The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79
[Appendix III.] — The Secular Education League. — An Appeal by Nonconformists to Nonconformists
The Secular Education League.
An Appeal by Nonconformists to Nonconformists.
The Secular Education League, without committing itself to the views expressed by the signatories of this Manifesto, issues it as a valuable contribution to the discussion of the principle of the education provided by the State in Elementary Schools.
Ever since the passing of the Education Act of 1902 you, as Nonconformists, have had a burning grievance. By the provisions of that Act-you are taxed and rated for the support of schools where the religious teaching is contrary to your beliefs. You have no effective control of the expenditure oí your money in these schools, and, although you are taxed to pay the salaries of all the teachers, you and your children are debarred by a religious test from the highest posts in the teaching profession, so far as these schools are concerned.page 24
So keenly did you resent this unjust legislation that, when the time came for electing a new House of Commons, Nonconformist feeling throughout the country was undoubtedly one of the main factors among those which helped to return the present Government to power with a record majority, If anything might have been taken for granted, it was that within a twelvemonth at most of the General Election the grievance of Nonconformity would be redressed—that was the clear mandate with which you sent your representatives by hundreds to Westminster. If anyone could have prophesied that, after three years of Liberalism in office, the educational position would be still unchanged, that this issue would be as ever, from settlement as ever, that Passive Resistance would still remain as a thing in being, the forecast would have been dismissed with angry derision. Vet the seemingly impossible has happened in this instance. The Government has brought in Bill after Bill, yet in each instance only to meet with failure. Mr. McKenna's, shared the fate of that of Mr. Birrell, Mr. Runciman's that of Mr. McKenna's, and that in spite of the fact that each of these attempts at a solution of the difficulty went further than its predecessor in the direction of concession to your opponents. "Right of entry" and "contracting out" could hardly be accepted by you without the most serious misgivings; yet they were accepted, not light-heartedly, but in the hope and for the sake of peace. And still the desired end remains unattained, concessions and sacrifices have proved unavailing, and Nonconformity finds itself in the humiliating position of being no nearer a just settlement with a majority than with a minority in Parliament. No doubt you feel sore and indignant at the actual state of affairs; is it too much to hope that on reflection Nonconformists will read the lesson of these three years of disappointment?
That lesson, to our mind, is a plain one. Free Churchmen were, in the first place, actuated by a sincere—but, as the results show, mistaken—belief that a compromise could be come to with the Anglicans, on the basis of what is called simple Bible-teaching. Such a plan was bound to fail, because it overlooked the repugnance to this form of religious instruction entertained by Catholics, both Roman and Anglican, whose attitude towards religion as a subject to be taught differs fundamentally from that of Protestants. It is really this stubborn fact which has frustrated all the well-intended attempts at conciliation; and it should be obvious, after the last of a series of fiascos hardly equalled in political history, that future attempts along similar lines will be no more successful than those made in the past. Surely by this time it must be clear to all who are prepared to learn from experience that a solution of the religious difficulty by means of a compromise is impossible—even if Anglicanism and Nonconformity were the only factors to be considered.
At this juncture, then, we venture to recall to the memory of Free Churchmen some truths which, in their desire for a settlement of a long, embittered, and calamitous conflict, have been too largely forgotten.
Equality and Equity.
(1) Free Churchmen believe in religious equality for all. They must therefore recognise that the issue does not rest solely between themselves and the Established Church, but that there are many others outside these particular communions who, as citizens and ratepayers, have a right to be considered. It is simply no use to legislate on the assumption that the community is made up of members of Christian Churches; still less can we imagine Free Churchmen arguing that non-Christians have, as such, no claim to elementary justice in matters affecting religious belief or disbelief. Since Christians and non-Christians alike are made to contribute to the cost of education, it is surely not to be tolerated that the latter should be penalised by having to pay for a kind of instruction which runs counter to their convictions. This is precisely the Nonconformist grievance. Is it conceivable page 25 that Nonconformists should be willing to inflict the same grievance upon others, simply because they may happen to be in a minority?
The State and Religion.
(2) Free Churchmen are such because of their fundamental principle that the State has no business to meddle with the religious faith of its members. For this conviction they have made immense sacrifices in the past—sacrifices which are the pride and glory of Nonconformity. But if the interference of the State with the religious opinions of the citizen is not to be tolerated from the Free Church point of view, how can it be tolerable that the same State should have the power to frame and impose a form of religious teaching upon its citizens in the making? And if the proper agency for the giving of religious instruction to adults is the Church to which they may belong, must not the same hold true of the religious instruction given to children?
The Policy of Justice.
Some among the most consistent and widely honoured Nonconformists of the past—men like Spurgeon, Parker, and Dale—held to the view which we are expressing; and among those Nonconformist leaders who utter the same conviction to-day it may suffice to point to Dr. Robertson Nicoll and Mr. Aided E. Hut ton, M.P. Do you not think, after all the failure and disappointment of these last three years—with the proved impossibility of establishing a form of religious teaching acceptable to all, and the obvious injustice of endowing some form unacceptable to any—you might yet once more consider the claims of the only policy which inflicts hardship on none, and which goes by the name of the Secular Solution?
We have heard it often and glibly stated that, while this is no doubt the logical solution, "the world is not governed by logic"; but, since it is very evident that the world, in this instance, declines to be governed by compromise, would it not be as well if for once logic—which in practice means fair play for all and privilege for none—were given a chance? Again, we have heard it said with constant reiteration that "the time is not ripe" for the Secular Solution. The answer to this is that the time—as the recent vote of the Welsh Baptists shows—is rapidly ripening, and that it behoves earnest men and women, as distinct from mere political opportunists, to hasten this process. It is urged that the Secular Solution will mean that the children will grow up unacquainted with the Bible. We can only express our surprise that such a fear should fail to excite the liveliest indignation among the Churches, Free and Established alike, with their tens of thousands of Sunday Schools devoted to precisely this work; nor can we understand why the Churches should expect the State to fulfil one of their chief functions. Finally, a great deal of prejudice against the Secular Solution is due to an inexact habit of speech, which confuses Secular Education with Secularism. It should be plain, however, that the two things are absolutely different, Secular Education meaning solely that the teaching given in the public schools and at the public expense is to be confined to secular subjects. To imagine, say, Mr. Spurgeon in favour of propagating Secularism would be simply grotesque. The fact that he strongly urged the cause of Secular Education should save that cause from this particular misinterpretation.
Nonconformists, you have shown how great is the power you can wield. We appeal to you, precisely because of your historic principles, to wield that power effectively by throwing your immense influence in the scale of the Secular Solution. In so doing you will be true to your best traditions. Let the State confine its activity to the secular part of education, and let parents and Churches show the reality of their religious beliefs by providing the religious part of education themselves.page 26
We pleatd, not on behalf of an abstract theory, but above all on [unclear: behalf] of the nation's children, who cannot but suffer educationally while the [unclear: presses] state of warfare lasts. If the chapter of inglorious and wearing conflict [unclear: is] to close at last, and a new chapter of justice, peace, and educational [unclear: efficiency] is to open, the Secular Solution is "the only way."
W. J. Henderson, B.A. (Baptist), Baptist College, Bristol.
E. E. Coleman, M.A. (Baptist), 37, Elbury Road, Sherwood Rise, Nottingham.
R. J. Campbell, M.A. (Congregational), City Temple, London, E.C.
J. Warschauer, M.A.,
Dr. Phil.(Congregational), Anerley Road, London, S.E.
Hugh C. Wallace(Congregational), Anerley Road, London, S.E.
Archibald Duff, M.A., D.D., LL.D. (Congregational), 9, Selborne Terrace, Bradford.
Joseph Wood(Unitarian), Birmingham.
J. Page Hopps(Unitarian), The Roserie, Shepperton-on-Thames.
W. Copeland Bowie(Unitarian), Essex Hall, Essex Street, Strand, London, W.C.
G. Bicheno(Primitive Methodist), 28, Birklands Road, Shipley, Yorks.
John Day Thompson(Primitive Methodist), 86, Palatine Road, Blackpool.
George W. King(Primitive Methodist), 11 Summerseat Place, Bradford.
Silas K. Hocking(Free Methodist;, 10, Avenue Road, Highgate, N.