Background/Context: Conservative jurists and scholars have reached the conclusion that the traditional separation of public funding from religious organizations in K-12 education was “born of bigotry,” and inherently anti-Catholic. This claim rests on the misuse of revisionist historical interpretations that emphasize ethno-cultural conflict to the exclusion of widespread political understandings about republican government and the compatibility of the (then) anti-republican Vatican.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study questions the claim that public education is inherently anti-Catholic by focusing on the meaning of anti-Catholicism in two key historical periods in the development of public education.
Research Design: The study draws on historical documents from New York State as a case study, but also draws on other sources, primary and secondary, from the ante- and post-bellum periods of the nineteenth century.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The article argues that while the development of the public school was un-catholic, in the sense that it did not give Catholic Church authorities what they wanted, its development was not the result of bigotry, but rather of concern about the proper governance of mass education in a republic. It concludes that scholars and judges should engage in more sophisticated analysis of the past, rather than resorting to the casual use of terms like “bigotry” and “anti-Catholicism.”