The Bible And The Public Schools -- By: Frank Hugh Foster

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 046:183 (Jul 1889)
Article: The Bible And The Public Schools
Author: Frank Hugh Foster


The Bible And The Public Schools1

Rev. Professor Frank Hugh Foster

The question of the Bible in the public schools is the question whether, in compliance with the requests of certain portions of the public, the Bible shall be removed from the schools. It has been common to seek an answer to this question in considerations derived from the reason of the case, and often with the silent but impossible assumption that such a method could bring the question to a settlement. There are advantages in discussing every public question as it may arise, de novo. The fundamental principles upon which all governmental action rests are sometimes thus brought out with a clearness not otherwise attainable; and an air of candor and of readiness to do that which is right and best is secured which goes far to remove distrust and promote a cordial acquiescence in the result finally arrived at. The disadvantage, however, is, that differing parties often start from radically different premises, and that cordial agreement cannot, in the nature of the case, be obtained. And the fundamental mistake is often committed of neglecting an element which will assert itself and vindicate its right to be heard, namely, the share which the past has in the character of every present public question, or the verdict of history upon the questions of the administration of an historic institution like a government.

We shall at this time confine ourselves principally to ascertaining the bearings upon the question before us of the historical situation. In dealing with the Bible in the schools we are dealing with an institution. Presumably it had its justification and now performs a certain well-defined service. What was its origin? Why was it established? Why has it been so long retained? What does it do? What is the relation of the government to it, and of what sort are the functions of the government which are actually exercised in the introduction and maintenance of the Bible in the schools? All these are questions of constitutional and legal fact, not of theory. The answer to them is historical; and that answer, as already-said, must be had before any decision of great worth or permanence can be reached as to the propriety of the removal of the Bible.

The American public schools originated in the schools of New England. They were there a part of the great organization by which the State took upon itself the responsibility for the religious welfare of the people. In effect, if not in name, they were at first parochial schools, and the minister, if not formally as pastor, yet in the exercise of functions which were actually pastoral, visited and instructed in them, gave his advice, and ex...

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