purpose. The legislation does not
segregate private schools, or their pupils, as its beneficiaries
interests are aided only as the common interest is safeguarded. 
Following the lead of Louisiana, Mississippi
passed a law providing textbooks to be loaned to students in all qualified
elementary schools. Contested in 1941, the law was upheld by the state supreme
court whose ruling on the case is a masterpiece of clarity:
If the pupil may fulfil its duty to the state by attending
a parochial school, it is difficult to see why the state may not fulfil its
duty to the pupil by encouraging it by all suitable means. The state is
under a duty to ignore the childs creed, but not its need
. The state
which allows the pupil to subscribe to any religious creed should not, because
of his exercise of this right, proscribe him from benefits common to all. 
A number of other states now empower local
school authorities to distribute textbooks free of charge to the pupils of
parochial schools. The Oregon law, e.g., directs the respective school boards
to provide textbooks, prescribed or authorized by law, for the free use of
all resident pupils enrolled and actually attending standard elementary schools. 
Within a year after the law was passed (1942), the state supreme court dismissed
a petition to have the matter put to popular referendum.
A little known but highly pertinent area of
religio-civil co-operation involves the prohibition by state law of teaching
that man is descended from the lower animals. The movement which ended as
severe legislation began as a crusade among Baptist and Presbyterian conservatives,
led by the Baptist Dr. Curtis Lewis who first coined the term fundamentalist
in 1920 and laid down the five principles of fundamentalism: an infallible
Bible, the Virgin Birth, substitutionary atonement, physical resurrection
of Christ and His imminent second coming. Lewis followers were especially
concerned about the teaching of modern scientists on evolution which, they
felt, contradicted the plain words of Genesis and therefore denied the inerrancy
of Scripture. So serious had the issue become that in 1923 a group of prominent
scientists and churchmen, including Robert Millikan the physicist, James Angell,
president of Yale, and Bishop McConnell of the Methodist Church, issued what
was intended to be a conciliatory statement. It is a sublime conception
of God, they declared, which is furnished by science
when it represents
Him as revealing Himself through countless ages in the development of the
earth as an abode for man and in the age-long in-breathing of life into its
constituent matter, culminating in man with his spiritual nature and all his
God-like powers. 
But the fundamentalists were not pacified.
Between 1923 and 1927, no less than ten states had anti-evolution bills presented
to the legislature. Four of the ten were passed: in Florida (1923), Tennessee
(1925), Mississippi (1926), and Arkansas (1927). They remain to this day
a part of the educational policy in the respective territories. The Arkansas
law was approved by popular vote with a majority of 45,000. It provides:
That it shall be unlawful for any teacher or other instructor
in any university, college, normal, public school, or other institution of
the state which is supported in whole or in part from public funds derived
by state or local taxation to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended
or descended from a lower order of animals. 
Further provisions exclude textbooks which
teach evolution and impose a penalty of five hundred dollars and dismissal
from state service for violation.
The Tennessee law was passed without incident,
but in 1927 was contested in a trial that has made constitutional history.
John Scopes, a teacher in the public schools of Rhea County, was indicted
and found guilty of denying the story of creation as given in Genesis and
of teaching instead that man was descended from brute animals. Educators
and lawyers were alert to the vital issues at stake, so the trial took on
national proportions - further dramatized by the personalities who faced each
other as legal counsel: the agnostic criminal lawyer, Clarence Darrow, for
Scopes, and William Jennings Bryan for the state. Bryan defended a literalist
interpretation of the Bible. It was preposterous, he said, to hold that the
earth was millions of years old when Genesis clearly shows that creation goes
back only to 4004 B.C. Darrow ridiculed this crude effort which makes the
Bible the yardstick to measure every mans intelligence and every mans learning.
He called the Tennessee statute the most brazen and bold attempt to destroy
liberty since the Middle Ages. 
While sustaining the constitutionality of
the law, the judges practically limited its prohibition to the teaching of
materialism. There was no further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Federal Aid to Veterans' Education
The largest scale Church and State co-operative
on a financial level was occasioned by the late World War and the United Nations
conflict in Korea. First in sequence was the Servicemens Readjustment Act
of 1944, popularly called the GI Bill of Rights, which provided for one years
education with subsistence allowance. In addition, the veteran was eligible
for a period of study equal to his period of service between September 16,
1940 and July 25, 1947. The period of education was not to exceed four years
and had to be completed by July 25,1956. When America entered the Korean
War, Congress approved new legislation for the veterans, granting subsidies
to cover one and one-half days of schooling for each day of service and a
maximum of thirty months. A third federal subsidy guaranteed the vocational
training of disabled veterans from World War II and service in Korea.
Financial details varied for the different
groups, and the original law was several times modified by Congress. But,
in general, veterans of the World War were entitled to a monthly subsidy allowance
up to $120 and a yearly maximum of $500 paid to the school for tuition, books
and necessary supplies; Korean servicemen could receive up to $160 per month
in allowance to cover living expenses and school costs. Disabled veterans
might receive for vocational training up to $120 and more, according to disability
and the number of dependents, which the Veterans Administration pays directly
to the school.
The outstanding feature of these appropriations
is the freedom allowed the ex-servicemen and women to choose any institution
of learning and any course of studies they desired. As a result, church-affiliated
colleges and secondary schools received their largest financial support from
the federal government in the history of the country. As of October 1, 1955,
it is estimated that 7,270,000 veterans had used the educational benefits
to which they were entitled by law. Conservatively one-fifth attended colleges
and secondary schools under church auspices. In the peak year 1948 - 1949,
the government spent $3,058,578,230 in federal education aid to veterans,
of which $526,476,000 went to colleges. Half the college and university enrollment
that year (1,290,115) was in private institutions, most of which were somehow
While complete figures are not available,
we know that during the four years of 1949 to 1952 a total of 20,502 veterans
were attending divinity schools in various denominations and having their
education financed by the American government.
An interesting sidelight on the degree to
which the state collaborated with religion is the special consideration given
to veterans in the sacred ministry. The basic law allowed an interruption
of studies for a period of not more than twelve consecutive months. Penalty
for going beyond this time was the withdrawal of subsidy unless proof were
given that the interval was occasioned by conditions beyond the persons control.
There was, however, one exception:
Where a veteran who is in active pursuit of a program
of education or training is appointed by the responsible governing body of
an established church, officially charged with the selection and designation
of missionary representatives, according to its practice, to serve the church
in an official missionary capacity and is thereby prevented from the continuous
pursuit of his studies, the veteran will be deemed to have suspended such
program beyond his control
. In such a case, the veteran will be required
to resume active pursuit of his program following termination of his missionary
Quite as important as the financial support
given to church schools and religious education was the general absence of
adverse criticism of the program during the twelve years of its operation.
Timid worries that these arrangements must not be extended too far were
Almost unique was the fear that the Catholic hierarchy would seize upon these
borderline cases that lie between the fields of education and welfare to argue
that Catholic education itself is charged with a public interest and is therefore
entitled to full public support. 
The all-but-universal opinion was expressed by Senator Wagner in a national
broadcast when the first GI Bill was signed by President Roosevelt. It was
hailed as a contribution to make America a land where every man has a chance
to work and develop to his fullest capacity. 
A reasonable conclusion from the foregoing
study of Church and State co-operation is that, in spite of our religious
pluralism, there is more than a core of sound philosophy and Christianity
that is shared by the majority of citizens. Shortly after his visit to the
United States, Pope Pius XII commented on the fact in a letter addressed to
the American bishops. Reverence for the faith of Christ, he wrote, is
a holy and established principle of the American people. 
Nearly two centuries of unparalleled liberty for the true Church are a confirmation
of this judgment, as they are also a warning not to be complacent, but to
be conscious of the opposition, in order to safeguard the future.
Indifference in this matter would have serious
consequences, since the history of modern Church and State relations in so
many countries is a story of attempted subjugation of Catholic rights and
privileges by political powers. Organized hostility to the Church in America
is nothing strange, but its appeal to judicial and legal instruments to cripple
the Churchs apostolate, especially in education, is relatively new. The
general pattern is to advertise the growing power of Rome which is then
interpreted as alien to the State and must therefore be neutralized. It is
imperative for Catholics not to misjudge the issues involved or to underestimate
their opponents zeal.
The case for political secularism has been
stated with brutal frankness by John Dewey who is regarded by admirers as
the foremost philosopher in the history of America and its greatest educational
thinker. No one, they claim, has so profoundly and in so many areas of
human endeavor influenced and determined his own age. 
According to Dewey, we should distinguish the apparent from the real basis
for Church and State separation in the United States. If one inquires,
he says, why the American tradition is so strong against any connection of
state and church
the immediate and superficial answer is not far to
seek. The cause lay largely in the diversity and vitality of the various
each animated by a jealous fear that, if any connection
of state and church were permitted, some rival denomination would get an unfair
But the true reason lies deeper, in the very notion of the State conceived
by our founding fathers:
This nation was born under conditions which enabled it
to appropriate the idea that the state life, the vitality of the social whole,
is of more importance than the flourishing of any segment or class
The lesson of the two and a half centuries lying between the Protestant revolt
and the formation of the nation was well learned as respected the necessity
of maintaining the integrity of the state against all divisive ecclesiastical
divisions. Doubtless many of our ancestors would have been somewhat shocked
to realize the full logic of their own attitude with respect to the subordination
of churches to the state - falsely termed the separation of church
and state. 
In recent years we have witnessed a growing
tendency to test the validity of this anti-religious statism in the nations
courts and legislature. So far the record of achievement has been poor; the
latest important failure was the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to review
the California tax exemption for church-affiliated grade and secondary schools.
But the spirit behind these efforts is not to be ignored. It needs to be
counterpoised by a better understanding of Americas heritage of Church and
With this issue Father Hardon (his Protestant
Churches of America is reviewed on page 000) closes his series on Church
and State co-operation. We feel that this series will be kept by our readers
for frequent use.
In 1955 the National Council of Churches reported the following states as
having mandatory Bible reading in the public schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware,
Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee.
By-Laws and Laws of the District of Columbia Board of Education, 1926,
Chapter 6, Section 4.
According to the National Council of Churches, the Bible is considered a sectarian
book in Arizona, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, New
York, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
People ex rel. Ring v. Board of Education of District 24, 245 Illinois,
International Journal of Religious Education, March, 1956, p. 29.
The writer attended this three-day conference as an observer representing
the Jesuit Educational Association.
A. S. Will, Life of Cardinal Gibbons, Vol. I, New York, 1922, p. 478.
Cases on constitutional Law (Noel T. Dowling, edit.), Brooklyn, 1950,
Supreme Court of the United States, No. 431 (Private Printing), p.
School Laws of the Forty-Eight States, Seattle, 1956: (Oregon, Sec.
111-3014, p. 21).
New Jersey Laws, 1941, c. 191, p. 581.
Everson v. Board of Education, 330 United States, 1, pp. 13-16.
Liberty, Fourth Quarter, 1947.
Churchman, May 15, 1947.
Op. cit., March 1, 1947.
Statement of the N.C.W.C. through the chairman of its administrative board,
Archbishop McNicholas of Cincinnati, in reply to the Manifesto of the
newly organized P.O.A.U., which was charged with assuming that their attempt
to have the Supreme Court reverse its decision (in the Everson case) is a
patriotic virtue, but that it is criminal for others to seek an interpretation
of an amendment to the Constitution. New York Herald Tribune, January
Alvin W. Johnson and Frank H. Yost, Separation of Church and State in the
United States, Minneapolis, 1948, p. 158.
Louisiana Laws, 1928, Act No. 100, Sec. 1.
Constitution of Louisiana, Article 53.
Cochran v. Louisiana State Board of Education, 281 United States,
Ibid. The U.S. Supreme Court merely affirmed the decision of the lower
tribunal and added a commentary of its own. It is scarcely a coincidence
that this case has been given slight attention in Protestant literature on
church and state relations. The position taken by the state and federal courts
is too outspokenly in favor of distributive justice towards private and parochial
Chance v. Mississippi State Textbook Rating and Purchasing Board, 200
Southern Reporter, 706 (1941).
School Laws (Oregon), Sec. 111-2015, 1941 Amendment.
New York Times, May 27, 1923.
Arkansas Statutes, Title 80, Sec. 80-1627.
Luther A. Weigle, American Idealism, New Haven, 1928, p. 229.
School Laws (Federal Legislative School Service, 1953), Veterans Readjustment
Assistance Act, Sec. 21.2012 Amended.
Anson P. Stokes, Church and State in the United States, Vol. II, New
York, 1950, p. 721.
Paul Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, Boston, 1950,
Congressional Record, June 23, 1944, p. 6588.
Pope Pius XII, Sertum Laetitiae (Encyclical to the American Hierarchy),
New York: Paulist Press, 1940, p. 3.
William H. Kilpatrick, Apprentice Citizens, Saturday Review of Literature,
October 22, 1949, p. 12. Also Paul A. Schilpp, Commemorative Essays,
Stockton, Calif., 1930, p. 41.
John Dewey, Characters and Events, Vol. II, London, 1929, pp. 507,
Homiletic and Pastoral Review
Vol. 57 - #6, March 1957, pp. ???-???
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