by Sharmen Wright

We hear a lot about education these days.  Among the things we hear, is that public education should have nothing to do with spiritual training, and that God should not be talked about, prayed to, or learned about.  The 1962 Supreme Court decision to remove prayer from our public schools has helped to cause a vacuum in the lives of our school children.  How will they learn right from wrong?

What did the Founders envision to be the role of religious training in public education?   As a teacher myself, I’m interested.  I hope you are too.  

Skousen in his book, The Five Thousand Year Leap, tells us that “In 1787, the very year the Constitution was written and approved by Congress, that same Congress passed the famous Northwest Ordinance.  In it they emphasized the essential need to teach religion and morality in the schools.”  It was expected that Religion, Morality and Knowledge would be taught to children in the newly formed United States.  The Founders could not envision a society that would be able to stand for long without these things being taught.  

How did the Founders expect Religion and Morality to be taught?  It was to focus on the aspects of belief in God that were common to religions across the spectrum.  No particular denominational creeds were to be emphasized.  The Universal Fundamental’s included such beliefs as:  There is a Creator of the universe; He is to be worshiped; The Creator has a moral code which we will be judged by; There is a life to come and a judgment.  

In 1791, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote defending his position that the Holy Bible should be used as a textbook in the classroom.   “The memory is the first faculty which opens in the minds of children.  Of how much consequence, then, must it be to impress it with the great truths of Christianity, before it is preoccupied with less interesting subjects…We are subject, by a general law of our natures, to what is called habit.  Now, if the study of the Scriptures be necessary to our happiness at any time of our life, the sooner we begin to read them, the more we shall probably be attached to them; for it is peculiar to all the acts of habit, to become easy, strong, and agreeable by repetition.”

A specific example of the use of scripture in education can be found in the Horn Book.  A Horn Book was not a book at all, but a wooden paddle shape with a handle to hold it.  It was “simply a sheet of paper mounted on a board and covered with transparent horn.” (  The “transparent horn” was a very fine, transparent slice of a cow’s horn… nailed over the page to preserve the paper.” The Lord’s Prayer was a popular portion of scripture to be printed on the Horn Book paper for learning along with alphabet letters and Roman numerals.

On, a reprint of the New England Primer is for sale.  This is another specific example of spiritual training in early America.  In the description we read, “The New England Primer was the first textbook ever printed in America and was used to teach reading and Bible lessons in our schools until the twentieth century. In fact, many of the Founding Fathers and their children learned to read from The New England Primer. This pocket-size edition is an historical reprint of the 1777 version used in many schools during the Founding Era.”  This gives us more insight into how seriously they took the religious education of their children.

“For avoiding the extremes of despotism or anarchy . . . the only ground of hope must be on the morals of the people. I believe that religion is the only solid base of morals and that morals are the only possible support of free governments. Therefore education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man towards God.”   ~ ~ Gouverneur Morris, Penman and Signer of the Constitution.

Our founders were convinced that teaching children moral and spiritual values was absolutely necessary for the continuance of liberty, as liberty is freedom plus morality.  By not teaching our young people spiritual and moral truths, we are denying their need to understand and live out real liberty.