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There are several fragmentary thoughts floating around the School question, whose dignity would not be very seriously compromised if they were designated as the odds and ends of the discussion. They do execution with some minds; and, hence, they are more or less used. The purpose of this article is to state some of these thoughts, and estimate their logical worth.
1. “ The legislation of the Bible, and that of our civil and criminal code, are in many respects analogous, and, hence, the former is a part of the latter.” It is true that many of the requirements and prohibitions of the Bible coincide, as to their subject-matter, with similar requirements and prohibitions in our legal system. Both alike forbid murder, theft, perjury, adultery, polygamy, and various other offenses ; and both recognize and make prominent the marriage tie, and prescribe like rules as to the rights and duties of parents and children. The two systems of legislation contain much that is common to both. A similar fact appears in the laws of Great Britain when compared with those of this country, and, indeed, in the laws of all civilized nations when compared with each other. The matters dealt with are similar, and, hence, it is not surprising that the legislation should be largely similar
What is surprising is the inference, sought by some to be drawn from this fact. It does not follow, because two legislative systems are similar, that either is a part of the other. The vital element in every law is its authority, since without this there is no law; and it so happens that neither the laws of Great Britain, nor those of the Bible, considered as a civil code, have any authority in this country. The former have no jurisdiction within the limits of the United States, and the latter have no jurisdiction except with the individual conscience; and with this the State does not concern itself. The Bible is not the constitution or the statute-book of any State in this Union; and the fact that a given act is forbidden by it, is not recognized as a reason why it should be punished. No State undertakes to execute the laws of the Bible, or any laws but its own. Nothing is a part of its laws, or can be, except as made such by the State itself, in the exercise of its own sovereign power.
It is, of course, no objection to a human law that it agrees with the Divine law, but rather the highest possible recommendation ; yet this does not confound the two systems, or make one a part of the other, or transfer their respective jurisdictions to each other. An act is not an offense
against God because it is forbidden by human law, or an offense against human law because it is forbidden by the Divine law. If it is forbidden by both, then it has the double character of being a sin and a crime at the same time—an offense against two distinct systems of authority. With it as a sin against God, civil society has nothing to do; since its cognizance applies to it solely as a crime against man.
2. “The civil institutions of this country are founded
the Bible.” This is true in the sense that the influence of the Bible, in educating the people, and in elevating and purifying their character, has contributed largely to the formation of these institutions. But the proposition is not true in the sense that our legal system rests upon the authority of the Bible, or that it has borrowed any part of its authority therefrom. The Constitution of the United States, and that of every State in the Union, emphatically contradict the proposition if taken in this sense. Our civil institutions have but one basis of authority ; and this is the authority of the people themselves.
Millions of the people in this country believe and respect the Bible, and worship the God therein revealed; but they have not built their governments upon its authority, and do not propose to do
Made the wiser and the better by their knowledge of its contents, they have been taught the great wisdom of establishing civil government on
the foundation of human authority, and confining its functions to the attainment of purely temporal ends; thus leaving questions pertaining to religion to be adjudicated in the court of the individual conscience, and not by civil tribunals. Had they built their governmental system upon the Bible, the Bible would have been its fundamental law, and the system itself would have been the legal instrumentality for its execution. Who needs to be told that this would be religious despotism? There was much in the colonial legislation of this country that partook of this character ; but, ever since the Revolution, it has been a paramount object with the American people to avoid this result, and, indeed, to render it constitutionally impossible.
3. “The State has no right to deny the Word of God to the children in the public schools.” Of course, the State has no such right in respect to children or adults, in the public school, or anywhere else. This, however, is not the question. The real question is this: Is it the duty of the State to supply the Word of God, or to preach that Word to anybody or anywhere? Is it the duty of the State to print Bibles, or to distribute Bibles among the people, or to appoint and support Bible readers for popular instruction ? If it is not, as our whole American system affirms, then surely the State does not deny the Word of God to anybody by not undertaking this work, or interfere with any man's right, or any child's right, in respect
to the possession or use of this Word. The Bible is free, and the people are free to use it; and what the State does, by not using it in the public schools, is simply to decline any service in respect to the Bible. It lets the subject alone; and to call this a denial of the Word of God to anybody is a gross misuse of language.
4. “ The object of using the Bible in the public school is not to teach its religious dogmas, but its morals." A serious difficulty with this idea confronts us in the fact that the dogmas and the morals go together as parts of one and the same system. Both imply inspiration, and, hence, both alike claim to rest upon the authority of God. The Bible is a book of Divine morals, as well as of Divine doctrines; and when these morals are taught as the morals of the Bible, whether in the public school or in the Christian pulpit, a very practical and important part of Bible religion is taught. We concede their great value, as we do that of the doctrines, and would just as soon use the Bible in the public school to teach the one, as we would to teach the other. They are so inseparable that neither is properly taught without the other. To teach the precepts of Christ, while ignoring the doctrine of his person as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, would not half teach those precepts. The same would be true of an attempt to teach the precepts of the Apostles, while disregarding their commission as inspired