“Won’t Stand It:” Religion in Public Schools in Kansas and the American West at the Turn of the 20th Century
By: Meghann Brown
In December of 1901, the ten-year-old son of Topeka, Kansas resident J.B. Billard was suspended from his public school for refusing to participate in the religious exercises that marked the beginning of the school day. The local school board in Topeka had recently decided to implement a policy of mandatory religious exercises at the start of every school day, and young Philip, on the instruction of his father, did not take part. The elder Billard, an open opponent of any religious activities within public schools, was predictably quite upset with this. It was wrong, he argued, for the school to require any student to participate in religious activities and thus wrong for the school to punish his son for abstaining. Billard “[did] not want him to have anything to do with the Bible,” and was determined to fight to see that his son did not have to. He took this issue to the local school board, who after some discussion agreed to allow Philip to return to school without taking part in any of the religious exercises.
All parties involved thought the matter settled, but only a short while later on January 9, 1902, Philip was suspended yet again. Billard argued that his son was being expelled for not participating in the religious exercises, but the school maintained that he was merely suspended for disrupting the activities. School officials argued that Philip was violating school rules by continuing to study and make noise while the other students opened the day and that, not his refusal to participate, was the problem. Once again the school board met to discuss the matter of Philip Billard’s suspension, but this time declined to rescind their decision. His father decided to take the matter to the courts – a decision that would lead him as high as the Kansas State Supreme Court by 1904. In the eyes of Billard and his attorneys, teaching the Bible and compelling students to participate in religious activities at a public school were “unconstitutional” actions that flew in the face of American values of separation of church and state.
J.B. Billard was not alone in this regard. By the time the Kansas State Supreme Court heard his case, the Nebraska Supreme Court had heard a similar case in 1902.Nebraskan Daniel Freeman, famous for being the first homesteader in the state, raised a similar complaint over the leading of prayers, the teaching of the Bible, and the singing of hymns by teachers in public schools. Meanwhile, religious skepticism and the freethought movement were growing throughout the country, especially within western states. The cultural landscape was changing, and Mr. Billard’s case, the incident that led to it, and the resulting verdict were all reflections of these broader changes.
This paper will explore the debate over religious activities in public schools in the American West at the turn of the 20th century. The question of religion’s role in public life (Christianity, and more specifically Protestant Christianity) and the place it should have in public schools came to prominence in numerous states at this time. Citizens like J.B. Billard, a father and respectable businessman in Kansas, as well as Daniel Freeman, a prominent early Nebraskan, objected to their children being taught the Bible in school or being required to participate in religious activities there. However, many educators, legislators, and private citizens alike insisted upon the benefits of teaching the Bible in public schools. They argued that it was not only beneficial but a necessary part of school curriculum. Perhaps surprisingly, the teaching of the Bible in public schools was not a long-standing tradition in the United States at this time and was not widespread.. Nevertheless, the period around the turn of the 20th century saw many such debates, reaching as far as state supreme courts.
Questions regarding the role that religion should play in American public life have been hot topics for centuries. Scholars have typically approached the subject of separation of church and state in public schools of the late 19th and early 20th century through the lens of a Protestant vs. Catholic conflict. This conflict, characterized by the fear of Catholic overreach pushed Protestants to oppose religion in public schools as a means to limit Catholic involvement or the Catholic fight against the inclusion of the Protestant Bible in public schools as sectarian. Religious scholar R. Laurence Moore also describes the subject through the lens of increasing secularization in public schools over the 19th century and the problems that posed for religious education within them. While this provides some context with which we can begin to understand the issue as it relates to Mr. Billard’s case, it does not explain the increased debate over the subject in the American West at the turn of the 20th century, and neither does it address the connections this debate has with other social movements of the time.
The debate over the question of the Bible’s place in public schools at the turn of the 20th century reflected a process of much broader social changes that began following the Civil War. By looking through the lens of the changing cultural and social landscape within the United States (and the west specifically) and how this relates to other significant social movements, I will explain where the case that J.B. Billard brought against the Topeka Board of Education fits into the larger American historical picture of the first years of the 20th century. The role of Christianity (primarily Protestantism) in American life had begun to shift, and cases like J.B. Billard’s reflected the growing tensions between the religious and secular segments of American society. The attempt to establish the Bible as a necessary part of U.S. public education was one part of Protestant society’s multi-pronged attempt to reassert cultural dominance in the face of a changing country. The specific economic and social circumstances in the west, such as a tendency towards being less religious and the growing numbers of non-Protestant, non-Christian immigrants, provided an environment that highlighted these tensions particularly well.
J.B. Billard’s case against the Topeka Board of Education brought the debate on the Bible’s role in public schools into the spotlight in 1902, but opposition to the prominent role of Christianity in American society was not unfamiliar to Kansas residents at this point, especially as the freethought movement spread. The state was home to multiple important figures of the movement and their ideas were no secret. Opponents of Billard’s position accused him of being part of an “organized effort to stop the use of the Bible in the schools of the city.” Given the freethought movement’s power in Kansas, this assertion may not have been incorrect. Religion and the teaching of the Bible in schools was a divisive subject not only in Kansas, but in many states across the west. For those in favor, using the Bible as part of public school curriculum was imperative to the moral education of the pupils.
Though some were in favor of the idea of Christian education for all students, many argued that studying the Bible was by no means inherently sectarian in nature – an argument that opponents found unconvincing. The secular nature of Protestant morals and cultural expectations were seen as a given by those who ascribed to them. This stood in stark contrast to the positions of those who followed other traditions, or who eschewed religious tradition entirely. Ultimately, this difference of opinions reflected the changing nature of American culture and motivated a push to reassert the dominance of Protestant cultural values within American society – not as a discreet segment of the culture, but as the default arbiter of American values in contrast with others, such as Catholics, Jews, and atheist free-thinkers. This manifested in a number of ways, including the attempts to place the Bible (but only a Protestant version of it) in a position of prominence within public schools. This occurred alongside other such projects as the continuous growth of the Temperance movement, which promoted the complete abstinence of alcohol as a necessity for a morally healthy society. Billard’s case is a small example of one specific aspect of this power struggle, but through it we can begin to better understand the factors at play in the larger cultural shifts that both led to the incident and were reflected in its results.
Julius B. Billard’s views regarding his son’s right to a secular education are unsurprising given his family and personal history. He came to the United States as a young child, immigrating from France with his family in 1853. According to the Kansas State Historical Society, both he and his later wife, Hermance Laurent, came to the United States as political refugees. The Billards and the Laurents both fled France, eventually settling in Kansas around the same time. At that time, emperor Napoleon III’s regime had punished and imprisoned some 26,000 French republicans who stood in opposition to his empire and in support of the previous French Republic. Hermance’s father was imprisoned in France for spreading republican literature, forcing him to pick up his family and leave for the United States after making his escape. French historian and sociologist Jean Baubérot describes the French republican idea that “the rights of man, as proclaimed by the revolution, appeared as nonreligious values,” and that “in the French republican perspective, the school does not merely impart knowledge, it is the place of apprenticeship and liberty of thought.” Given this information, it is not hard to see the French republican values in J.B.’s objections to mandatory religious exercises in public school. For young Philip’s school, then, to mandate this religious activity would have seemed wholly objectionable to the son of a Frenchman exiled from his home for his republican convictions.
Despite facing initial hardship after arriving in the United States, the Billards eventually found success and rose to become a well-respected family in Topeka. J.B. himself became a successful businessman and was a member of numerous fraternal organizations within his community. The Billards saw the value of education, and even J.B.’s wife Hermance was college-educated. It seems natural, then, that the Billards would want a good education for their children. This commitment to Philip’s education explains J.B.’s determination in seeing the situation through. The core of the issue lay with the fact that the Topeka Board of Education made the decision in late 1901 to adopt a resolution requiring that each school day begin with “compulsory” reading of the Bible and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, a motion written and submitted by a Dr. J.D. McFarland, a representative of the Ministerial Union.
It was the “compulsory” part of this resolution to which Billard specifically objected. In an article in the Topeka State Journal regarding his son’s first suspension, Billard noted that there had been “some religious exercises” before the resolution was adopted and that his son was “submitting to it partially.” Now, however, the exercises were mandatory, and young Philip Billard was sent home from school for his refusal (at his father’s instruction) to participate. According to his father, in this instance Philip Billard was out of school for “a week” until an arrangement could be made with the superintendent that he could go to school after the exercises had completed. This was a temporary measure meant as a stopgap until the issue could be resolved before the school board at its next meeting. In response, “If the board will not restore him to school and give him full privileges,” Mr. Billard stated, “I will take the matter before the courts.” For Billard, this was not only an instance of his son being treated unfairly, but a violation of his rights. He continued, “It is contrary to our rights and the constitution for parents to pay taxes for religion to be taught in any form in the public schools,” he argued. He did not consider himself an outlier in holding this position, saying “I have not consulted others but I know that there are others who do not favor religious teachings in public schools.” As far as his views on religion were concerned, he was in good company.
Despite having not “consulted others” about his assertion, Mr. Billard was indeed correct, and not only for those in Topeka or Kansas. Only a year before, Nebraska resident Daniel Freeman appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court to stop the reading of the Bible, teacher-led prayers and the singing of hymns in public schools. Freeman first brought his case to the lower courts, who dismissed it. As a result he appealed to the supreme court. Prior to the lower court’s decision, a school board member consulted the Nebraska State Superintendent, a Mr. Jackson, for his decision on the matter. He ruled that it was permitted to read the Bible in schools in Nebraska. The article noted that Mr. Jackson was an officer of the Nebraska State Bible School Association. In June of 1901, The Freethought Ideal, a freethought newspaper out of Ottawa, Kansas, published a letter by reader J.C. Bell. Bell submitted a scathing indictment of the Bible and the teachings therein, and those who would seek to teach it in public schools. However, “the best reason for keeping the bible out of public schools,” he said, “is because so many people are opposed to it.” Bell’s comments reflect the sentiments of a growing segment of the population: members of the Freethought movement.
The Freethought movement included atheists and others who rejected religious authority in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the earliest organizations of freethinkers, the National Liberal League, organized based on the “belief in the radical separation of church and state.” Though they were united in their nonbelief, freethinkers held a variety of other political opinions and organizations often struggled due to the individualistic nature of the philosophy. However, freethought organizing in the late 19th century found unusual success in Kansas. Researcher Hal D. Sears suggests that this was due to a number of factors, including a fear of “theocratic” government (boosted by a number of supporters of such being from Kansas), as well as the number of “outstanding Kansas minds” involved with the freethought movement.
Kansas, as it happens, was home to numerous prominent freethinkers around the turn of the 20th century. One of the most significant was Etta Semple, editor of the Freethought Ideal and “a pioneer of free-thought in Kansas” according to historian Aaron K. Ketchell. Semple’s paper alone was quite influential, having had a circulation of nearly two thousand copies. She also founded the Kansas Freethought Association and drew a lot of attention for printing an offer in the Freethought Ideal of a $1000 reward for anyone who could provide her “Positive Proof of A God, the Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ (as a savior), the Soul, the Devil, Heaven or Hell, or the Truth of the Bible.” In addition to all of this, she spent some time as the president of the American Secular Union, and also provided “osteopathic” treatment to the ill regardless of ability to pay, as she believed “one did not have to be a Christian to show compassion.” Semple was a radical for her time, and even survived an assassination attempt against her in 1905. Despite this, her funeral was “the best attended to any of that date in the city of Ottawa.”
Semple’s paper, the Freethought Ideal, was one of several freethought publications at the time. The increase in consumption of printed media by the American public following the Civil War helped promote the growth of a significant freethought community across the US, as freethought papers could be printed and sent out to readers across great distances. This also meant that American freethinkers could be kept abreast of happenings in other parts of the country and advocate for one another, which explains why the Topeka Daily Herald received mail “purporting to come from the American secular union and Freethought federation of Chicago” in criticism of the Topeka Board of Education’s opinion on Billard’s complaints.
It was indeed more than just Mr. Billard who was opposed to the use of public schools to teach religious curriculum. School board president W.H. Wilson referred in the Topeka State Journal to “circulars [that] have been broadcast across the city in hopes of causing strife over the question,” and board member A. A. Rodgers claimed the circulars were sent to “nearly everyone in Topeka.” According to Wilson the circulars were purported to originate from Chicago (likely the same received by the Daily Herald), and the Topeka State Journal insisted that there had been no other complaints about the resolution in Topeka except from Mr. Billard. Yet it certainly seems inconsistent to argue there were no others in Topeka concerned with the matter if the distribution of circulars, whether from Chicago or elsewhere, could “[cause] strife over the question.” Careful not to implicate the board in any wrongdoing, Rodgers conceded that he “[did] not believe in compulsion.” Board member G.H. Matthews felt that “the Ministerial Union did a very unwise thing in presenting the resolution,” and should not have pressed the matter. Still, on the subject of the letters received from the American Secular Union and the Freethought Federation of Chicago, the Daily Herald (whose editor we can only assume was not a part of the freethought movement himself) found that “the entire writing is scurrilous and too silly to be taken seriously.”
Despite the support, scurrilous or otherwise, J.B. Billard ultimately did not go in front of the school board to argue his case about this incident. Before it came to that, an agreement was made that Philip could attend the school and not participate in the exercises. Instead, “he stay[ed] in his seat and continu[ed] with his studies.” The agreement came without a court case, without lawyers or challenges to the school board’s authority. Though the resolution stood, a solution was reached that would still allow Philip Billard to receive a public education without having to partake in the religious activities his father took exception to. For J.B. Billard, this was good enough. “The school board has granted all I asked and I am satisfied,” he said.
Unfortunately, that satisfaction was short-lived. On January 9, 1902, Philip was again suspended from school, as the continuance of his studies during the religious exercises at the start of the day was deemed disruptive and against the rules of the school. Rather than go to court right away, Billard made the decision to wait and take this matter up with the Board of Education once more. He (and his lawyers) argued that Philip had been expelled and the school board should reinstate his son. This time, the Board of Education refused him.. The Topeka Daily Herald reported on February 4, 1902, that the board had informed Mr. Billard “that if he didn’t like the way the members of that board were running the schools he knew what he could do about it.” The Board also argued that Philip had not been expelled, but only suspended, and if Billard wanted him reinstated he would simply have to follow the rules. Billard was not about to back down in this instance, arguing that the suspension was functionally an expulsion if the school board refused to reinstate his son. Just as he said he would, Billard ended up filing suit against the school board in the district court.
Though initially they had wanted the case to be only about Philip’s expulsion from school, Billard’s attorney N.B. Arnold told the Topeka State Journal that “as the matter now stands we will have to proceed against the board for having the Bible read and the Lord’s Prayer repeated in the schools.” Multiple papers characterized the case as being part of “organized effort to stop the use of the Bible in the schools of the city.” Because of the resolution passed by the Board of Education mandating such activities, Philip Billard was being denied his right to attend school. For J.B. Billard, this was unconscionable, but for those in favor of teaching the Bible in public schools, to deny children a proper moral education was just as bad.
As it is today, a child’s proper education was a matter of much concern for parents, and they wanted to be sure their children received an education that met their standards and values. Much of the literature available for children in the late 19th century, including the growing body of periodicals for children, served to enforce a Christian worldview and sense of morality upon the readers according to historian Joanne E. Passet. This was reinforced by public school curriculums that involved “moralistic McGuffey readers and books from such collections as “The Sunday School and Family Library.’” Freethinkers found a need to provide their children with freethought literature to combat this. Freethought newspaper Truth Seeker ran a column from 1883 to 1912 called “Children’s Corner,” providing a variety of content including letters from children who wrote to the editor. Though Truth Seeker was published in the eastern United States, Passet found that the majority of children writing into “Children’s Corner” lived in rural areas, and fully two-thirds wrote from the regions of the Midwest, Great Plains, and the West. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the religious habits of those in the American west in comparison to the rest of the country. People in the west were significantly more likely to be “unchurched” around the turn of the 20th century, according to religious scholar D. Michael Quinn. Quinn characterizes the American west as “the inverted image of the Protestant mainstream.” This difference in religious atmosphere in comparison to the rest of the country, he argues, left Protestant evangelicals feeling “both isolated and different” from those in the east.
This was a condition of which religious Protestants in the west were acutely aware. In the March 13, 1902 edition of the Telluride Journal out of Telluride, Colorado, reader Cora Berry addressed this very issue. Pontificating on the spiritual state of the American west, Mrs. Berry declared, “It is generally acceded that the atmosphere of the west is incompatible with religion.” Americans in the west, according to her, were more likely to abandon their religious tendencies (if they had ever had any) and tended towards skepticism. She believed “the skeptic and the infidel felt more at liberty to air his theories here,” and that the prevalence of skepticism naturally led to the “alarming prevalence of infidelity” in the west. She continued, “Many young people coming west ‘leave their religion on the other side of the Continental Divide’ because it is not popular here.” Though Mrs. Berry was in Colorado, her comments about the broader western states certainly seemed to hold true in Kansas as well. In addition to (or perhaps contributing to) the prominence of freethought pioneers in Kansas, historian Gary R. Entz explains that by the late 1880s, a sense existed in Kansas that for many, churches had “fallen short in satisfying their expected spiritual and social responsibilities.” Economic difficulties put strain on ordinary Kansans and many turned away from organized religion, motivated by the “perception that mainstream churches had become inured toward their traditional role of defending the downtrodden.” Whether due to skepticism or a feeling of abandonment, people in western states were becoming less religious, and this was a situation that their religious neighbors were quite aware of.
This situation was “alarming” in no small part because those in favor of teaching the Bible in public schools believed it a necessary part of a proper moral education. Edward Wilder, a member of the Topeka school board, was a proponent of the Bible’s place in the curriculum as he believed the purpose of schools was in part “the manufacture of good citizens.” In Wilder’s opinion, “There is nothing which will aid so much in the evolution of a good citizen as the teaching contained in that Book of Books,” regardless of a person’s belief in the divine nature of the text. Mr. Wilder was not alone in holding this opinion. In fact, attendees of the National Education Association’s conference in July of 1902 came to the same conclusion. The conference addressed a variety of topics on the subject of education, culminating in a report by the committee to be sent to Congress. The report “urged public school authorities to give strict attention to moral instructions in our schools as the true foundation of character and citizenship.” The committee further argued that the Bible should be taught in schools and not excluded on the basis of its regard as a “theological work merely”, but rather should be studied as a “literary work of the highest and purest type,” and expressed hope for a “change in public sentiment” that would allow this.
The characterization of the Bible as a moral guide without being religious in nature was a common argument in favor of its use in public schools. As 1902 progressed and Billard took his concerns to the courts, the Nebraska State Supreme Court was hearing a similar case.In an article in the Nebraska State Journal, Freeman and his attorneys, leaving no room for the ‘moral but not religious’ argument, objected flatly to “sectarian instruction in public schools which is forbidden by the Nebraska state constitution.” Further, they argued that this “sectarian instruction” required a “religious test” for teacher qualification, which was also against the Nebraska constitution. The court’s decision to allow such things would be an “incentive to other encroachments of religion upon civil government” and that “this case involves the intellectual and religious liberty of every citizen.” They pointed to the Ohio case of Board of Education v. Minor with relation to the “illegality and injustice of taxing a man for the support of religious instruction and worship in public schools,” and even invoked a Biblical quote to make their argument: “It would be a violation of the Biblical injuction: ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.’“ As Mr. Billard’s case went to court in Kansas, the Nebraska Supreme Court found the use of the Bible in schools to be unconstitutional as it was “religious and sectarian” to do so.
Unfortunately for Billard, Topeka’s Judge Hazen did not share that opinion in his divisive and now well-known case. Hazen found in January of 1903 that reading the Lord’s Prayer and Psalms in school, as was done at the start of each school day at the school that Philip Billard attended, was not a violation of the Constitution. This was so because it did not, in his opinion, constitute a form of worship as it was merely reading and not instruction thereof. “Philip Billard Must Listen Just Like Common People’s Children Do,” crowed the Topeka Daily Capital, repeating the accusation that J.B. Billard was “attempt[ing] to run [the] school.” If Billard wanted to argue further, he would have to take it to the state’s supreme court.
Given so many assertions that the reading of the Bible was a necessary part of a child’s moral education, it may seem surprising to us today to hear that proponents of keeping the Bible in public schools seemed often to be adamant that, just as Judge Hazen found, reading and reciting it was not inherently a religious practice. That was likely surprising to Mr. Daniel Freeman, as well, when in January of 1903 the Nebraska Supreme Court amended its previous decision to allow the Bible to be read in school so long as it wasn’t being actively taught in a sectarian manner. For some, the distinction was obvious. One example of this, came from Helen Grenfell, printed in the Idaho Springs News in May 1902. Grenfell wrote that the old ideas towards education, in which “mental training” happened at school only and moral education happened only at home, were outdated. She argued that there is much opportunity for moral and ethical training in school, to teach virtues such as obedience, kindness towards animals, patriotism, and more. It was her belief, then, that the Bible should be taught in schools. “The Bible is unfortunately neglected in many homes, and unjustly excluded from our schools, the reason being that it might teach religion. Yet,” she added, “we have no objection to the teaching of Pagan religion through their mythology.” In Grenfell’s opinion, the teaching of the Bible in schools should not serve to instill a specific religious belief system, but should instead serve to “familiarize our children with a book which is the greatest ever compiled from the standpoint of literature, and for its many illustrations of goodness and greatness.” For those who believed as Grenfell did, the Bible’s role was not as a source of religious learning, but rather as a tool to ensure children grew up with good character.
This position raises a difficult question. If a religious text was being used to instill a set of morals and values, how could that possibly be a secular use of that text? The answer lies in understanding the position of Christianity, and specifically Protestant Christianity, within American culture at this time. Anthropologist Susan F. Harding posits that in the 19th century, “In many places public life was actually open to Catholics, Jews, and “infidels,” but only to that the extent that they agreed to the reigning tacit rules and social etiquette of public discourse, which were framed in Protestant terms.” In other words, the understanding of the word “secular” would not have actually been “secular” in the way we understand it today. Harding states that “White Protestant moralism and the secular imagination were melded in this period.” This only began to change at the turn of the century. Therefore, the distinction between sectarian and non-sectarian use of the Bible, using it as a distinctly religious vs. only a moral guide, would have looked differently than it does today and been easier for Protestants to square with themselves. For those in favor of the Bible having a place in schools, Protestant values and morals were the default, and therefore not inherently religious.
However, over the course of the 19th century, this began to change. R. Laurence Moore, a religious scholar, states that as understandings of sectarianism that included Christianity began to be more widespread at the end of the 19th century, those who argued in favor of the Bible’s place in public schooling had to shift their argument. Instead, they began to argue less about the necessity of “implanting the divine truths of general Christianity” and instead about the need for the Bible to “improve the moral behavior of children and prepare them for citizenship.” In this way, reading the Bible was not to be presented as a matter of religious worship, but rather as a way to teach children how to be good citizens and how to behave properly. This is consistent with many arguments faced by Billard, whose son’s suspension from school was continuously characterized by the school board as being about his behavior towards a normal, everyday part of school rather than as a punishment for refusing religious instruction.
However, if such a thing was a normal occurrence, it raises the question of why it was suddenly becoming an issue at this point in time. Why, if reading the Bible in school was a normal, accepted, and necessary part of a public school’s curriculum, did it need to be codified as a resolution by the Topeka Board of Education? The National Education Association felt the need in 1902 to send a report to Congress emphasizing the importance of the Bible’s place in public school curriculum, and the topic arose again and again across the country. It was especially apparent in the west, where concerned citizens wrote into newspapers decrying the “alarming prevalence of infidelity” in their region and the “unchurched.”All of this points to the clear reality that reading the Bible in school was not actually an established norm. As Moore states, “Repeated endorsements of Bible reading would not have been necessary if Bible reading had in fact been the universal practice in American public schools.” The same undoubtedly holds true for the west. The Chicago Woman’s Educational Union surveyed the country in 1896 on the subject of the Bible in public schools, and found that most western states generally did not have the Bible as part of the curriculum. In two states, Washington and Idaho, it was in fact prohibited. It seems unlikely that in a matter of five years, this had changed so much as to make it an established norm against which J.B. Billard was fighting.
It is said that the wheels of justice turn slowly. It is easy to imagine that Billard may have felt this way, too, given that his appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court began on February 26, 1903, but was not settled until over a year later. He had fought hard for his son’s right to a nonsectarian education, a journey that had even included an ill-fated candidacy for a seat on the school board during the fight. Unfortunately for him, on April 9, 1904, the Kansas Supreme Court decided against J.B. Billard, and stated that teachers were allowed to recite from the Bible “for the purpose of quieting the pupils and preparing them for their regular studies” so long as it was “without comment or remark, in which the pupils are not required to participate.” This echoed the earlier decision of the Nebraska Supreme Court in 1903.
The Ministerial Union in Topeka had pushed the resolution to mandate religious exercises at the opening of the school day, and without this, Billard likely would not have taken the matter to the Kansas Supreme Court. As a result, the Ministerial Union and others who would aim to have the Bible added to public school curriculum were empowered to continue to push for this shift in educational standards. Sociologist Phillip E. Hammond argues that after 1880, Protestants in the United States began to see the necessity of an active role in “assist[ing] in the Kingdom’s arrival” – that is, bringing about the Second Coming. Hammond argues “it was not simply a recognition that the world is filled with evil needing correction,” but rather a shift to the position that “people now would take responsibility for the salvation of all of society.” This, coupled with lessening of the cultural dominance of Protestantism in American culture, may help explain the need that drove the Ministerial Union and others to push for codification of the inclusion of the Bible in public school curriculum.
This strategy worked in other areas, as well, such as with the Temperance movement. One Temperance movement member, a Mrs. Patterson, speaking at a conference in California in June of 1903 argued that matters of public legislation are the interest of all good Christians and that “our victories are mostly in amendments.” Anthropologist Susan Harding characterized the Temperance movement as one with the goal of “chang[ing] private behavior and reform[ing] family life through persuasion, public demonstrations, lobbying, and, eventually, radical legislative reform.” The goal of the Temperance movement and those who pushed for the Bible’s inclusion in public schools was the same: reinforcement of Protestant morals through legal and institutional means in the face of a loosening grip on their cultural dominance. Mrs. Patterson cited the Nebraska Supreme Court decision that the Bible could be taught in schools so long as it did not fall into religious education (ultimately the same decision reached by the Kansas Supreme Court in Billard’s case) as a victory and felt it should be the law everywhere.
J.B. Billard may have lost his court case, but that did not mean he would leave public life, nor did it mean that his association with secularism was over. During his 1910 run for mayor of Topeka, opponents accused Billard of being unfit for office owing to his “supposed denial of a divine being.” When asked if he was an atheist, Billard refused to answer. The Atchison Daily Globe reported that he “contends that he will not lower his dignity by answering a charge that the makers are using in an underhanded manner.” The good, Christian nature of his opponent, incumbent William Green, was emphasized in contrast to Billard’s alleged atheism. Clergymen purportedly decried Billard from the pulpit, urging parishioners to vote against him because of it. In addition to this, Billard was the ‘wet’ candidate – that is, against prohibition of alcohol – and Green was the ‘dry’ candidate. Despite attacks on his moral character, this alleged wet atheist found victory in the mayoral elections on April 5, 1910. Billard’s alleged atheism contrasted with Green’s Christian lifestyle, and their respective positions on the matter of legal and institutional enforcement of Protestant morals is a reflection of the same battle Billard fought years earlier with the Topeka Board of Education, and the greater social struggles that battle itself.
The subject of the Bible and its role in public schools is a hotly debated argument that continues today. For J.B. Billard, there was no place for the Bible in public schools, and others’ insistence upon it was denying his son his right to an education. The battle, however, was a small part of a much bigger cultural change. Billard was not the only person to object to the intrusion of religion into public life at this time – an intrusion that was increasingly being imposed through legal means. For a variety of reasons, western states like Kansas were much less religious than their countrymen in the east. The need some felt to correct this manifested through attempts to regulate the role religion played in their neighbors’ lives. The lessening of cultural and social control that Protestantism held in the years surrounding the turn of the 20th century was reflected by such things as the secular freethought movement and the shifting understanding of sectarianism. The push to include the Bible in public school curriculum had the same goal as other Protestant social movements of the time, such as the Temperance movement: the imposition of Protestant morals and values through legal and institutional means at a time when Protestant social authority was waning.
 “Won’t Stand It,” Topeka State Journal, December 17, 1901, evening edition, 5, Newspapers.com.
 “J.B. Billard Files Suit,”Topeka Daily Capital, February 20, 1902, 6, Newspapers.com.
 “Billard Gives Up,” Topeka State Journal, January 04, 1902, 4, Newspapers.com.
 “J.B. Billard Defied,” Topeka Daily Capital, February 04, 1902, 8, Newspapers.com.
 Billard v. Board of Education, 69 Kan. 53, 76 P. 422 (1904), https://cite.case.law/kan/69/53/.
 “Won’t Stand It,” 5.
 “Objects to the Bible,” Nebraska State Journal, April 22, 1900, 5, Newspapers.com,
 In addition to Kansas and Nebraska, the issue came up in California, Idaho, and Utah in 1903, “Use of the Bible in Schools,” Sacramento Bee, April 08, 1903, and “Bible in Schools,” Salt Lake Herald, February 15, 1903, Newspapers.com.
 Topeka school board member E. Wilder stated this explicitly in response to J.B. Billard’s complaints.“Mr. E. Wilder to Mr. J.B. Billard,” Topeka Daily Herald, December 20, 1901, 7, Newspapers.com.
 R. Laurence Moore, “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling: The Failure of Religious Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Public Education,” The Journal of American History 86, no. 4 (March 2000): 1581-1582, 1586.
 For example, R. Laurence Moore, “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling”; Susan F. Harding, “American Protestant Moralism and the Secular Imagination: From Temperance to the Moral Majority,” Social Research: An International Quarterly 76, no. 4, (Winter 2009): 1277-1306.
 Moore, “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling.”
 Ibid., 1582.
“He is a Studious Pupil,” Fort Scott Republican, February 20, 1902, 1, Newpapers.com.
 “United States Census, 1900”, Kansas, Shawnee, ED 140 Precinct 1, Topeka City Ward 1, FamilySearch, accessed December 10, 2022.
 Stacey Renee Davis, “The Memory of Opposition: The Collective Identity of Louis-Napoleon’s Political Prisoners,” Proceedings of the Western Society for French History 32 (2004): 237.
 Biographical sketch, Billard family papers, 1872-1959, Ms. Coll. 3, Kansas State Historical Society.
 Jean Baubérot, “Secularism and French Religious Liberty: A Sociological and Historical View,” Brigham Young University Law Review 2003, no. 2 (2003): 451.
 “Won’t Stand It,” Topeka State Journal, December 17, 1901, 5, Newspapers.com
 “Objects to the Bible,” Nebraska State Journal, April 22, 1900, 5, Newspapers.com.
 J.C. Bell, “The Word of God in the Schools,” Freethought Ideal, January 1, 1901, 7, Newspapers.com.
 “Freethought/Atheism/Secular Humanism,” Freethought Trail, accessed November 17, 2022, https://freethought-trail.org/causes/cause:freethought-atheism-secular-humanism/.
 Hal D. Sears, “Organized Free Thought: The National Liberal League,” in The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1977), 36.
 Sears, “Organized Free Thought,” 44.
 Ibid., 45.
 Aaron K. Ketchell, “Contesting Tradition and Combatting Intolerance: A History of Freethought in Kansas,” Great Plains Quarterly 20, No. 4 (Fall 2000): 283.
 Ibid., 287-288.
 Eric Chalfant, “Atheism in America,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia, January 24, 2018.
 “Small Talk,” Topeka Daily Herald, January 03, 1902, 2, Newspapers.com.
 “Billard Gives Up,” Topeka State Journal, January 04, 1902, 4, Newspapers.com; “Billard Carries His Point With School Board,” Topeka Daily Herald, January 04, 1902, 7, Newspapers.com.
 “Billard Gives Up,” 4.
 “Small Talk,” Topeka Daily Herald, January 03, 1902, 2, Newspapers.com.
 “Billard Gives Up,” 4.
 “Mr. Billard and School Board Will Mix Again,” Topeka Daily Herald, January 09, 1902, Newspapers.com; “Billard to Appeal,” Topeka Daily Capital, January 10, 1902, 6, Newspapers.com.
 “Mr. Billard Has Decided to Wait Awhile,” Topeka Daily Herald, January 20, 1902, Newspapers.com.
 “Mr. Billard Turned Down,” Topeka Daily Herald, February 04, 1902, 5; “Set By The Ears,” Topeka State Journal, February 04, 1902, 1, Newspapers.com.
 “J.B. Billard Defied,” Topeka Daily Capital, February 04, 1902, 8, Newspapers.com; “Billard Turned Down,” 5.
 “Turned Down,” 5.
 “Billard Sues,” Topeka State Journal, February 19, 1902, 1; “He is a Studious Pupil,” Fort Scott Republican, February 20, 1902, 1, Newspapers.com.
 “Billard Not in Court,” Topeka State Journal, February 08, 1902, 5, Newspapers.com.
 “Studious Pupil,” 1; “Topeka Father Fights the Bible,” Boulder Daily Camera, February 20, 1902, 1, Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection; “The Bible in Schools,” The Reflector, February 27, 1902, 3;
 Joanne E. Passet, “Freethought Children’s Literature and the Construction of Religious Identity in Late-Nineteenth-Century America,” Book History 8, (2005): 109-111.
 D. Michael Quinn, “Religion in the American West,” in Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past, ed. William Cronon, George Miles, Jay Gitlin, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), 160.
 Quinn, “Religion in the American West,” 158.
 Cora Berry, “Atheism in the Air,” Telluride Journal, March 13, 1902, 4, Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. It is unclear who she is quoting in this passage.
 Gary R. Entz, “Religion in Kansas,” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 28, (Summer 2005): 120–145.
 “Mr. E. Wilder to Mr. J.B. Billard,” Topeka Daily Herald, December 20, 1901, 7, Newspapers.com.
 “Use of Bible in Schools,” Herald Democrat, July 12, 1902, 1, Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.
 “The Bible in Schools,” Nebraska State Journal, June 30, 1901, 15, Newspapers.com
 “To Read or Not,” Topeka State Journal, October 22, 1902, 6; “Decision is Local,” Crawford Bulletin, October 24, 1902, 1; “Reading the Bible,” The Independent, October 16, 1902, 3, Newspapers.com.
 “Billard Loses War on Bible,” Topeka Daily Capital, January 13, 1903, Newspapers.com.
 Ibid.; “News About Town,” Topeka Daily Capital, January 20, 1903.; The first accusation that Billard was trying to “run the school” was levied by Mr. E. Wilder in “Mr. E. Wilder to Mr. J.B. Billard,” in the December 20, 1901 edition of the Topeka Daily Herald.
 “Court Reversed Itself,” Salt Lake Herald, January 21, 1903, Newspapers.com.
 Helen L. Grenfell, “Synopsis of Ethics and Education,” Idaho Springs News, May 16, 1902, 1, Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.
 Susan F. Harding, “American Protestant Moralism and the Secular Imagination: From Temperance to the Moral Majority,” Social Research: An International Quarterly 76, no 4 (Winter 2009): 1291.
 Moore addresses this as well in “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling”, stating that the distinction of what was “sectarian” changed over time and “nonsectarian” easily included Protestantism until the last quarter of the 19th century.
 Moore, “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling”, 1595.
 Moore, “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling,” 1585.
 Ibid., 1586.
 The Western Spirit, March 06, 1903, 2; “Bible to Stand,” Topeka State Journal, April 9, 1904, 1, Newspapers.com.
 “Candidates Were Named,” Topeka Daily Capital, March 11, 1902, 1, Newspapers.com.
 Billard v. Board of Education, 69 Kan. 53, 76 P. 422 (1904), https://cite.case.law/kan/69/53/.
 Billard states in the December 17, 1901 issue of the Topeka State Journal that there were some religious exercises prior to this, and his son had been “submitting partially”, but since it had become mandatory it was now an issue that had to be addressed. School board members in the January 4, 1902 edition of the Topeka State Journal characterized the resolution as having been pushed by the Ministerial Union.
 Phillip E. Hammond, “In Search of a Protestant Twentieth Century: American Religion and Power Since 1900,” Review of Religious Research 24, No. 4, (June 1983): 284.
 To go from having one’s religion be so ingrained within the cultural fabric as to be not even considered religious at all for the purposes of defining sectarian education, to having to argue that the Bible’s value was moral, not religious, reflects a major shift in the power that Protestantism held in American culture.
 Patterson, “Mrs. Patterson Writes on Temperance Question”, Berkeley Gazette, June 10, 1903, 7, Newspapers.com.
 Harding, “American Protestant Moralism,” 1282.
 Atchison Daily Globe, April 04, 1910, 1, Newspapers.com.
 Ibid.; An amendment to the Kansas constitution had prohibited the sale of liquor since 1880. Robert Smith Bader, Prohibition in Kansas (Lawrence, Kansas; University Press of Kansas) 1986, 1.
 “’Wet Candidate is Selected Mayor in Topeka Fight,” Leavenworth Times, April 6, 1910, 1, Newspapers.com.
Atchison Daily Globe, April 04, 1910. Newspapers.com
Bell, J.C. “The Word of God in the Schools.” Freethought Ideal, January 1, 1901. Newspapers.com.
Berry, Cora. “Atheism in the Air.” Telluride Journal, March 13, 1902. Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.
“Bible in Schools.” Salt Lake Herald, February 15, 1903. Newspapers.com.
“Bible to Stand.” Topeka State Journal, April 9, 1904. Newspapers.com.
“Billard Carries His Point With School Board.” Topeka Daily Herald, January 04, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Billard Gives Up.” Topeka State Journal, January 04, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Billard Loses War on Bible.” Topeka Daily Capital, January 13, 1903. Newspapers.com.
“Billard Not in Court.” Topeka State Journal, February 08, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Billard Sues.” Topeka State Journal, February 19, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Billard to Appeal.” Topeka Daily Capital, January 10, 1902. Newspapers.com.
Billard v. Board of Education, 69 Kan. 53, 76 P. 422 (1904), https://cite.case.law/kan/69/53/.
“Candidates Were Named.” Topeka Daily Capital, March 11, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Court Reversed Itself.” Salt Lake Herald, January 21, 1903. Newspapers.com.
“Decision is Local.” Crawford Bulletin, October 24, 1902. Newspapers.com.
Grenfell, Helen L. “Synopsis of Ethics and Education.” Idaho Springs News, May 16, 1902. Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.
“He is a Studious Pupil.” Fort Scott Republican, February 20, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“J.B. Billard Defied.” Topeka Daily Capital, February 04, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“J.B. Billard Files Suit.” Topeka Daily Capital, February 20, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Mr. Billard and School Board Will Mix Again.” Topeka Daily Herald, January 09, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Mr. Billard Has Decided to Wait Awhile.” Topeka Daily Herald, January 20, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Mr. Billard Turned Down.” Topeka Daily Herald, February 04, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Mr. E. Wilder to Mr. J.B. Billard.” Topeka Daily Herald, December 20, 1901. Newspapers.com.
“News About Town.” Topeka Daily Capital, January 20, 1903. Newspapers.com.
“Objects to the Bible.” Nebraska State Journal, April 22, 1900. Newspapers.com.
Patterson. “Mrs. Patterson Writes on Temperance Question.” Berkeley Gazette, June 10, 1903. Newspapers.com.
“Reading the Bible.” The Independent, October 16, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Set By The Ears.” Topeka State Journal, February 04, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Small Talk,” Topeka Daily Herald, January 03, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“The Bible in Schools.” Nebraska State Journal, June 30, 1901. Newspapers.com.
“The Bible in Schools.” The Reflector, February 27, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“To Read or Not.” Topeka State Journal, October 22, 1902. Newspapers.com.
“Topeka Father Fights the Bible.” Boulder Daily Camera, February 20, 1902. Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.
“United States Census, 1900.” Kansas. Shawnee. ED 140. Precinct 1. Topeka City Ward 1. FamilySearch. Accessed December 08, 2022.
“Use of Bible in Schools.” Herald Democrat, July 12, 1902. Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.
“Use of the Bible in Schools.” Sacramento Bee, April 08, 1903. Newspapers.com.
Western Spirit, March 06, 1903. Newspapers.com.
“’Wet’ Candidate is Selected Mayor in Topeka Fight.” Leavenworth Times, April 6, 1910. Newspapers.com.
“Won’t Stand It.” Topeka State Journal, December 17, 1901. Newspapers.com
Baubérot, Jean. “Secularism and French Religious Liberty: A Sociological and Historical View.” Brigham Young University Law Review 2003, no. 2 (2003): 451-464. HeinOnline.
Biographical sketch. Billard family papers. 1872-1959. Ms. Coll. 3. Kansas State Historical Society.
Chalfant, Eric. “Atheism in America.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia, January 24, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.420/.
Davis, Stacey Renee. “The Memory of Opposition: The Collective Identity of Louis-Napoleon’s Political Prisoners.” Proceedings of the Western Society for French History 32 (2004). http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.0642292.0032.014.
“Freethought/Atheism/Secular Humanism.” Freethought Trail. Accessed November 17, 2022. https://freethought-trail.org/causes/cause:freethought-atheism-secular-humanism/.
Entz, Gary R. “Religion in Kansas.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 28, (Summer 2005): 120–145.
Hammond, Phillip E. “In Search of a Protestant Twentieth Century: American Religion and Power Since 1900.” Review of Religious Research 24, No. 4, (June 1983): 281-294. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3511004/.
Harding, Susan F. “American Protestant Moralism and the Secular Imagination: From Temperance to the Moral Majority.” Social Research: An International Quarterly 76, no. 4, (Winter 2009): 1277-1306. https://doi.org/10.1353/sor.2009.0067
Ketchell, Aaron K. “Contesting Tradition and Combatting Intolerance: A History of Freethought in Kansas,” Great Plains Quarterly 20, No. 4 (Fall 2000): 281-295. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23532908/.
Moore, R. Laurence. “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling: The Failure of Religious Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Public Education.” The Journal of American History 86, no. 4 (March 2000): 1581-1599. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2567578/.
Passet, Joanne E. “Freethought Children’s Literature and the Construction of Religious Identity in Late-Nineteenth-Century America.” Book History 8, (2005): 107-129. https://doi.org/10.1353/bh.2005.0009/.
Quinn, Michael D. “Religion in the American West.” In Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past, edited by William Cronon, George Miles, Jay Gitlin. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992.
Sears, Hal D. “Organized Free Thought: The National Liberal League.” In The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1977.
Smith Bader, Robert. Prohibition in Kansas. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986.