History, Culture & Faith – Public Education, America and Religion 


By Dr. Rick Chromey 

American schools are a mess. Teacher morale is low. Student disrespect is high. Today’s kids are more profane, angry, hurting, confused, violent…and ignorant. 

But it’s not a situation our Founding Fathers didn’t foresee. In a rather inconvenient quote about American education, Dr. Benjamin Rush penned: 

“The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty; and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments….” 1 

Dr. Rush fully knew the destructive nature of secular education. In his day, the French Revolution had removed God from its cultural institutions…and French society collapsed as a result. Our Founders observed how a secular state produced societal dysfunction, disobedience, crime, disrespect, division and ignorance. Dr. Rush, who also founded the Sunday School movement in America, argued: 

“We waste so much time and money in punishing crimes, and take so little pains to prevent them. We profess to be republicans*, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity, by means of the Bible; for this Divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws.” 2 

American education originated in the mid-1600s in the Puritan colonies with the “Four R’s”: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and religion. American children were schooled through biblical principles. The purpose wasn’t to evangelize (a task for church and home) but to inculcate general Christian virtues of civility, temperance, respect, compassion, industry, self-reliance, frugality, self-restraint, fortitude and modesty. 

This was the philosophy and work of American education for three centuries, although not without occasional challenges. 

In 1844, for example, a Deist Frenchman named Stephen Girard attempted to establish a secular school (in Philadelphia) that prohibited Christian teaching. The resulting lawsuit against Girard went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The famous lawyer Daniel Webster argued America was founded on Christian education and religious principles, and Girard’s request was “repugnant to the law.” In the unanimous Supreme Court decision against the establishment of a secular school, justice Joseph Story penned: 

“Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as a divine revelation in the (school)–it’s general precepts expounded…and its glorious principles of morality inculcated? …Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?” 3 

Fifty years later, at the 1892 Columbian Exposition, Kansas teachers issued a national historical review of public education. They were concerned with a public education divorced from church control, noting in the 19th century how “the church reluctantly relinquished her claim upon the elementary schools.” Then these public educators made this stunning conclusion (and request): 

“…if the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all State schools–if the inculcation of the principles of Christianity is to have no place in the daily program–if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises of these public elementary schools–then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to church control.” 4 

The “good of the state”? Absolutely. These teachers knew that without a virtuous education (based upon biblical principles), a secular America, and all her social institutions, was doomed to descend into chaos, anarchy, violence and other evil. 

It’s why 20th century progressives, socialists and secularists worked for decades to remove religion from public schools (and finally succeeded in 1962). A secular American culture is not only more profane, disrespectful, angry, divisive and narcissistic, but it’s also easier to manipulate for state control. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote in the 1920s: 

Socialism is precisely the religion that must overwhelm Christianity…In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society. 

Back in 1892, another Supreme Court ruled on the centrality of Christianity in shaping America’s political institutions (Church of the Holy Trinity vs. U.S.). The conclusion of that Court: 

“The happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government depend upon piety, religion and morality.” 5 

Where does this “good order and preservation” originate? Founding educator Noah Webster argued only in our American school system: 

[T]he Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children under a free government ought to be instructed. No truth is more evident than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.6 

Similarly, Abraham Lincoln noted the connection between education and government. He reportedly said: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” And that’s proven true. 

We now know why American schools (as well as her institutions and culture) are a mess. 

It’s the fruit of 60 years of secular education. 



1 Benjamin Rush quoted in “Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1893-1894”; Washington Printing Office, 1896: p. 721. Download available at Google Books. 

2 “A Century of Gospel Work: A History of the Growth of Evangelical Religion in the United States” by the Rev. W.F.P. Noble (Philadelphia: H.C. Watts and Co., 1876): 184. Download available at Google Books. 

3 Mr. Webster’s Speech in Defence of the Christian Ministry and in Favor of the Religious Instruction of the Young Delivered to the Supreme Court of the United States (February 10, 1844). Download available at Google Books. 

4 “Columbian History of Education in Kansas” (Topeka: Hamilton Printing Company, 1893): 82. Download available at Google Books. 

5 “The United States: A Christian Nation” by David J. Brewer (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1905). Download available at Google Books. 

6 Noah Webster, A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary, and Moral Subjects (New York: Webster and Clark, 1843), p. 291. Download available at Google Books. 


*Note: “republicans” in this context refers to a form of government – i.e., republican government –  and not a political party. 


Dr. Rick Chromey helps people interpret history, navigate culture, and explore faith. He’s an author, historian, professor, and founder/president of MANNA! Educational Services International. Rick and his wife Linda live in Star. Rick is available to speak and train for your next event. Readers are invited to subscribe to the Morning MANNA! inspirational and educational email (M-F). Visit www.mannasolutions.org. 

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