JUNE 23, 1949
NEW YORK, Wednesday—The controversy brought about by the request made by Cardinal Spellman that Catholic schools should share in federal aid funds forces upon the citizens of the country the kind of decision that is going to be very difficult to make.
Those of us who believe in the right of any human being to belong to whatever church he sees fit, and to worship God in his own way, cannot be accused of prejudice when we do not want to see public education connected with religious control of the schools, which are paid for by taxpayers' money.
If we desire our children to go to schools of any particular kind, be it because we think they should have religious instruction or for any other reason, we are entirely free to set up those schools and to pay for them. Thus, our children would receive the kind of education we feel would best fit them for life.
Many years ago it was decided that the public schools of our country should be entirely separated from any kind of denominational control, and these are the only schools that are free, tax-supported schools. The greatest number of our children attend these schools. They receive free materials and free books and, when necessary, transportation is arranged for them. That is because in this nation we believe that free education should be available, according to the means available to the nation on a constantly improving basis.
In the early days elementary schools alone were provided. Today an increasing number of children go through high school. I believe that the time will come when free higher education will be available, even through professional courses, to such students as show the ability to use such education well. Also, I think we may be soon considering to provide living expenses to these students, since there might be loss of valuable material to the nation if such students did not feel that they were no longer a drag upon their families after they had reached the time when ordinarily they could go to work.
This should be done to develop those who show intelligence among our citizens, for this group is of the greatest importance in the progress and defense of civilization.
It is quite possible that private schools, whether they are denominational schools—Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, or whatever—or whether they are purely academic, may make a great contribution to the public school systems, both on the lower levels and on the higher levels. They will be somewhat freer to develop new methods and to try experiments, and they will serve as yardsticks in the competitive area of creating better methods of imparting knowledge.
This, however, is the very reason why they should not receive federal funds; in fact, no tax funds of any kind.
The separation of church and state is extremely important to any of us who hold to the original traditions of our nation. To change these traditions by changing our traditional attitude toward public education would be harmful, I think, to our whole attitude of tolerance in the religious area. If we look at situations which have arisen in the past in Europe and other world areas, I think we will see the reasons why it is wise to hold to our early traditions.