”I should vote against or veto that bill, because I believe in absolutely non-sectarian public schools.”
IMPASSIONED LETTER BY ROOSEVELT STRONGLY SUPPORTING NON-SECTARIAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
Theodore Roosevelt writes to Michael Schaap, a progressive member of the New York legislature with whom the former president shared multiple correspondences, opposing “making compulsory the reading of the Bible in Public Schools.” While a devout Christian himself who often encouraged others to attend church, Roosevelt forcefully articulates his support in the letter for “absolutely non-sectarian public schools.” While one may cite the “moral or ethical parts of the Bible, so long as this causes no offense to anyone,” he argues, “it is not our business to have the Protestant Bible or the Catholic Vulgate or the Talmud read in those schools.”
Schaap was a prominent Progressive party member of the state legislature, who at the time of this letter was dealing with proposed legislation making Bible reading compulsory in New York public schools. Ultimately, the bill went down to defeat in the 1915 session; it was introduced again in the following year but also defeated.
In the latter half of the letter, Roosevelt implores Schaap to “treat this letter as private” (later conceding, however, in a handwritten addition that Schaap could share the correspondence with “Hamilton Fish, our one Progressive legislator if [he wishes]”), for he has “so many fights on my hands that there is no use my going into another.”
Dated February 22, 1915 and typed on Roosevelt’s “Thirty East Forty Second Street, New York City” stationery, the letter reads in full:
My dear Schaap:
Some time or other come in to see me. I see you appeared against the bill making compulsory the reading of the Bible in the Public Schools. If I were in the Legislature or Governor, I should vote against or veto that bill, because I believe in absolutely non-sectarian public schools. It is not our business to have the Protestant Bible of the Catholic Vulgate or the Talmud read in those schools. There is no objection whatever, where the local sentiment favors it, for the teacher to read a few verses of the [e]thical or moral parts of the Bible, so long as this causes no offense to anyone. But it is entirely wrong for the law to make this reading compulsory; and the Protestant fanatics who attempt to force this through are playing into the hands of the Catholic fanatics who want to break down the Public Schools system and introduce a system of sectarian schools. I shall ask you to treat this letter as private, because I have so many fights on my hands that there is no use my going into another; and just at present our people do not wish me to embark on a general course of lectures to them as to what they should do in the public schools. [handwritten] You can show this letter, however, to Hamilton Fish, our one Progressive legislator, if you wish.
[typed] Faithfully yours,
Typed letter signed (“Theodore Roosevelt”), to Michael Schaap, New York, 22 February 1915. With two-line autograph addition. Quarto (7.75x9.5 in), one page on Roosevelt’s NY stationery. Center crease reinforced on verso, hints of toning to edges. Housed in custom presentation folder.
A FORCEFUL, REVEALING LETTER DOCUMENTING ROOSEVELT’S POSITION ON THE NATURE OF PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION.
Price: $9,500 .