1. Horace Mann Photo – 1849
Horace Mann (1796-1859) is referred to as the “father of American public education.” Mann had religious motives behind founding the public school system, as illustrated in quotes like this one: “The universal diffusion and ultimate triumph of all-glorious Christianity itself must await the time when knowledge shall be diffused among men through the instrumentality of good schools.”
2. Harper’s Weekly Cartoon – 1871
At the time, public schools were viewed as Protestant in character. As Harper’s Weekly explains, “In most public schools, the Protestant version of the Bible was read, Protestant prayers were uttered, and Protestant teachers taught Protestant moral lessons.” The Catholic bishops believed it was unfair that public funds went to support these schools but not Catholic schools, and requested to have that changed. This cartoon is a response to the Catholic request, which was seen by opponents as threatening to destroy the public education system.
3. E.J. Pace Cartoon – 1922
The 1920s witnessed strong Protestant opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schools. William Jennings Bryan and his supporters had campaigned to have the teaching of evolution banned in fifteen states. In 1925, Tennessee governor Austin Peay signed into law the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of any theory of evolution in the state’s public schools, or “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible.” This law led to the ACLU’s challenge in the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” that pitted Clarence Darrow against William Jennings Bryan. The Butler Act remained a law in Tennessee until 1967.
4. Pledge of Allegiance Photo – 1942
Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a former Baptist minister, published the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 as part of a campaign to sell American flags to public schools. The Pledge was originally supposed to be recited with an extended arm and open hand toward the flag. As you can imagine, during World War II that posture became a bit more controversial, and was replaced with the now familiar hand-over-the-heart pose in 1942. The now controversial phrase “under God” was not added to the Pledge until 1954 at President Eisenhower’s encouragement as a response to Communism.
5. School Prayer Photo – 1963
For over a century, prayer and reading of the Bible was a fixture of many of America’s public schools. However, in 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the recitation of individual school prayer and school-sponsored reading of the Bible.