March 14, 1859

Eleven-year-old Thomas Wall refused to read the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments during his weekly required exercises at a Boston public school, so his teacher, McLaurin F. Cooke, whipped the boy’s hands with a three-foot-long rattan stick, pausing occasionally to give him a chance to begin his recitations. The beating continued for 30 minutes, after which Wall agreed to read as instructed. The Wall family lodged a criminal complaint, but the judge said that the Bible exercises were required by law so that young children could learn “humanity, and a universal benevolence, sobriety, moderation and temperance.” Complaint dismissed. History does not record whether the boy developed a deep reverence for the Lord’s Prayer, or whether he became benevolent, sober, moderate and/or temperate.


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