specific theology was left to the numerous churches and thenyet more numerous Bible-readers.nThe current contrast between Europe’s moribund statesponsorednchurches and the relative vitality of Americannreligion confirms the wisdom of the Founders’ vision ofnnonestablishment and free devotion. Nonetheless, in late-n20th-century America, the relationship between religionnand government is uneasy and often troubled. Perhapsnnowhere are the causes and consequences of the problemsnmore evident than in public education. When the Constitutionnwas written, public education was almost nonexistent.nCertainly no Federal role in any national system wasnenvisioned. Private schools meanwhile were usually undernthe control of some religious denomination. With thenestablishment of state educational systems in the 1800’s, thenconstitutional prohibition against government-supportednchurches (reinterpreted to include state churches) began tonhave unforeseen consequences. For the first time Americanhad a state institution which claimed and exercised anteaching authority usually reserved to churches. Whennattendance became mandatory, this teaching authoritynbecame nearly universal.nOf course, the public schools did not claim authority tonpronounce on religious matters. But it is impossible tonavoid religious issues in education. Something will bentaught about what man is and what the universe means, andnthese are finally religious questions. Even to adopt anpedagogical posture of evading ultimate questions in history,nliterature, social studies, or science is to imply that thesensubjects can be adequately considered while ignoring religion.n”All education,” as T. S. Eliot has said, “is religiousneducation.”nIndividualistic, Protestant America has been slow tonrecognize the significance of granting the state a monopolynon education. Catholics and some of the more ecclesiasticallynoriented Protestants have been more wary. At considerablensacrifice, they have maintained their own schools,neven while compelled to pay taxes for the state system.nLong before “equal access” legislation, the place ofnreligious authority in the public schools was a stickingnpoint. Horace Mann and his allies fought tirelessly—andnsuccessfully—to free the public schools from denominationalncontrol. Mann argued that since Protestants of manynsorts. Catholics, Jews, and unbelievers were all sendingntheir children to the same schools, ecclesiastical authoritiesncould properly exert no control over the curriculum.nNonetheless, until late in the 19th century and well into then20th century in some areas, most public schools continuednto provide some religious, vaguely Protestant, training.nStudents read the Bible, prayed, and sang hymns.nThe issue of religion in the public schools became muchnmore thorny when many of America’s intellectual elitenfollowed Darwin, Freud, and Marx into secular understandingsnof man and society while most of middle Americanremained deeply religious. Well positioned to affect thencharacter of public education, skeptics have not onlynremoved prayer, Bible reading, and most religious literaturenfrom the schools, they have also introduced a decidedlynirreligious bias into texts and classes. The taxes of devoutnChristians and Jews thus often subsidize the destruction ofntheir children’s faith. Professor Richard Baer of CornellnUniversity, a leading scholar on the teaching of values innthe schools, believes that we now have a “state-sponsoredndisadvantage for religion.” The public schools have evidentlynbecome part of a national antichurch.nYet in weakening religion, the state has inadvertentlynundermined its own position. As Washington anticipated,ndeclining appreciation among the young for the nation’snreligious and moral heritage has resulted in personal irresponsibility,ncriminality, and political instability. SupremenCourt justices and other unelected officials have grownnmore arrogant in their use of power, but public respect forntheir decisions has diminished. As the national moralnconsensus based on religion has shrunk, the juvenilencourts, prisons, and other instruments of coercion have hadnto expand. Greed and radical ideologies have moved fromnthe margins to near the center of American politics.nResponding to the collapse of standards in secularizingnschools, millions of parents have transferred their childrenninto religious schools. This exodus has not been withoutnopposition: religious schools have been harrassed in severalnstates—most recently in Louisville, Nebraska—and familiesnhave been hindered in their attempts to educatenchildren at home. In the years of declining enrollmentsnahead, the state school system will surely become muchnmore aggressive in pursuing its fleeing victims. But many ofnthe nation’s newly created religious schools are—like thensmall, independent Protestant congregations they serven—ill positioned to stand against monolithic state bureaucraciesnand teachers’ unions.nWhat role the ecclesiastical leadership of America’sn”main-line” denominations will play in the educationalnbattles now shaping up is not yet clear. Their virtualnabandonment of the gospel in recent years in favor of leftistnand secularist agendas does not bode well. A nationalnspokesman for the relatively conservative Lutheran Councilnin the USA recently declared that “there is greater harm innfaulty theology and meanness of spirit [on the ReligiousnRight] than in any existing humanism that opposes God andnthe teachings of the church.” Such pastors will offer littlenconsolation, much less help, to parents trying to bring upntheir children in the faith. Many American Catholicnleaders, too, appear more concerned with capturing headlinesnthan with inshlling faith in young people. Still muchnmore religious than public schools. Catholic schools arenappreciably more secular and less orthodox than they werentwo decades ago. Yet few church leaders appear concernednabout reversing this drift. The American bishops’ proposedntax credits for parents who send their children to privatenschools is significantly lower on their agenda than declaimingnon nuclear weapons or capitalism. Though such anmeasure would make it far easier to send children to churchnschools, the experience of Holland, where governmentnsubsidy for religious schools has resulted in virtual governmentncontrol, has made many Americans cautious. Shortnof an unregulated voucher system, parental sacrifice may benthe necessary price for independent religious schools. But itnshould be of some comfort that the church has usuallynflourished better under persecution than under the benevolentnattention of the state.n—Bryce J. ChristensennnnMARCH 1985/5n