No Church Need Apply

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No Church Need Apply

Editorial cartoon

By: Thomas Nast

Date: May 8, 1875

Source: Nast, Thomas. "No Church Need Apply." Harper's Weekly (May 8, 1875). Provided courtesy of HarpWeek.

About the Illustrator: Thomas Nast (1840–1902) was the most famous American political cartoonist of the nineteenth century. The bulk of Nast's work appeared in Harper's Weekly between 1859 and 1896—his best-known inventions include the goateed Uncle Sam, the Republican Elephant, the Democratic donkey, and the jolly appearance of the modern American Santa Claus.


This cartoon by Nast was published in 1875 in the journal Harper's Weekly. Nast published cartoons through the time of the American Civil War and the period immediately following it. Nast had become extremely popular by the end of the 1860s and was the only contributor of whom Harper's boasted repeatedly in its editorial columns.

This cartoon, which originally occupied an entire page of the magazine, shows a caricature of Pope Pius IX (1792–1878) carrying a hatbox full of "Hats Caps and Gowns From Rome" and bundles of documents bearing legends like "The Ecclesiastical Power is Superior to the Civil" and "I Am Infallible, Therefore Must Rule." The figure's mitre combines "School," "State," and "Church" in a single structure—an implicit threat to American liberties. A figure dubbed Little Jonathan, standing at the door of a "Common Public School," says that "Miss Columbia'—Columbia being a female figure symbolizing the United States, almost entirely replaced today by the Uncle Sam image that was first popularized by Nast himself—'will not try your teaching, as it has proved to be so injurious in Dame Europa's school, that our adopted children who left her don't care to learn under that system again." "Oh, you Godless, infidel vipers," replies the Pope, "I'll be revenged on you, for I keep the keys of Heaven!"

The gist of the cartoon is that the American public school system is under threat by a sectarian attack from Roman Catholics, who supposedly owe, according to one of the documents in the cartoon, "First Allegiance to the Pope of Rome."

Anti-Catholic sentiment ran high in late nineteenth-century America in the majority Protestant population. Because of immigration from Catholic-majority European countries such as Ireland, the number of Catholics in the U.S. had increased greatly by the 1870s, when this cartoon was published. In 1789, less than one percent of Americans were Catholics; by 1891, approximately sixteen percent of Americans were Catholics. In some urban areas they were a majority. Catholics established Catholic schools in these areas and sought public funding for them, efforts met by nativist, Protestant backlash as typified by this Nast cartoon.



See primary source image.


The U.S. Constitution's First Amendment (1791) states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." However, until the early twentieth century, when the Supreme Court first ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) extends the First Amendment to individual states, it was commonplace for public schools—funded by states, not by the federal government—to offer religious instruction in the classroom. Bible reading, hymn singing, and instruction in generic Protestant doctrine were the rule rather than the exception in the 1870s. The objection of Nast and others to "sectarian" religious observances in public schools therefore referred only to Roman Catholic observances, not to the presence of Christianity as such in the classroom; Protestant religious observances were considered normal, not "sectarian."

The uproar over the alleged Catholic threat to American liberty was intense, nationwide, and had legal repercussions that are felt to this day. In late 1875, some months after this cartoon was published, a Republican congressman named James G. Blaine (1830–1893) proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, generally known as the Blaine Amendment, stipulating that "no money raised by taxation in any state for the support of public schools … shall ever be under the control of any religious sect …" In 1876, the Blaine Amendment was passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives (180-7) but fell just four votes short of ratification in the Senate. Supporters of the Amendment then took their fight to the states, and succeeded in attaching "Blaine Amendments" to the constitutions of thirty-seven U.S. states, where they still remain.

For about a century, in a majority of U.S. states, the Blaine Amendments settled the question of whether public money could be used to fund religious school. In the late twentieth century, however, the concept of school voucher programs became prominent. School vouchers are certificates with a fixed cash value that parents or guardians of children are issued by the states and which they can use toward paying tuition at any school of their choice—including a religious school. Blaine Amendments stand directly in the way of using public funds in this way. A number of legal challenges to voucher programs and to Blaine Amendments have been mounted in recent years. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Colorado vouchers program in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. However, in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court overturned Florida's vouchers program.

Today, numerous court cases have established that any form of religious observance in the public-school classroom, including prayer, moments of silence, Bible reading, posting of religious texts, or the introduction of anti-evolutionary, pro-Creationism, or pro-Intelligent Design materials, is forbidden by the establishment clause of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"). However, the question of whether public money can be used to fund religious schools, as through voucher systems or busing programs, remains legally unstable, with some court decisions upholding vouchers and others denying them. Laws dating directly to the period of this Thomas Nast cartoon are being vigorously challenged and defended in U.S. courts today. The larger issue of religion's role in public and political life also remains contentious.



Perry, Michael J. Under God?: Religious Faith and Liberal Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.


Justice, Benjamin. "Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s." History of Education Quarterly 45, 2 (Summer 2005): 171-206.

McAfee, Ward M. "The Historical Context of the Failed Federal Blaine Amendment of 1876." First Amendment Law Review 2 (2003): 1-22.

Web sites "Supreme Court Affirms School Voucher Program." June 27, 2002. 〈〉 (accessed May 4, 2006).

National Public Radio. "Court Throws Out Florida School Voucher Program." January 16, 2006. 〈〉 (accessed May 4, 2006).

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. "School Voucher Supporters Go After "Blaine Amendments." February 5, 2003. 〈〉 (accessed May 4, 2006).