18) ATHEISTS/AGNOSTICS: Should individuals without faith be trusted with the education of children?

Prophetic Statements

Brigham Young

Good teachers who are Latter-day Saints in principle and at heart [should] be employed to educate our children. [1]

I have spoken with much plainness concerning several traditions and practices, in order that the Saints abroad may correctly understand that we are not all, as yet, fully sanctified by the truth, and that both they and the world may know that the Gospel net still gathereth fish of every kind, that the flock has some goats intermingled with sheep of various grades, and that the day of separation has not yet arrived. May God bless you. Amen. 1

John Taylor

Whatever you do, be choice in your selection of teachers. We do not want infidels to mold the minds of our children. They are a precious charge bestowed upon us by the Lord, and we cannot be too careful in rearing and training them. I would rather have my children taught the simple rudiments of a common education by men of God, and have them under their influence, than have them taught in the most abstruse [or complex] sciences by men who have not the fear of God in their hearts. [2]

And then we want to study also the principles of education, and to get the very best teachers we can to teach our children; see that they are men and women who fear God and keep his commandments. We do not want men or women to teach the children of the Latter-day Saints who are not Latter-day Saints themselves. Hear it, you Elders of Israel and you school trustees! We want none of these things. Let others who fear not God take their course; but it is for us to train our children up in the fear of God. God will hold us responsible for this trust. Hear it, you Elders of Israel and you fathers and you mothers!2

Shall we employ teachers that will turn the infant minds of our children away from the principles of the gospel, and perhaps lead them to darkness and death? [4]

And above all other things, teach our children the fear of God. Let our teachers be men of God, imbued with the Spirit of God, that they may . . . teach [their students] how to approach God, that they may call upon Him and He will hear them, and by their means, we will build up and establish Zion. [5]

. . . we do not want to be governed by their religious views, nor put our children under their teachings. We want to look after the education of our children and see that they are placed under proper teachers and receive proper training, and not be placed in the hands of the enemies of the Church and kingdom of God. [6]

. . . let our children be taught by our friends and not our enemies. Latter-day Saints, will you send your children to be taught of people who would teach them emnity to their fathers and mothers, and who would sow in their young hearts the seed of enmity to religious liberty . . . We do not want our children to be instructed by persons whose mission among us is to endeavor to instill into their young hearts enmity to the gospel of the Son of god as revealed by him through His ervant Joseph Smith. We have men quite as capable to teach as they are, and stand on a platform as elevated as theirs, and a great deal more so. [7]

Your school teachers should be the best you can get. They should be men of faith in God; men who believe in and who have a knowledge of the gospel; men capable of imparting true and correct ideas with regard to God and his works, and the laws that govern them, as well as being able to impart a regular scholastic education. [8]

Wilford Woodruff

We believe in celestial glory, and we believe in terrestrial and telestial glory, or in other words, we believe that there will be a separation finally of the good and the bad. Now, we are engaged in gathering together, or separating ourselves from the world and building our temples and administering in them for the living and the dead, and we spend millions of dollars in the accomplishment of this object, that we may become united and linked together by eternal covenants that shall exist in all time and throughout eternity. And then, when we have done all this, we go and deliberately turn our children over to whom? To men who do not believe in the gospel, to men according to your faith, are never going to the Celestial Kingdom of God. They will get as big a glory as they are prepared for, but they are not going there. And you will turn your children over to them. And you call yourselves Latter-day Saints, do you? I will suppose a case. You expect to be saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God. Well, supposing your expectations are realized, which I sometimes doubt, and you look down, down somewhere in a terrestrial or telestial kingdom, as the case may be, and you see there your children, the offspring that God had given you to train up in his fear, to honor him and keep his commandments, and perceive that between you and them there is a great gulf, as represented by the Savior in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. And supposing they could converse with you – which however they could not – but if such were the case, what would their feelings be toward you? It would be Father, Mother, you are to blame for this. I would have been with you if you had not tampered with the principles of life and salvation in permitting me to be decoyed away by false teachers who taught incorrect principles. And this is the result of it. [9]

Nor would we forget, O Lord, the normal training classes among thy people, whether these classes be connected with the Church schools, the Improvement Associations, or the Sunday Schools. Grant that these classes may be the means of spreading true education throughout all the borders of the Saints by the creation of a body of teachers who will not ony be possessed of rare intelligence, but be filled also with the spirit of the gospel, and be powerful in the testimony of thy truth and in implanting a love for thee and for thy works in the hearts of all whom they instruct. [10]

Heber J. Grant

When we can get rid of every teacher who has not the love of God and the love of Jesus Christ and the love of this work and of implanting in the hearts of the children the testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ . . . then this school system will grow . . . . [11]

David O. McKay

The great influencing factor in the classroom is the teacher: his personality: what he thinks, not just what he says, but what he is, really and truly in his heart–this is what influences his students. [12]

Still fresh in our memory is the fact that a paranoiac, with a native ability to influence the masses, demonstrated through concentrated effort by specially trained instructors and leaders, how the minds of youth could be directed within 2 decades to accept even a perverted ideal. How near he came to the realization of his aim within a few short years is now a matter of history. If youth can be so influenced to degenerate to the jungle, it can also be trained by united purpose to ascend the path of spiritual attainment. [13]

Joseph Fielding Smith

It was the will of the Lord, made known shortly after the organization of the Church, that steps should be taken to have the children of the members taught in schools conducted under the influence of those who had faith in the Gospel. [14]

Spencer W. Kimball

He had gone to school when the war was over, under the G.I. Bill of Rights. Here he had been further confused. There was no personal God, he was told, but God was a figment of the imagination, a creation of intellectual man. And God, being a creation of man could not help him, but man was alone to work out is own destiny. He was led to believe that religion was for only the simple and gullible. He found that in the schools:

Atheism may be taught our children, but not the word of God, not the Bible, not the Prophets, not the Apostles. Karl Marx is legal in the schools, but not Isaiah, or St. Mark. They suffer from Bible affiliation. [15] . . .

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. [16]

Not all scribes and Pharisees lived anciently. There are today wreckers as well as builders among men and in nature. In the Church library there are more than 1,700 books and pamphlets of a defamatory character. The books are dead. They are seldom consulted. They can be purchased from secondhand bookstores at low cost. The authors likewise are dead. They flickered for a moment and went out, dying of their own corruption, after having polluted the minds of a few. They went into the discard while the cause they fought went steadily on. Simon Peter warned us:

. . . there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring unto themselves swift destruction. [17]

The Lord said: Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: the fulness of the scriptures; ye enter not in yourselves, into the kingdom and those who were entering in ye hindered. [18]

Apparently there were in the early church those who taught for doctrines the sophistries of men. There are those today who seem to take pride in disagreeing with the orthodox teachings of the Church and who present their own opinions which are at variance with the revealed truth. Some may be partially innocent in the matter; others are feeding their own egotism; and some seem to be deliberate. Men may think as they please, but they have no right to impose upon others their unorthodox views. Such persons should realize that their own souls are in jeopardy. The Lord said to us through the Prophet Joseph:

teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel. And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit. . . And if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach [19]

The great objective of all our work is to build character and increase faith in the lives of those whom we serve. If one cannot accept and teach the program of the Church in an orthodox way without reservations, he should not teach. It would be the part of honor to resign his position. Not only would he be dishonest and deceitful, but he is also actually under condemnation, for the Savior said that it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he be cast into the sea than that he should lead astray doctrinally or betray the cause or give offense, destroying the faith of one of “these little ones” who believe in him. And remember that this means not only the small children, it includes even adults who believe and trust in God.

Man is like the volcano which in a few weeks can devastate the countryside, wreck cities, and smother human lives. And the human destructionist can likewise inject into other human lives in a short time the doubt and skepticism which can mean total loss of faith. It may take centuries for the other forces of nature to pulverize the lava around a volcano so that it may eventually again give life to plants and animals, and just as surely the damage to faith of an individual done by an iconoclast, whether deliberate or not, may take years or ages of rebuilding, if it is ever fully restored.

The Savior also said: And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. [20] . . .

Far better to take from a man his flocks or herds, his lands or wealth, even his sight or limbs, than to be responsible for the loss of his faith. The Son of God put it this way:

Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt and maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast It from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. [21] [22]

Ezra Taft Benson

Study the scriptures and study the mortals who have been most consistently accurate about the most important
things. When your freedom and your eternal welfare are at stake, your information best be accurate. [23]

As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children, and if they become alerted and informed, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, John Dewey, John Keynes, and others.

Today there are much worse things that can happen to a child than not getting a full education. In fact, some of the worst things have happened to our children while attending colleges led by administrators who wink at subversion and amorality. Said Karl G. Maeser, “I would rather have my child exposed to smallpox, typhus fever, cholera, or other malignant and deadly diseases than to the degrading influence of a corrupt teacher. It is infinitely better to take chances with an ignorant but pure-minded teacher than with the greatest philosopher who is impure.” [24]

Under the guise of academic freedom-which some apparently feel is freedom to destroy freedom-some teachers reserve to themselves the privilege of teaching error, destroying faith in God, debunking morality, and depreciating our free economic system. [25]

If your children are required to put down on exams the falsehoods that have been taught, then perhaps they can follow President Joseph Fielding Smith’s counsel of prefacing their answer with the words “teacher says,” or they might say, “you taught” or “the textbook states.” [26]

Be mindful that there are many phenomena in God’s universe that cannot, to our present human understanding, be explained. There will always be those little minds who, out of vanity or intellectual display, will attempt to destroy faith in the very foundations of life. Be assured, however, that no man worthy of the name, who has been humbled and awed before the unexplainable wonders of this marvelous universe, will ever scoff at sacred things or try to rob you of your faith in the unseen. [27]

It has come to our attention that some of our teachers, particularly in our university programs, are purchasing writings from known apostates, or from other liberal sources, in an effort to become informed about certain points of view or to glean from their research. You must realize that when you purchase their writings or subscribe to their periodicals, you help sustain their cause. We would hope that their writings not be on your seminary or institute or personal bookshelves. We are entrusting you to represent the Lord and the First Presidency to your students, not the views of the detractors of the Church. [28]

There are a few teachers within the Church who, while courting apostasy, still want to remain members of the Church, for being members makes them more effective in misleading the Saints. But their day of judgment is coming, and when it does come, for some of them it would have been better, as the Savior said, that a millstone had been put around their necks and they had been drowned in the depths of the sea than to have led away any of the youth of the Church [29]. [30]

I hope there will never be any time when teachers in our own institutions will ever propose any theory or program, or present as fact anything that will tend to destroy the faith of our young people. [31]

It is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists or agnostics may be. It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and widespread instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.

After the tragic prayer decision was made by the United States Supreme Court, President David O. McKay stated, “The Supreme Court of the United States severs the connecting cord between the public schools of the United States and the source of divine intelligence, the Creator Himself” [32]. Does that make any difference to you? Can’t you see why the demand of conscientious parents is increasing the number of private Christian and Americanist-oriented schools? [33]

Opposing Statements

Daniel Sylvester Tuttle

In Utah, especially, schools were the backbone of our missionary work. Adults were fanatics, and so beyond the reach of our influence; . . . but the plastic minds and wills of the young we could hope to win to better views and mould in nobler ways. [34]


Supporting Statements

Boyd K. Packer

We are very particular to forbid anyone from preaching Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Mormonism, or Judaism, in a public school classroom, but for some reason we are very patient with those who teach the negative expression of religion.

In the separation of church and state we ought to demand more protection from the agnostic, from the atheist, from the communist, from the skeptic, from the humanist and the pragmatist, than we have yet been given… I submit that the atheist has no more right to teach the fundamentals of his sect in the public school than does the theist. Any system in the schools or in society that protects the destruction of faith and forbids, in turn, the defense of it must ultimately destroy the moral fiber of the people. [35]

I am glad to know that they are men who know that in any field of science there has not been discovered, and they know that there will never be discovered, anything that will replace religion as the savior of the human family. It is regrettable that we have in our institutions of learning, my brothers and sisters, some who would try to destroy the simple faith of our children which they have acquired at the knees of their parents and in the auxiliary organizations of the Church. You know and I know that there is no power under heaven in this day which will bring peace to the human heart and peace to the nations of the earth outside and beyond this simple faith in God our Father and in the efficacy of the gospel of Jesus Christ to regenerate the children of God here upon the earth.

Matthew Cowley

You men who are at the head of these great institutions, some of which do not permit the teaching of religion although they do permit the teaching of everything and anything that will destroy faith in God, you have a great responsibility. It is your responsibility to touch the lives of your many students outside of the classroom as my life has been touched by men such as these I have mentioned. [36]

Thomas Jefferson

We are now trusting to those who are against us in position and principle, to fashion to their own form the minds and affections of our youth … This canker is eating on the vitals of our existence, and if not arrested at once, will be beyond remedy [37]

  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 225, April, May 1863
  2. John Taylor, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, p.90
  3. John Taylor, The Mind and Will of the Lord, Address 4:22
  4. John Taylor
  5. John Taylor, Journal of Discourse, vol. 20, p. 59, Sept. 22, 1878
  6. John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 20:107, December 8, 1878
  7. John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 26:97, February 12, 1882
  8. John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 24:168, May 19, 1883
  9. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 20:107.
  10. Wilford Woodruff, Salt Lake Temple Dedication prayer, as quoted in G. Homer Durham, ed., Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 345
  11. Heber J. Grant
  12. David O. McKay. Pathways to Happiness, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958], p. 61
  13. David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, p. 430.
  14. Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 2: 98 – 99
  15. George E. Sokolsky, Atheism by Law.
  16. Matthew 23 13
  17. 2 Peter 2 1
  18. Luke 11:52 Revised
  19. D&C 42 12-14
  20. Matthew 10:28
  21. Matthew 18:8-9
  22. Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, April 1948, p.108-109
  23. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 305; Conference Report, April 1967, Improvement Era 70 [June 1967]: 59
  24. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 307; God, Family, Country, p. 225
  25. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 303; Conference Report, October 1964, Improvement Era 67 [December 1964]: 1068
  26. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 303; God, Family, Country, p. 227
  27. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 318; “Your Charge: To Increase in Wisdom and Favor with God and Man,” New Era 9 [September 1979]: 42
  28. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 316; “The Gospel Teacher and His Message,” Religious Educators, Salt Lake City, Utah, 17 September 1976
  29. Matthew 18:6 ; D&C 121:22
  30. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 309; An Enemy Hath Done This, p. 286
  31. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 308; “The Greatest Leadership,” BYU Student Leadership Conference, Sun Valley, Idaho, September 1959
  32. Relief Society Magazine, December 1962, p. 878
  33. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 307-308; God, Family, Country, pp. 225-26
  34. Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop, New York: Thomas Whitaker, 1906. p. 376
  35. Boyd K. Packer, What Every Freshman Should Know, Ensign, September 1973
  36. Matthew Cowley, CR, October 1947, p. 81
  37. Thomas Jefferson to James Breckinridge,hj 1821. ME 15:315
  1. Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 327
  2. Journal of Discourses 20:179, General Conference April 1879
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