By Libertatem Fidelium

Over four centuries, the same idea can change a lot. Education has always been an important aspect of American ideals, but the standard of what constitutes a good education has changed much over the years—and not necessarily for the better. The inclusion of religion and morality has been valued in American education since before the founding era, but in recent years, those religious goals have been dropped. This is not all—a look at history shows that as references to God and the Bible were taken out of schoolbooks, voluntary prayer was forbidden, and more religious actions were censored out of schools, education in America also began to be less successful academically than it was before.

American education from the very beginning was built on a foundation of religion and belief in God. Massachusetts’s first public education law, “The Old Deluder Satan Act”, was passed in 1647. This law required public schools to be started in every community because: “[It is] one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in an unknown tongue . . .” The early Americans had come from Europe seeking religious freedom. They had seen the Inquisition, and they still remembered the tragedies that took place in Europe when powerful religious leaders convinced the masses that the Bible sanctified the act of killing and persecuting certain groups of people. Not wanting things like this to happen in the new land of America, they started schools so children could read the Bible and discover for themselves what others told them.

Yale, Harvard, and Princeton were all respectable schools that are still looked up to today. What many people don’t know, however, is that all of these universities were originally founded as religious schools to teach the Bible and also to train Christian ministers. Harvard admonished all students to “ . . . consider well, the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus, which is eternal life (JOHN 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge learning.” Princeton had the same goals as Harvard. The university president of Princeton was John Witherspoon, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Witherspoon required his students to attend worship services in the morning and the evening and to attend public worship on the Sabbath. Many of America’s founders studied at and graduated from these three schools, including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Noah Webster, James Madison, and Benjamin Rush.

Why did the early Americans hold religion in education to such importance? The founding fathers believed in the connection between morality and liberty. Benjamin Rush wrote: “I beg leave to remark, that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.” John Witherspoon, the earlier-mentioned president of Princeton, didn’t hesitate to say this in one of his sermons: “[H]e is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country.” Though the American Republic consists of liberty, it can only uphold liberty when its people seek liberty through morality. The founders of the Republic knew that morality led to liberty, and what better way to achieve morality than through the Christian religion? 

Nowadays, however, the principle of teaching children morality and religion in schools has slowly been filtered out. The sales of William McGuffey’s Readers were, at one point, in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary. These school books were used widely in the 19th and 20th centuries, and they are still used in some school systems and for home-schooling purposes. These vastly popular books were used to teach children how to read, build their vocabulary, and develop the talent of public speaking. McGuffey taught this through stories, poems, essays and speeches, all of which upheld a moral and religious lesson. He wanted children to learn good values of kindness, piety, and righteousness, and his readers clearly show the lessons he believed all children should learn. Unfortunately, the later versions of his readers were completely secularized (without McGuffey’s contribution or approval) and eventually they were even replaced by other textbooks that had less moral and spiritual content.

Harvard’s motto in 1692 was: “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae”, which means: “Truth for Christ and the Church.” This phrase was embedded on a shield, with the word “Veritas” spread over three books, two of which are face up while the bottom book is face down. The faced up and faced down books symbolize that reason is limited and that humans need God’s revelation. As a striking contrast, since the secularization of the school, the current shield now contains only the word “Veritas” (Truth) with three faced up books. The present motto seems to imply that truth can be found through reason only, and without God, who is the Source of all truth. Again, God has been removed from the very thing He created.


 “Old Deluder Satan Law of 1647.” The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1929,

 Harvard GSAS Christian Community. “Shield and “Veritas” History.” Harvard GSAS Christian Community,

 Rush, Benjamin. Securing the Republic. 1798,

 Witherspoon, John. Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men. Liberty Fund,

U.S. Department of the Interior. “William Holmes McGuffey and His Readers.” Experience Your America, January 1993,

Harvard GSAS Christian Community. “Shield and “Veritas” History.” Harvard GSAS Christian Community,