Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Patriotism and intelligence on one side"

At the Glenn Beck Ascends Into Heaven Festival, the call for more public prayer was paramount, and the congregants of Beck Church demanded more prayer in public schools. Curiously, we've been there before...in 1875. From Jean Edward Smith's remarkable biography of U.S. Grant:

By the end of the Civil War, Catholics constituted a majority in several Northern cities and church leaders began petitioning state legislatures for government support of parochial education. Protestants responded by calling for legislation prohibiting the diversion of public funds to religious institutions. The dispute escalated...Evangelical Protestants joined with nativists who were convinced of the pernicious designs of the Catholic Church to seek a constitutional amendment that affirmed the existence of God, confessed Christ as savior, and acknowledged true relition as the sole basis for civil government. By 12875 the school question, Protestant versus Catholic, had become a burning national issue.

Why Grant waded into the dispute has never been adequately explained. But on September 30 1875, without warning or preliminary buildup, the president of the United States gave both Protestants and Catholics a stern lecture on religious tolerance and the separation of church and state...Speaking to the veterans of the Army of the Tennessee...Grant made the most emotional speech of his career. He reminded the old soldiers of the hardships and sacrifice of war. "We believed then and we believe now that we have a government worth fighting for, worth dying for.


"If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon's, but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other." In heartfelt words, Grant asked his countrymen to defend the guarantees of "free thought, free speech, a free press, pure morals unfettered by religious sentiments, and of equal rights and privileges to all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion."
Grant would go on to demand that the United States "Keep the church and state forever separate." And later in the year, he would ask for a constitutional amendment making it the duties of each state to establish and maintain free public schools that would be entirely secular, "the teaching of religion would be banned, and public aid to sectarian schools would be forbidden."

He even called for the taxation of church property.


We've come a long way -- the forces of "superstition, ambition, and ignorance" were on full display this weekend.

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