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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

"Parental Prerogative."

"Parental Prerogative."

The protest of the Catholic conscience against taxation for a non-Catholic public school system grows out of what Bishop McQuaid has well described as "Parental Prerogative." But in this matter he speaks not for himself alone. Chief-Justice Dunne, of Arizona, in a lecture delivered a year ago, laid down these two principles as the basis of the Catholic demand respecting the schools :—

"1.Religious instruction is of paramount importance.
"2.Each parent has the right to say what religious instruction his child shall receive."

And he says in another passage :—

"This claim to the absolute control of our domestic affairs is a sacred right which we cannot yield to the State."

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The Catholic World for January speaks in the same strain, laying the foundation for the Catholic demands in a seemingly very harmless proposition :—

"Whatever you do, keep your hands off the family altar. Do not set foot into the hallowed precincts of the domestic sanctuary. The family, though subordinate, is not to be violated by the State. Parents have rights which no government can usurp."

(These rights are intended to include absolute control over the education of children.)

Rev. Father M#x00FC;ller, in his book called Public School Education, defines the doctrine of "parental prerogative" as follows:—

"It is not on the State, but on parents, that God imposed the duty to educate their children, a duty from which no State can dispense; nor can fathers and mothers relieve themselves of this duty by the vicarious assumption of the State. They have to give a severe account of their children on the Day of Judgment, and they cannot allow any power to disturb them in insisting upon their rights and making free use of them. The State has no more authority or control rightfully over our children than over a man's wife. The right to educate our children is a right of conscience, and a right of the family. Now these rights do not belong to the temporal order at all; and outside of this the State has no claim, no right, no authority."

Again, condensing into a pregnant phrase the whole Catholic theory of "parental prerogative," Father M#x00FC;ller emphatically declares—and I would solicit special attention to the declaration :—

" The social unit is the family, not the individual."

Bishop McQuaid thus stated the same general position in a lecture at Rochester, N.Y., in March, 1872 :—

page 76

"Parents have the right to educate their children.

"It is wrong for the State to interfere with the exercise of this right.

"By the establishment of Common Schools at the expense of all tax-payers, the State does interfere with this right, especially in the case of poor parents who find it a burden to pay double taxes."

Last Sunday the Bishop expressed the same general views as follows:—

"The last to be heard and consulted is the one to whom the settlement of the question first and finally belongs—the parent of the child . . . . In despite of all, the responsibility of the education of his child falls on him, and on no one else. . . . . Parental rights precede State rights . . . A father's right to the pursuit of happiness extends to that of his children as well. . . . Parental rights include parental duties and responsibilities before God and society."

After quoting various authorities in defence of his position, the Bishop continued :—

"It is the Christian view of parental rights and duties which is here given . . . . The doctrine coming into vogue, that the child belongs to the State, is the dressing-up of an old skeleton of Spartan paganism, with its hideousness dimly disguised by a thin cloaking of Christian morality."

I have quoted enough, I think, to give a fair view of this theory of "parental prerogative," on which the Catholic protest against the public school system is founded. Its principal points are as follows, restated in something like logical order:—

1. The social unit is the family, not the individual; and in the family the father is the supreme authority, or head,—both the wife and the children being required by the Catholic Church to "obey" him.

2. The father, representing the family, is charged with all rights, powers, and responsibilities concerning the page 77 education of the children. The State has absolutely no share either in the rights, powers, or responsibilities; for all education must be Catholic, and the State has neither capacity nor authority to impart it.

3. The State, consequently, by establishing a Common School System and taxing all citizens to support it, violates the sanctity of family rights, invades and usurps the "Parental Prerogative," and oppresses the father's conscience by requiring him to support a system of schools to which he cannot send his children, and by which all these wrongs are committed.

Here we have the core and pith of the Catholic protest against taxation for the public schools, so far as it is deemed wise to address it to the general intelligence of the American people. It is the side of the Catholic conscience which is turned to the outside world, although there is another side of it which is turned towards the Catholic Church. We see that, so far as this protest is addressed to the universal reason of mankind, it plants itself on a doctrine of "Parental Prerogative" which is at bottom a general social theory: namely, that society has for its ultimate unit the family, not the individual, and that all the educational rights, powers and responsibilities of the family are concentrated in the father as the Divinely constituted head of the family. Whether, therefore, the protest of the Catholic conscience against the public school system is an intrinsically reasonable conscience, or not, is a question which can only be determined by examining the social theory on which it rests. Should this theory not prove to be inherently reasonable, but to involve unreason and injustice of a grave character, then the school question will be fundamentally changed. It will no longer be the question whether we ought to abandon the public school system out of deference to the rights of an oppressed minority, but rather page 78 how we should most justly and most tenderly deal with the honest, but unenlightened and dangerously misguided, conscience of a sect which is discontented with the essential principles of republican institutions. This is certainly a question of the greatest gravity; but it is not so grave as one which involves the possible abandonment of all State education. If the Catholic protest is actually not based on sound reason and impartial reverence for the rights of all,—if it turns out to be the stealthy and masked attack of an ambitious hierarchy on the bulwarks of popular liberty,—our minds will be, at least, relieved of much perplexity and embarrassment. What, then, is the intrinsic character of this doctrine of "Parental Prerogative"? Is it true or false?