“A general Dissolution of Principles & Manners will more surely overthrow the Liberties of America than the whole Force of the Common Enemy. While the People are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their Virtue they will be ready to surrender their Liberties to the first external or internal Invader. How necessary then is it for those who are determind to transmit the Blessings of Liberty as a fair Inheritance to Posterity, to associate on publick Principles in Support of publick virtue.” —
Samuel Adams, Letter to James Warren (February 12, 1779)
Those old dead white guys seemed to talking about us (here in 2016) all the way back in 1779. Gosh; how did they know?
But they made a horrific error. They understood the importance of the non establishment clause, religious freedom clause, freedom of speech, of assembly and redress of grievances, AND the importance of education, but somehow they failed to make the connection between religion and education when it came to the importance of non establishment. He continues;
“I do verily believe, and I may say it inter Nos, that the Principles & Manners of N Engd, producd that Spirit which finally has establishd the Independence of America; and Nothing but opposite Principles and Manners can overthrow it. If you are of my Mind, and I think you are, the Necessity of supporting the Education of our Country must be strongly impressd on your Mind. It gives me the greatest Concern to hear that some of our Gentlemen in the Country begin to think the Maintenance of Schools too great a Burden.”
He’s right of course, but this argument has led to the making of law to establish education, rather than the free exercise thereof. It’s one or the other, which is why the first amendment included both the non establishment and the free exercise clauses with regard to religion.
That they (and we) seem to have failed utterly to understand the similarities between religion and education is surprising– Both are highly influential to a culture and it’s fundamental beliefs. That is precisely WHY they kept federal government out of religion and, tragically, why we got government into education.
The founders didn’t seem to contemplate the enemies of the American Founding Principles being in charge of a government education system, hostile to knowledge and truth, desiring a pliable, ignorant society ripe for the picking.
Therefore I once again put forth a recommendation for an addition to the first amendment to the U.S. constitution;
“…nor make any law respecting the establishment of education, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,…”
It belongs there for exactly the same reasons that religion belongs there, and it always did. I see the failure to include it (to allow such a thing as public education at all) as being one of the greatest failings of the Republic, possibly THE fatal mistake.