As in the 19th century, the language of passion takes over the language of reason

Among the newest contributors to redefinED is Boston University professor Charles Glenn, an expert on educational history and comparative policy who last summer served as a witness in the court challenge to Douglas County’s school voucher pilot. His testimony showcased not only the 19th-century American history of providing public educations funds to religious schools and institutions, it notably shined a spotlight on the attacks Catholics faced when Colorado adopted its Blaine Amendment.

In direct examination and in a chapter from his forthcoming book introduced as evidence, Glenn points to the perceived “Catholic menace” in Colorado as the state convened its Constitutional Convention in 1875. The scaremongering of that time led some Catholic leaders to call not only for a Catholic voice in the convention, but a voice for reason and deliberation. And no one made that plea more eloquently than Bishop Joseph Projectus Machebeuf.

Machebeuf, who insisted that Catholics would remain loyal to the State of Colorado and that their rights as citizens should be respected, sent a message to convention delegates urging them to let future legislatures deal with the question of “separate schools and denominational education,” not engrave the answer into a constitutional clause. His reason: emotions were running too hot:

… the question itself has never been fully and dispassionately discussed in this country, and can not be said to have been discussed at all in Colorado. We have had, so far as I am informed, nothing said on our side of the question in your honorable body … So far, both in this country at large and in Colorado, the language of passion has been more often uttered than that of reason … The present is no time for the exposition of the arguments in favor of denominational schools. But we look forward hopefully to the future. A day shall at last dawn – surely it shall – when the passions of this hour will have subsided; when the exigencies of partisan politics will no longer stand in the way of right and justice, and political and religious equality shall again seem the heritage of the American citizen.

That day has not yet come. Indeed, the hearing during which Glenn testified resulted in a permanent injunction against the Douglas County voucher effort. Glenn writes, “Were he alive today, Bishop Machebeuf would no doubt be surprised and disappointed to learn that (unlike every other Western democracy) the United States still maintains barriers against reasoned deliberation about the merits of schooling that responds to the choices of parents. It is striking how, whether in Massachusetts, or Colorado, or in federal court litigation, opponents of making faith-based schooling available to parents without financial penalty seek to remove this issue from the sphere of democratic decision-making.”

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit