Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1879
to Mr. Evarts.
Brussels, June 18, 1879. (Received July 7.)
Sir: A bill introduced in the Chamber of Representatives by the minister of public instruction to amend the school law of Belgium, passed in 1842, has, for months past, greatly agitated the people of every class in this little kingdom. Indeed, the excitement among the friends and opponents of the measure has increased with time since the day the King, in his speech from the throne, foreshadowed the contemplated change.
The discussion long since took an almost exclusively religious turn. The Catholics charged, and many of their followers believed, that the proposed law was neither more nor less than an insidious and determined thrust at the religion of the country.
The liberals admitted it was a blow at priestly domination in secular affairs, but only rendered religion itself purer by eliminating from it cares and responsibilities which should be borne exclusively by the laity.
Under the existing law—commonly termed the law of 1842—the priests had the right, in common with the civil authorities, to have committees selected from their order to inspect all the public schools. The civil committees were always from the ranks of the party in power, and when the government was liberal, and there arose a conflict between its committees and those of the church, the suggestions of the one or the other were followed or rejected, according as the majority of the communal happened to be Catholic or liberal in politics. Of course there could be no conflict when the government was Catholic, for the civil appointees owed their places to the representatives of the priesthood. Teachers were completely under the control of the priests, and removal or promotion [Page 98] was at their pleasure. No book could be used in the schools unless previously indorsed by the priests, and bore upon its title page the stamp of the archbishop’s approval. At any hour it was the privilege of the priest to enter the school and give religious instruction. The liberals urge with great vehemence that the priests were not satisfied to give religious instruction, but interfered with everything else pertaining, to the school. With great force they charged that the priests visited the schools in communals that were Catholic, but utterly refused to enter schools established by the liberals; thus proving that it was not religious instruction they were so anxious to impart, unless the entire control of the schools in all other respects could be retained under the priestly robe.
In the normal schools of priests from which the instructors come, it is taught that Leopold and Belgium are but secondary to the Pope and Borne. Under the new law that institution is to be abolished, and all teachers are to come from the state normal school. Neither can priests, under the new law, act any longer as school inspectors, but all such must be taken from the heads of families, and as priests do not marry, they are effectually excluded, no difference which party may be in power.
Under the proposed law the priest will only be permitted to enter the schools one-half hour before the regular time for commencing studies, and immediately after school is dismissed; and these visits will be restricted exclusively to religious instruction. That perfect liberty of conscience may be enforced, no scholar will be required to attend during the priest’s presence unless his or her parents expressly desire it. Now the local authorities can suspend or remove a teacher at the instance of the priests, but it is proposed to allow them only the privilege to suspend for not exceeding fifteen days, and the power of removal is to be vested alone in the government.
The liberals insist that the priests only encourage congregational schools and sow dissension in official schools.
Soon after the now pending bill was proposed the priests ordered an additional prayer in all the churches beseeching the Divine deliverance from “instructors without faith and schools without God.” They officially promulgated the idea that the bill was anti-Catholic, and so necessary was a government contradiction considered that the minister of the interior directed the burgomaster of every communal to post the proposed law conspicuously at the Hotel de Ville. This, several of them, noticeably the one at Bruges, refused to do, and it became a question of parliamentary inquiry eliciting a warm debate as to whether or not the minister of the interior had the right to require such services at their hands.
The bill as proposed by the ministry was, after five weeks continuous discussion, passed on Friday last by the Chamber of Representatives amidst the most intense excitement, by a vote of 67 to 60. The ministry, upon reaching the open air were the recipients of quite an ovation from the people.
The discussion upon the merits of the bill was not at all times confined within strictly parliamentary limits, and the heat and bitterness engendered within the chamber spread like a contagion without, and the respective adherents of either party were not a whit behind their leaders in denunciation and abuse. Language not the choicest was freely indulged in, and anathemas loud and deep were bandied backward and forward with a facility and freedom indicating practice as well as feeling.
I inclose you herewith a synopsis of the leading speeches upon either side, which will serve to give you a clear insight into the merits of the case. It is safe to say that on no question has Belgium been so convulsed [Page 99] in forty years, and to my mind the magnitude of the excitement has been out of all proportion to the subject. But in a country whose population is nine-tenths Catholic this attempt, which certainly promises success, to thrust the priest from the school-room save as a religious teacher at stated hours, can but have an influence probably more extended in its results than is to an American Protestant at once discernible.
The Catholics profess to believe and openly assert that the bill cannot pass the Senate. They urge that while the majority in the Senate belong to the liberal party, yet many of its members are none the less Catholic, and will not give, their assent to a law which they insist is so anti-Catholic in its tendencies. I do not know how this may be, for I scarcely meet two persons in succession who express the same opinion.
It is possible that the liberals may in some measure relax their efforts, claiming to justify themselves before the country as having passed their cherished measure through the most popular branch of the legislature. In a nutshell the new law not only proposes to repeal every clause in the existing law which countenances the interference of the priesthood in any branch of common-school education, and restrict them rigidly to purely religious duties but in unmistakable terms to eject them bodily froth the school-room during the hours allotted to secular instruction.
Since the above was written the bill has passed the Senate by a bare majority of two votes. I have just visited the chambers, and certainly the excitement has in no measure diminished.
The Prince de Ligné, a liberal Senator and president of the Senate, voted against the measure and declared himself strongly opposed to it. I do not think either side was confident of success, and the result was alike a surprise to both.
The news of the passage of the bill spread rapidly through the city, and though an adjournment was, effected very soon thereafter, a large crowd had in the mean time assembled in the square adjoining the chambers and loudly cheered the ministers and liberal members as they passed to their carriages. Had the ministry been defeated in the Senate it was expected they would tender their resignations, but it is now predicted that their hold upon the majority is sufficiently strong to enable them to retain their portfolios indefinitely.
I have, &c.,
Synopsis of speeches delivered in the Chamber of Representatives.
discussion on the proposed revision of the law, of 1842 upon, primary instruction.
M. Notelteirs said: In discussing the proposed scholastic law, a duty is imposed upon me by my conscience as a Christian, a Catholic, and Belgian citizen. The education of the rising generation depends upon it, and consequently the future of our beautiful country.
This project has caused great emotion in the country this is incontestable. This emotion is sincere; it is profound and lawful.
A great number of electors who were favorable to the left have been gained, and this surprises nobody, for notwithstanding our political dissensions, our populations are Christian and Catholic. Belgium will remain faithful to that faith which civilized [Page 100] her more than twelve centuries ago, and which through all her changes has given her her force, her happiness, and her glory. She wishes to remain Catholic and free.
The great fault of the ministry is in their having made the cause of popular education a political question, and thereby sacrificing this cause, sacred and vital to the country, to the anti-religious passions of some thousands of free-thinkers.
I dare almost say that this fault is a crime to society. The honorable Mr. Frére-Orban once said in this chamber, “Society is unhealthy,” and he deplored the weakening of the religious sentiments in the masses. It was a statesman who spoke thus. To-day Mr. Frére-Orban associates with those who are about to distribute the poison of unbelief into even the smallest villages.
You blame our bishops because they have given a cry of alarm, because they have signalled the danger with which the faith of our children is threatened. For my part, I here publicly present them my respect and gratitude for the fidelity with which in the high position in which God has placed them they have watched over the law of Christ.
Yes, our bishops have had reason to warn you against schools without God and instructions without faith.
Your project has no other object than to bring down upon us this misfortune.
But you will not succeed. I speak to you in the language of the father of a family. Belgian Catholics I we pray and we fight. The project will be voted, but your work will not last. It will perish under the repulse of our Catholic populations, whose faith you will not corrupt.
The project does not date from yesterday. Active efforts have been made since the time that the question arose to lower the electoral suffrage. A deceased member of the left once said to me, “The lodges will at any price establish their dominion over Belgium by unbelief; they will recoil from nothing, not even from the destruction of the essential and sacred basis of society, of religion, and of morality.”
To-day the grand master of the lodges is the minister of public instruction. His project banishes religious instruction from the programme of primary schools. He writes there morality, but a morality without God.
We will remain in the legal path, but we will defend our rights. We will depend upon truth, justice, and good sense, and upon our constitution, which happily for us guarantees us religious liberty, and our liberty of instruction, two liberties indissolubly united as are education and instruction.
We will remain faithful to our institutions and at the same time to the church; we will use our rights and all our faculties in the war which is being declared against us.
You do not admit, constitutionally you ought not to admit, the divinity of the Catholic Church; constitutionally you ought not to admit that its teaching is the truth, and that fidelity to its precepts ought to conduct man to his destined and eternal salvation. But we Catholics, we admit we believe this; we know that we possess the truth. We have the right to profess this faith and to transmit it intact to our children by education. It is our duty. The fulfillment of this duty, and the exercise of this right, cannot be taken from us except by tyranny. And if the Government of Belgium, generally Catholic, give us schools for our children, it ought to give them to us with certain guarantees for our faith, which is dearer to us than life. Let us see now what ought to be the kind of school directed at the expense of the public purse in our parishes where the tree establishments are not sufficient for the inhabitants.
I am going to reply to this question in the words of an eminent Belgian, of a man who consecrated his life to the study of the scholastic science, Mr. De Haerne:
“The scholastic question,” said he, “is now agitated everywhere, and excites general interest. The moral education of children is a duty imposed by nature. The domestic school teaches the first essential to man; the exterior school, common to a certain number of families, depends by its nature upon them and ought to respect their rights. Families have a religion to which they initiate their children, and which forms consequently a part of their education. The instructors ought then to conform themselves to the views of the parent.
“In principle, the school established by the parish, the common school as it is called in America, or communal as it is called elsewhere, always remains a direct and immediate emanation of the families, the reunion of whom constitutes the parish itself. The school of the state finds itself in a similar condition; for the state ought to respect the liberty of the parish, as the parish ought to respect the rights of the family. The state is to the parish what the parish is to the family.
“In England and in the United States the freedom of instruction is not so explicitly stipulated as in Belgium, although it exists in reality. In the first of these countries freedom of instruction is regarded as a consequence or an application of individual freedom; in the second, it is considered as being part of the freedom of speech formally inscribed in the Federal Constitution, and it is this that gives to the different. United States a great latitude.
“Now, this spirit is generally religious in the private institutions. Religion cannot, therefore, be excluded from public schools without acting against the formal intentions of our assembly and against the constitution.”[Page 101]
Here is, gentlemen, an exposé sensible, just and practical, in conformity with our institutions, with our national institution and our constitution.
All superior and practical statesmen were always of this opinion. They desired that the atmosphere of the school should be religious, and proclaimed this quality as a social want. I may mention Portalis, Guizot, Thiers, who all, among others, in their political career thus declared their opinion.
The law of 1842 was voted unanimously in the two Chambers with the exception of three voices. It was wished that the atmosphere of the school should be religious; its programme unites morality and religion; it orders the instruction in the schoo lunder the direction of the clergy; it establishes ecclesiastical inspection.
Where they are in sufficient number the Protestants and the Israelites can enjoy the same satisfaction. Those who do not profess any religion can dispense with the lessons on religion.
The law of 1842, put into vigor thirty years ago, has produced rich fruit, without giving place to serious complaints. Belgium is covered with buildings for superb and spacious schools, and all are crowded with scholars. This is a happy result and is due to public confidence; it has been obtained at the price of our zeal, and with our common gold.
The school without God, the instructor without religious faith; this is the project. The priest is driven from the school by the great door; by tolerance, at the request of parents, he may enter by a concealed door to teach religion after and before the hours of the classes, in a part separated from that of the primary science.
I conclude by affirming that the project is impossible in Belgium; it is an attempt against the liberty of Catholics and against their sacred rights.
Mr. Le Hardy de Beaulieu: Gentlemen, the law which we are commencing to discuss is incontestably one of the most important which could be submitted to our deliberations. It affects not only the present but also the future of the country. According to the solution which you will give to the question, the country will increase in prosperity and in happiness; or it will fall into decline, descending rapidly the hill which for a hundred years we have used all our efforts to mount.
Since the commencement of the session, when the speech from the throne announced the project which is actually submitted to us, a lively opposition was manifested amongst the members of the Catholic clergy. Have we not seen the bishops addressing long letters to the faithful denouncing even its text?
It was not only the chiefs of the clergy who entered into the campaign; they were followed by the whole party, who owe them their blind obedience. The Catholic press commenced a most violent discussion. No means were spared, neither lies nor calumny. Why? Have we not the duty and the right to make the law? Our right appears to me clear, evident, incontestable. Article 17 of the constitution states “the instruction is free.” Now, how does the proposed law touch the liberty of instruction? It contains no preventive measure, and the three orators who have spoken have found none.
The repression of the offenses is regulated only by law; we are then charged to repress the offenses which would be committed in the ordinary exercise of the liberty of instruction. Instruction given at the expense of the state is also regulated by the law. Then our constitution accords us the most explicit, the most formal right to give instruction at the expense of the state, and to regulate this instruction by a law.
Are we thus wrong to be surprised at the attitude of the members of the clergy, bishops at the head, under present circumstances? They ought to have offered to assist us to raise the instruction of the people; they should have co-operated with us; they ought in good faith, in sincerity, have come to us and said, friendly: “Gentlemen, you may deceive yourselves; let us search together the means of doing a useful work.” But instead of this they have employed violent and revolutionary language!
But, gentlemen, this opposition by the clergy proves to us more clearly the necessity there was for reforming the law of 1842.
The state cannot impose any creeds; it must be neutral in matters of faith.
Article 16 shows evidently that the state must preserve its neutrality. It decides that the state has not to interfere in the nomination of the ministers of religion, neither in correspondence nor in any manifestation of activity.
I say then, gentlemen, that we have the power to make the law which the government elected in June last has proposed to us. The clergy in interfering with this right go completely from their attribute. We do not pay the clergy to raise up the country against the laws made by the Chambers. This is not their mission; they have to fulfill the duties of religion, and when they depart from this attribute, they depart from the law.
Never mind putting the state out of the school. The constitution has put it in the school, and it will remain there. The constitution has not put the clergy in the school, and I hope that they will remain outside. I have in vain sought in the constitution the article which gives to the clergy the power to interfere in public instruction, and in vain, also, I should have sought the utility of that intervention.
The clergy is not required either by the Evangelists or by any law to teach grammar [Page 102] and geography. Every where numerous edifices are constructed for religious purposes, and every facility is given to teach religions principles to the populations.
M. Le Hardy de Beaulieu goes on to consider the question as to whether, really the instruction has been confined exclusively to the church, and having proved the contrary, defends the constitutional policy of the state. The morality of the, church, he says, has at all times left much to be desired. Spain and Belgium offer us sufficient examples. In Spain the church has been, since the sixteenth century, absolutely mistress, not only of instruction and of education, but of the politics of the country. She has met with no obstacles; she has all that she desires; she has the inquisition to insure, in a complete and certain, fashion, the execution of her will.
Facts speak more strongly than theories. In Spain, after the conquest of Granada, the church exacted from the Spanish Government the conversion of the Moors to Catholicism. In order to convert them better they suppressed all the institutions, all the colleges, all the schools of that intelligent, civilized, clever nation, as many works which have been preserved prove to us. The university of Cordova, where mathematics and medicine were studied, was suppressed. All the books belonging to the Moorish language and to the Jewish language (for both the religions participated in the university of Cordova) were burned. They were no longer allowed to read their books under pain of death; they could no longer unite together or sing their national songs without being condemned. However, Charles V and Philip II were statesmen; no doubt they were good Catholics.
After the reign of Philip II all lay professors were dismissed and the university of Salamanca, which counted 8,000 scholars, became exclusively. Catholic, and under the domination of the Catholics. Progress was no longer admitted and mathematics even became a thing of the past.
A century later the reports of the ambassadors and travelers, and of learned men, state that there was no longer in Spain either doctor, or engineer, or lawyer, or philosopher; there were only priests and nuns.
The Bourbons, when they succeeded to the reduced Austrian dynasty, were obliged to govern the country by employing strangers. The first ministers of Spain were nearly all foreigners until the end of the eighteenth century. There were no-more Spaniards capable of legislating for a great country. Instruction failed and the desire to instruct was extinguished. Charles III wished to reorganize the fleet, but found not one man capable of steering a vessel, The armies of the Bourbons were commanded successively by Irish, Flemish, Dutch, and French.
Such was the condition of the Spanish monarchy, and if we turn to Belgium we find, the same miserable state of things under the Catholic administration. The universities fell far beneath those of other countries; there were no primary schools, and education was entirely abandoned.
Therefore these examples will clearly prove that the church is not precisely the institution which should preside over the instruction of a people.
He claims for the responsible public men in power the duty of working for the moralization of the people, and adds that he, a Catholic, shall be happy to give his approbation to a project of law, the object of which is to disperse intolerance.
Mr. Mallar, the Liberal member from Verviers, then rose to defend the project of law; the movement organized by the right hp described as a comedy. To believe our friends on the right, he says, the hour of the birth of Christianism has returned; we have martyrs and executioners; blood is shed for the faith; the hour of judgment has sounded.
But why this miserable misrepresentation Because an intelligent and free nation does not let itself be misled by lies; because it knows that we neither wish to destroy rights nor creeds; because it is tired of the pretensions of the clergy to omnipotence in every sphere, and of the humiliation of public men who must obey in public as in private life. Members on the right protest their respect for the constitution; it is the best for the Belgians at the present time; but what of their principle? Rome is their guide and supreme judge; it is for them, only the question of an hour, of an opportunity, and this is the peril of which the country Is conscious. The June elections showed a great effort for the public safety.
Mr. Lippens, the liberal depnty for Ghent spoke very substantially in favor of the project, showing up the work of the clergy in the country districts, how they are become absolute, masters underlie law of, 1842, declaring the necessity of the revision, and contending that the project of the government supplies the requirements of the situation. The clergy, he says practice a thousand annoyances against lay instruction, and the government has done well to furnish the state with a new arm against the clerical invasions. There is no trick that the clergy has not employed to annihilate the authority of the instructor. A vicar in a parish known to me, he continues, prohibited the instructor to read certain journals; he then went on to criticise ecclesiastical inspection, the pressure put upon the instructors to vote anti-liberal, how the new law will put an end to these abuses, and how it will destroy the net spread over our country districts; the clergy, he says, are unwilling that the desire of learning [Page 103] should he inspired into these parts, that women should reason for themselves, or that they should receive instruction.
They would further their object by increasing the number of convents, where nothing is learned; the child there is not required to know anything but the book in which is inclosed all science, “The Catechism.” They must have no other object in view but the salvation of the soul. If the parents desire to send their children to a lay school, they are persecuted by the clergy, who threaten them in their business or private interests.
Superstition reigns, and a morality which cannot continue to be admitted. These are the reasons why the liberal party can no longer suffer such tyranny, such cruel and merciless persecution, renewed day by day, at every instant, under a thousand different devices. It is time that the state takes up anew the position which it never ought to have abandoned, and it is for this act of authority, for this willingness to respect its duties, that he felicitates the government.
Mr. Crombez spoke of the fanaticism of the bishops, and declared that the religious instruction upon the catechism had completely disgusted the members of the left, and concluded by stating, amidst great cheering, that Belgium would never consent to the laws of theocracy.
Mr. Neujean, member for Liege, maintained that the cabinet, by introducing article 4 into the project, had not fulfilled the desire of the nation expressed by the elections of 11th June, 1878. The law of 1842, he said, was made for the profit of the clergy; he is against all-dogmatic instruction, but is in favor of religious, as, indeed, are all the liberals, equally as much so as their adversaries, because the liberals represent incontestably those Catholics not given over to the ultramontane yoke.
A person, he says, must be terribly ignorant, or completely blind, to pretend that the liberal party pursue the ruin of religion, and he adds, amidst cheers, that the priest will fail in his duty if he does not give religious instruction in the school according as the law gives him the right.
The Count Goblet regrets that the project for the revision of the law presented by ‘the government is not a more radical one. He desired that the entry of the schools should be closed to the priests; however, in spite of this, he will vote for the project in discussion. He defies the members of the right, should they ever again return to power, to touch the new law, and to re-establish the law of 1842; Belgium, he says, well remembers what was left to her in the sixteenth century, when the right was in power; if he introduces the sufferings of our forefathers into this debate, it is to encourage this generation to fulfill their work by reducing, to weakness those who caused this suffering.
Mr. Woeste. The country will know, thanks to Mr. Goblet, that we have not erred in accusing the left of desiring to drive out the priest from the school. They respect nothing, neither the law of 1842 nor that of 1850, which acknowledges the necessity of religious instruction. If there has been abuse of the law, is this a reason why the law should be destroyed? Twenty abuses should not suffice to tear in pieces a law which has produced excellent effects in 2,500 parishes of Belgium. He finishes an eloquent speech by declaring that there have been no serious abuses, that religious instruction and ecclesiastical inspection are necessary, and the revision of the law is condemned by the country.
Mr. Thomssen. You are going to upset the creed of all our instructors, and to replace them by men who do not possess our confidence, and as a just consequence we shall have no more Christian children. A school neutral is no more possible than a neutral book or a neutral discourse. For us there is only one moral, that of the Evangelist, that of Christ; it is in this that we instruct our children; any other moral we repudiate in the name of the constitution, of liberty, and of conscience. He concluded by saying: You desire that Belgium should rejoice in 1880 her fiftieth glorious anniversary, therefore do not revive the Dutch despotism which was overthrown in 1830.
Mr. Van Humbeeck, minister of public instruction. Gentlemen, I do not consider it necessary to remind the chamber that this debate is a most important one. It is useless again to repeat the importance of the question concerning the instruction of youth. The destiny of our liberty depends on this instruction. Here is the real truth, and yet this has several times been overlooked in the course of this debate. If this is kept in mind can any one contend that those who are charged with the government of the country can neglect this primary interest, or that the nature of their mission imposes upon them the duty to exercise the right which the constitution gives them? Yesterday again Mr. Thomssen maintained that the state had no other obligation than to supply the insufficiency of the freedom. This situation could be admitted if the government had the right to superintend free instruction; if it was certain that every fatal doctrine would be excluded from private instruction. But it is impossible for the Belgian Government in its present constitutional position to provide proper instruction, having no action on free instruction. I shall notice only the professions of faith plainly ultramontane, which have been heard in this chamber since the commencement [Page 104] of the debate. Has not the right of the Catholic priest to judge all acts of the faithful as electors, as functionaries, as magistrates, as politicians, been proclaimed? This doctrine puts anew into the hands of confessors the result of the polls, the fate of the trial. Under this system the confession realizes the most pitiful of theocracies under the color of the most extended freedom. Forty years ago there was a priest, the Abbey de Foere,” who declared in the place that all threats addressed by the clergy to electors ought to be punished.
In the present day laymen sustain the theory which was disputed by the priest forty years ago. They desire to arrive at the absolute confiscation of the citizen’s freedom, and it is for this object that they would suppress instruction by the state, or condemn the state to be only a person placed under the clergy.
They have not gone so far as this in this chamber, but outside there has not been the same discretion. The bishops in their pastoral letters have plainly declared that they acknowledge the church alone to have right of instruction. It is not to the governments, according to them, that Christ has said, “Go and teach.” But the founder of Christianity did not intend to dismiss all the schoolmasters who lived on the earth, and certainly he did not dream of substituting for them the fishermen of Galilee. It is impossible to admit of such a theory. That which Christ told the apostles to spread was that sublime morality which he did not create, but which he popularized. It is only by the confusion of the political with the religious that the episcopate can produce its actual pretensions. That which is incomprehensible is that the champions of this theocratical theory, which I have brought before you, should call themselves the champions of constitutional liberty. But these defenders of this theory only call for the monopoly of the church. The divine and absolute rights to which they lay claim in matters of instruction, to fulfill their pretended mission, if they were acknowledged by the civil law, would it be anything else than the monopoly of the church, anything in definite form than the suppression of conscientious liberty, and of freedom of instruction? And yet it is these persons who accuse us of attempts against all liberties. To hear them, we violate the freedom of, instruction; the freedom of fathers of families; we sacrifice the faith of children and the independence of parishes; and all this to revise a law, which has not thus far deserved reproach. Such are the criticisms of our adversaries, and I intend to meet them as shortly as possible, and show that each of these reproaches is unjustifiable.
I say first of all that they calumniate the project, when they pretend that it violates freedom of instruction and freedom of fathers of families. Freedom of instruction! But it is a consequence of the general liberty to express and to propagate one’s opinions, it is the liberty to give and to receive an instruction that one believes good and to repel that which one believes to be bad. And in this respect the project incontestably acknowledges the right of the citizen. Let us examine the project in a double point of view, of those who give instruction and of those who receive it.
As to the first point: Does the project suppress freedom of instruction? Does it hinder any one from teaching? Evidently not. Consequently, if every one remains, free to teach, in what is freedom of instruction lessened? As to the second point: Does the project hinder the father of a family from intrusting the education of his children to whomsoever appears right to him? Evidently not.
But they say the state separates religious instruction from profane instruction, Gentlemen, the state is incompetent to give this instruction; but, to satisfy the desire of families, it opens the school-house to the clergy.
We were told yesterday that the clergy could not put this to profit; but, supposing there are difficulties, mutual concessions will make them disappear, and in any case in presence of this facility, it cannot be affirmed that the priest is driven from the school. These things may be said at a meeting, but not before persons to contradict them. It can never be admitted in an assembly that one puts any person outside the door when one keeps a place at his disposal. The truth is this, the state guards its independence, but it respects the liberty of the churches. We believe that profane and religious instruction ought to be completely separate and have nothing in common but the school-house. We believe that by uniting it the school is rendered confessional, and that hate and religious disputes are produced.
There are, in short, but two systems possible, either to establish schools where one religion only, that of the majority, is taught—there is then a real privilege, as is the case with the law of 1842—or to establish confessional schools. These last have received great sympathy from our adversaries, but I will remind them of what a man whom they like to quote, M. Cousin, said of these schools in a discussion which took place in 1844, in the French Chamber, on the occasion of a debate on a project of law upon secondary instruction:
“If there exists an instruction which is built upon the exclusive principle of any particular creed, the college is no longer the image of a common society. Then, Catholic colleges, Protestant colleges, Jewish colleges, shortly, perhaps, Mussulman colleges, are necessary, and from infancy we should learn to avoid one another. What a marvelous apprenticeship of that sublime, virtue which is called patriotism!”[Page 105]
You see here an imposing authority, one which our adversaries often appeal to, demonstrating that in our public schools the young society should be made the image of society of mature men. In our society of mature men we know that there are in Belgium Catholics, Protestants, Jews, free-thinkers. We see in them citizens having the same rights and the same duties one towards the other. For a society so composed a neutral school is necessary. However, there are amongst us those who believe that profane instruction should be united to religious instruction. We do not agree with this opinion, but we respect these scruples. To those who have this conviction the freedom of instruction can give ample satisfaction, and the freedom which we respect completely I have just now demonstrated.
It is, then, impossible for me to find in the project of law the slightest injury to freedom of instruction, or to freedom of study. Is it true after this that religious faith, that the honesty of future generations are placed in danger? Let us speak first of religious faith. I admit that it might be placed in peril if the government had the right to mix itself up in religious matters. But in a state like ours that danger cannot exist. It is pretended that the government could cause creeds to be taught contrary to the religious faith of the child, but then the project must include exactly what it excludes. We were asked yesterday if we would take measures against the instructor who should attack the Catholic dogma. It is evident, gentlemen, that if an instructor tried to ridicule the doctrines of a creed he would be prosecuted. I now ask if the priests of a religion can complain without their assistance, it being understood that all attacks against religion are prohibited. Ought not the priests to be happy to teach children the catechism who have already learned to read in the school? Will not the religious instruction given by the priests be much more easy and fruitful to the child who has received a former education? Why then should the priests complain of an instruction which would not be hostile to their creeds, to an instruction really neutral? It is this that we wish to organize. You have contested this neutrality; you did it without a serious motive, and on this account you suspect our intentions.
Do we pretend that in public instruction religious principles which sympathize with diverse creeds must not be called to mind? Not in the least. There exists a Christian morality superior to all sects, a morality which blends itself with natural morality, the universal morality. This instruction, which may be called religious in a general sense, can be perfectly given in the school; but on their side it is the duty of families to have their children instructed in the things belonging to their respective creeds, and this is why we open the school-houses to ministers of these different creeds. There are, then, in the system of the project the means of satisfying all scruples, at the same time maintaining the indedendence of the civil power. The fears of which we have heard are new. They did not exist at the commencement of this century; two Catholic archbishops acknowledged it in 1806, and twenty years later, in 1827, when a concordat was agreed upon between the Dutch Government and the Holy See, we heard a Belgian prelate pronounce these words:
“The Catholics of the northern provinces, so known for their piety and for their pure morality, have for a long time resented the consequences of an irregular administration.”
So, this Belgian prelate rendered homage to the piety and to the attachment to the Catholic faith of the Dutch, who had been, however, placed for two years in a situation of real inferiority. They had had, in short, neither pastors nor hierarchy, nor freedom of instruction, nor freedom of association in a country where the immense majority were Protestants. And to-day you pretend that in Belgium, where the Catholics, who are in a great majority, have constitutional liberties, a clergy strongly organized, numerous religious orders, you pretend that the faith will disappear; that in ten years it will have vanished, on account of the adoption of our project of law. Is this a serious argument?
You are alarmed at the changes which the project of law introduces into the actual management; but the proposed changes are only the realization of what ought to happen, according to Mr. Nothomb, in case of a conflict with the clergy. Ecclesiastic cal authority formerly pretended not to admit of instructors being appointed by itself. Mr. Nothomb refuses to submit to this exigency. Lay authority cannot any more submit to the pretension of the clergy to give confessional instruction in the school where even one dissenting voice is to be found.
Either the law of 1842 admits of a neutral instruction, and acknowledges it possible, or it has given the Catholic priest the right to violate the consciences of dissenters by the organization of a Catholic instruction. I defy you to get clean out of this dilemma.
In some of our large towns are there not dissenters? Is there not therefore an instruction forcibly neutral? Has this instruction produced these revolutionists and insurrectionists of whom you were so disturbed at the commencement of this discussion?
There is, then, no danger for the faith of families. There is no deception for the ambition of the clergy; faith is not threatened. Further, this is not the first time that [Page 106] the Catholics have attempted to suppress the neutral school. They tried it in Holland, hut without success. We are willing to forget that you have driven us from the school; we ask you loyally to co-operate with us in the work of the education of youth. But this distinction between morality and religion was formally acknowledged by the men whose opinion you are accustomed to quote. Mr. Guizot said to his pupils: “It is evident that morality exists outside of that which is religious.”
What Mr. Guizot said is indisputable. The morality comprises the duty of man towards his neighbor, towards his country, towards humanity. It comprises; even if you will, his duty towards God, without; be it well understood, any spirit of sect. But the moment that you understand it in the sense which the different creeds attach to it, the duty towards God is a question of religion and not a question of morality. Therefore, it is the priests who should teach it. We leave them on this account full liberty, but we ask in return that the right be left to our instructors to teach in the school what constitutes truly the morality.
Saint Jean Chrysostom shows plainly the existence of a universal morality. He proves it by the aid of two precepts: the first, what you will that one should do unto you, do it; the second, what you would be angry that one does to you, do not do it.
Peoples which date from the Christian era practice a morality in which they agree.
Protestants, Catholics, Jews, are they not all agreed upon the manner of understanding their duties to wards their neighbors and towards their country? How, then, can any one say that there is not a universal morality?
Let us leave philosophy and go to politics. Will any one deny that to be a good citizen it matters not to what religion one belongs; even if one does not practice any religion whatever? The contrary theory would be the negation of the principle of our institutions, which proclaims the absolute liberty of opinion. Our institutions suppose that every citizen has the notion of right and wrong, of justice and injustice. If not, it must be admitted that certain men would make laws prohibiting what morality permits and permitting what morality prohibits. Our society then intrusts itself to a morality placed out of all religion. If not, you must admit that a day will arrive when the guarantee will be exacted for the belief which the majority will believe the true one. The theory of the right is in consequence to revive a state religion by the side of tolerated religions.
The government only occupies itself in forming citizens; families and the clergy must occupy themselves with creeds, and the project of law gives them every facility in this respect. The clergy on the contrary wish to create a Catholic theocracy, which would scorn all creeds which were not its own, and which it would include under one denomination with atheism.
I had intended to show that you are wrong in pretending that the project would prepare irreligious masters, and that the reform which we propose is useless. But I think that I can dispense with the latter and go on to prove that it is untrue that the new schools will be a nursery of irreligious masters. The project of law enables all alike to enjoy complete freedom for the exercise of their religious duties. From this article you make a pretext that, in point of fact, religious instruction will not exist. I do not hesitate to say that, if we do not consider it our mission to train up believers, still we should fail in our duty if we sought to encourage unbelieving masters. In these schools there will be indoor and outdoor children. With regard to the former all difficulty disappears. It is for their families to watch over their religious duties. With regard to the latter the rules guarantee the freedom to fulfill their religious duties. Would any one wish to force a child, who is not a Catholic, to fulfill religious duties which would make him a hypocrite? Do you go so far as to say that the Catholics alone can be instructed? If so, it is not the maintenance of the law of 1842 which you demand; it is a real revolt. I pass on now to say that it is equally possible to teach a neutral history as a neutral morality in the primary school.
The teaching of neutral history is that in which one makes it his duty to teach only true, undeniable facts in which one will avoid controversies. Evidently one will not make an historical philosophy for children. We have heard that our history must be either catholic or liberal, but if it is so, historical instruction would be variable, which it is not; and if it were, could any one ask us to teach our adversaries’ history in our schools—why we should be obliged to teach what we condemn?
Gentlemen, I do not think that I want to dwell any longer on this point. I pass on to say that the revision of the law of 1842 was indispensable, because never since it has existed have the clergy loyally executed it. They have always sought to favor congregational schools to the detriment of official schools by tearing to pieces the contract signed in 1842. You know, gentlemen, that I undertook to show that the project of law did not injure the liberty of fathers of families, nor the freedom of instruction, nor of faith, nor of morality, nor of communal independence. I think I have fulfilled my task, and have convinced you that we make this reform to fortify the attachment of our population to constitutional liberties. Those who dispute this confound the ambition of the clergy with the interests of religion. I do not suspect the sincerity of their alarms, but experience will shortly disperse them. We believe sufficiently in [Page 107] their patriotism to he convinced that they will thank us then for having accomplished this reform without them.
Mr. Devigne considered the constitutionality of the project of law perfect and invited the members of the right to insure liberty of conscience, and warmly spoke up for the rights of citizens who do not belong to the Catholic faith.
Mr. Jacobs thought that there was no ground for complaint against the law of 1842. When a person wishes to kill his dog he says that he is mad. There is no better reason for abolishing the law of 1842. He will not hear of morality as opposed to the Catholic religion, because respecting morality the liberals have nothing determined and do not agree among themselves. He does not know what the clergy will do if they will enter into a neutral school to give religious instruction, or if they will refuse to do so. They will not decide hastily, but will give the free school time to organize itself.
Mr. Pumez (member of the majority) considers the project perfectly constitutional, but is not favorable to the revision, at the sametime he does not think that the new law will cause any serious consequences, and he thinks that the clergy cannot refuse to enter the new school. They risk all kinds of danger to go out to teach the African negroes; surely, then, they can put up with a little inconvenience for their fellow-citizens.
Mr. Bergé: The project does not satisfy him because it leaves the door of the school open to the priest. He foresees that the clerical party will endeavor to regain the influence of which one wishes precisely to deprive it. He does not understand, either, why religious emblems should be maintained in the schools. The clergy, he says, are incompetent in respect to a moral education, and that it is the state which is charged with this all-important mission.
Mr. Janson warmly defended the project, at the same time stating that the government solution was not exactly the one he would have preferred. He contended that it was the duty of the state to give an historical, literary, and scientific instruction in public schools. There, is a morality, he said, independent of dogma and of the divinely revealed morality of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. He accepts the great, beautiful, sublime morality of Christ, but, turning toward the right, he said, The church, what has it done with this sublime morality? You have organized celibacy, a revolting immorality, which will finish by making the country revolt when it sees our poor little children exposed to the crimes of “petits frères.” Take care of vengeance. Is this the morality which you defend? Ours is worth more than this, I hope. You organize begging orders, and we, we ask for the organization of labor.
If religious morality can do anything, it is by acknowledging the liberty of conscience. What do the church commandments say? The Sunday ought to be a day of rest; the constitution acknowledges the rest optional. The church commands that marriages be consecrated by herself; that unless they are so, there is only concubinage. The constitution says the contrary. Our universal morality is far superior to the Catholic morality.
What created Christianism? The revolt against immorality. What created reform? The revolt against the clergy. What brought about the French revolution? Was it not the disorder caused by the intolerance of the clergy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? The country will acknowledge the superiority of our schools over those of the clergy who have given us so many examples of frightful immorality.
Liberty of conscience, he said, is not in peril; equality of citizenship is not in peril; but do you know what is in peril? It is the religious intolerance which wishes to separate children in this life as in death. It is the religious intolerance which would silence science under its dogmas. It is this that is in peril; it is your revolting against the immortal principles of 1789. Peril, necessary, for upon its intensity depends the maintenance of our public liberties, of progress, and of our institutions.
Mr. Bernaert, member of the late Catholic cabinet, considered the project of law in discussion as a really public misfortune.
Mr. Frère Orban, minister of foreign affairs: I should not have dreamt of speaking to-day had I not been strongly requested to do so by my friends. If, as I had intended, I had spoken after the chief of the opposition, I should have prolonged the debate, for the said honorable member has conducted the battle outside, but has been silent here up to this moment. I am, therefore, playing to-day into the hands of my political adversaries.
The return of the Liberals to power has brought consternation to the country, and yet the country has never been so calm as under the Liberal administration. Our first error was the creation of a minister of public instruction. Therefore, no more instructors to pay, no more public instruction. Then appears the actual project. The bishops preach a crusade, and invent a new prayer to curse the instructors without faith and the schools without God. And there are the women and children falling down on their knees. The crusaders enter the battle-field. A catastrophe is predicted if the project of law is voted. The anathemas of the crusade are pronounced. A sympathetic movement is expected, but no noise whatever is heard. Some speakers speak loud, however, to rouse up those outside, but the crowd passes and remains indifferent. What is the reason for all this? It is always the same manner of ill-treating [Page 108] projects of law proposed by the Liberals. The right has cried out persecution at every project of law. Nowhere is the church so independent as in Belgium, or so respected.
During the twenty years that we have been in power, tell us what are the deeds which we have committed against the liberty of the Catholic creed? Answer me. This is not the first time that war has been declared against us. I was here twenty years ago when you lighted up insurrection against us respecting the most simple projects of law. This is not the first time that we are attacked on the question of instruction. Twenty years ago how did you attack the law on middle-class instruction? You said that it was unconstitutional, that it produced burdens for the citizens, that it was anti-religious and anti-social. There were the same words as are repeated today. Is it necessary to complete the picture? We were not turned out of office then by you, but by divisions of our own, thanks to the traitors who went over to your ranks, and who are still there. We had in 1850 the interference of the Pope against the law of instruction; however, the law was voted by the most moderate men, the Prince of Ligne at the head. Five years afterwards the Catholics came into power. I asked the minister if he would maintain the law. The Catholics maintained and observed it. In 1870 they still continued to apply this law, which they had called odious. I have, consequently, to-day the right to tell you that your conduct is only a political maneuver, yes, a political maneuver, since you will not amend the project of law, and because you provoke us to appeal to the country.
We do not fear that appeal. We will do it, but you will permit us to choose our time in order that we may have the time to unveil your faults by the electoral law, because this will serve to unveil your intrigues and electoral corruptions. If you doubt the calmness of the country, I wish for no other proof than the last provincial elections, when the Liberals were returned by a great majority. In 1850 we invited the clergy to come into the school; to-day only one word is changed, a place is set apart at the disposal of the clergy. The project of law with which we are occupied is the expression of the new opinion which desires the secularization of instruction. We are far from that orthodoxy which puts heterodoxy out of the civil state.
The Jewish people suffered eighteen centuries of pressure and violence before arriving at liberty. The Protestants the same for several centuries. We must finish with these struggles. We wish to see the principle of modern society predominate by suppressing the confessional school and the sectarian. The actual law develops the principles of the law of 1842, and article 4, which is an act of loyalty, gives every satisfaction to religious interests. In the middle class, as in the primary school, religious wants of pupils will be satisfied. The instructions given by fathers of families will be respected. I am confident that the country will acknowledge that we have done a salutary work. We have heard angry words from the clerical party. They have threatened. Do you remember that their threats have always been the same? They cry out that a funeral monument must be erected upon the ruins of the constitution. Always the same violence under like circumstances. We are on the eve of 1880, and they threaten us with a secession. But this will pass, and we shall find you better citizens and better patriots than you wish to appear. You will remember that we are the children of the same mother to celebrate the glory of the country and the defense of our liberal institutions.
Mr. Malon: I will make use of no repetition, but will at once approach the two principal questions which concern the chamber (article 4 and article 7). It is traditional to develop religious instruction in schools. The neutral school is but the work of troubled times. It is a poisonous toadstool, nearly rotten, and coming in this calm and quiet time we cannot understand this modification. What do we undertake here? That to which man attaches the greatest price; it is the faith which you would modify.
The legislative game which you are playing under guise of instruction, is to create schools for yourselves with our money. If we only studied party feeling, we would not oppose your law, which is the contrary to malice. We have opposed it to enlighten the country, and we have succeeded. When you shall have carried your law, the combat will commence, not in words but in actions. That which gives power to free nations, is the development of individual power. There are only declining nations which return to monopoly. I will not seek the origin of the law: Is it a modification of the law of 1842? No; it ought to be called the project of law organizing lay instruction. But is it the national sentence which is being executed? Some newspapers spoke, in 1878, of revision, but I affirm that the country has never suspected the solution which you propose. I repeat, if the country had known your project it would not have nominated you. Since you are sure of the contrary, dissolve the chamber. But you would be great babies to expose yourselves to be checkmated.
I state that, notwithstanding the declaration of the government, the law excludes the priest from the school, and that many of my adversaries, whose convictions I respect, would not vote for the law if the exclusion of the priest was not logically decided. Since the project of law has been known to us, we have considered it our duty to consult the country. The country is not agitated because it is conscious of its [Page 109] force. We are Invited to make amendments to the law. It is not for us to do it, for we denounce your project in an absolute, radical manner, wishing to put all the responsibility upon you. The only amendment which we can present, is to maintain the law of 1842, with a few modifications. In England, true liberalism condemns your law. There is not one foreign legislation which I do not prefer to your system. For us the English system would be a welcome one.
It is said that the clergy have always conspired against the law of 1842. This is an error. The schools placed under their direction have always prospered. What will be the effect of the law? Firstly, religious associations, which direct the communal schools, will desert the schools because they will not submit to neutral instruction.
Do you wish that religious associations should accept the situation which will be made for them? I do not know, but I believe that I may say that they will not accept that mission. It is an error to belive that fathers will send their children to the school when they shall have seen the application of the law. Your law is a retrograde movement. I pronounce myself against it, and I hope that it will not last long.
In the double light of faith and reason, as Catholics and as citizens, we desire the confessional schools.
The revision of the law of 1842 is a question of confidence. Let us examine what will be the result if the project is voted. At the present time the books harmonize with confessional instruction. I have asked what books will be used, but have received no answer. Let us consider how great is the anxiety of the father when he chooses the instructor of his children. The higher classes choose for themselves; but the poor and ignorant, it is the state which ought to choose for them such an instructor, such a school. We are assured that the instruction will be neutral. You will hot teach Christian virtues, you dare not, for you are perfectly aware that if you put Christian virtues into the law it would be rejected by many of your friends.
Neutrality, liberty of conscience, what will be their effect? You take young people in the moment of passion, you preach to them the God of Deists, and you pretend to believe that bad passions will not corrupt these young persons. We ask you to make a reasonable law, but these conditions are dangerous. You are about to destroy primary instruction; it will not revive. But I will say no more on this subject, as I hear that the project of law will be sent back from the Senate. Your object is to create rival schools and to make the populations pay twice over. The Catholic opinion will do every possible thing to make the faith of the country respected. Your schools will be deserted.
We foresee that you yourselves will regret this law. When you will have applied it, when you shall have caused disunion in the country, classed the poor children of five years of age into Catholics and liberals, do you think that you will have sown peace? Then we shall be avenged. You date only from the liberal congress of 1846; we date from the national congress of 1830, to which we will always appeal.
Mr. Delhougne, member for Ghent, energetically maintained that the country had perfectly foreseen the consequences of the elections of the 11th of June, and these elections were a vigorous protestation against the practices of the clergy, who falsified our institutions by intimidation, fraud, and all sorts of evil. The country wished the clergy to recede, and the mission of the liberal party is to render to the country its independence by voting the law on primary instruction, and by suppressing the electoral frauds, by means of which the opposition has attempted to obtain a new majority. We have heard several times “The state out of the school,” but the honorable member replies, “The clergy out of business affairs.” He desires that religion be respected and liberty of conscience maintained, but on political ground the state ought to be master. In concluding he hopes the country will be thankful to the liberal party for voting a wise and tolerant law, which respects all liberties.