“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). One can imagine how this verse would have stood out to the early American settlers as they began to form an independent government. Having been educated at Cambridge University, many of the first settlers were intelligent men who knew the Bible. But they recognized that without proper training in God’s Word, the new colonies would quickly deteriorate into a slothful nation given to debauchery. These early settlers also had vivid memories of the civil abuse that could take place (the Inquisition, the Crusades, etc.) when the common man was not biblically literate to accurately discern right from wrong. They knew they had to educate men, or their new society would fail.
This need for biblical literacy spawned one of the very first laws providing for public education in the United States. Known as the “Old Deluder Satan Law,” this unusually named law served one very strong purpose: it demonstrated not only the need for people to be educated, but also proposed how it was to be accomplished. The law noted:
It being one chief point of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of Scriptures, as in former times, by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times, by persuading them from the use of tongues that so at last the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded by false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers, that learning might not be buried in the graves of our fathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavours…
The law continued: “It is therefore ordered… [that] after the Lord hath increased [the settlement] to the number of fifty households, [they] shall then forthwith appoint one within their town, to teach all such children as shall resort to him, to write and read…. And it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school…” So with the “Old Deluder Satan Law” in place, public education in the United States was born. This would be far from the last indication that public education was centered on the Bible and the ability of the public to read it.
In 1690, Connecticut passed this country’s first “no child left behind” act- the literacy law of 1690. In this law the early settlers stressed, “This [legislature] observing that . . . there are many persons unable to read the English tongue and thereby incapable to read the holy Word of God or the good laws of this colony . . . it is ordered that all parents and masters shall cause their respective children and servants, as they are capable, to be taught to read distinctly the English tongue.” In 1918, Arthur Raymond Mead commented on the enforcement of this law in a book titled The Development of Free Schools in the United States. He observed, “To enforce this order, the grand jury was required to visit families suspected of evading the law, such visits were to be made once a year, and evasions to be reported by the jury to the ‘next county court where the said masters or servants shall be fined 20 shillings for each child servant.’”
Proficiency in the Scriptures and morality were the driving forces for public education. In fact, fifty-four years earlier Harvard University had recorded in their rules and precepts:
“Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him Prov. 2,3. Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein.”
Consider that similar rules and precepts were laid down by well-known universities such as Yale, Princeton, William & Mary, Rutgers, etc. Clearly, the basis for education was to teach and further propagate the fundamentals of the Christian religion. Even the Supreme Court held a strong religious view toward education, ruling all the way until 1844 that:
Christianity…is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against to the annoyance of believers or the injury of the public…. It is unnecessary for us, however, to consider… the establishment of a school or college for the propagation of Judaism or Deism or any other form of infidelity. Such a case is not to be presumed to exist in a Christian country. (Vidal v. Girard’s Executor’s, 1844)
Yet, consider where the educational system rests today. A system created to teach and promote Christian values is now discriminating against those very values. The God public education was designed to teach children about has been effectively banned from the classroom. One wonders how much longer our current generation will fall under the spell of the Old Deluder, Satan.