LOWREY V. HAWAII, 206 U. S. 206 (1907)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lowrey v. Hawaii, 206 U.S. 206 (1907)

Lowrey v. Hawaii

No. 195

Argued March 20, 1907

Decided May 13, 1907

206 U.S. 206


A foreign mission board maintaining a school in Hawaii in 1849 turned the school over to the government under an agreement, expressed in correspondence that the government should maintain it as an institution for the cultivation of sound literature and solid science, that no religious tenet or doctrine contrary to those inculcated by the mission, a summary of which was transmitted in the correspondence, should be taught, and that in case the government did not so maintain it, it should pay to the mission $15,000. After maintaining the school for many years as it had been maintained under the mission, the government converted it into an agricultural college, and religion ceased to be a part of the curriculum. Meanwhile, the Constitution of Hawaii of 1894 prohibited the appropriation of any money for sectarian institutions. Held, in an action brought by the Mission to recover the $15,000, that

Extrinsic evidence, as to what the parties did and the nature of the course of instruction when the agreement was made, and thereafter as continued by the government, was admissible to prove the intent of the parties as to what was meant by sound literature and solid science, and that, under all the circumstances, the agreement was that religious instruction was to be continued and, on the failure of the government to continue such instruction, the Mission was entitled to recover the $15,000.

The government of Hawaii was not relieved from its contract obligation by reason of the adoption of the constitutional prohibition against appropriation for sectarian institutions.

This action was brought in the Supreme Court of the Territory of Hawaii to recover from the territory the sum of $15,000 as the alternative of the reconveyance of certain property conveyed by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions in 1849 to the Hawaiian government, for the nonfulfillment of the conditions upon which the property was conveyed.

Page 206 U. S. 207

A demurrer was sustained to the petition and thereupon this appeal was taken.

The following is an outline of the principal facts alleged:

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, hereinafter called the American Board, for many years prior to 1850, had conducted and maintained a Protestant mission in the Hawaiian Islands, and, as an essential part of its missionary work, carried on many schools. Its most notable educational work was centered in a school established in 1831 at Lahainaluna, on the Island of Maui, where it possessed a large tract of land. This school and the premises occupied by it were set off by the chiefs to the protestant mission in 1835. On the building and other improvements, many thousands of dollars were expended, and the school had, in 1850, become a most important factor in the life and progress of the Hawaiian people, and was recognized as the leading educational institution in the kingdom.

The course of instruction comprised not only the usual topics belonging to secular learning, but included also direct religious teaching and training in the doctrines represented by the mission. [Footnote 1]

Page 206 U. S. 208

These facts were established before the board of commissioners to quiet land titles, to which the claim of the American Board to Lahainaluna, as an established part of its system, was duly presented and recognized, and the board of commissioners adjudged as follows:

"Lahainaluna, part 5, § 2, claim relinquished before the land commission in consequence of an after-arrangement having been entered into with the Hawaiian government by the mission. Vol. 3 L. C. Award, pp. 143 et seq., upon the final confirmation which was duly made to the said A.B.C.F.M., all the lands claimed were awarded, 'with the exception of § 2, Lahainaluna, which had been withdrawn.'"

The "after-arrangement" referred to in the records of the land commissioners was as follows:

"Because of financial stress, and also feeling that the school, which had really become a national institution, should be conducted by the government at its own expense, in April, 1849, the mission at its general mission held in Honolulu, voted as follows: 'To make over this seminary to the government, it being understood that it is to be conducted on the same principles as heretofore.'"

"An offer was thereupon made to the government in pursuance to this vote of the mission to make over the school to the government on condition that it should be continued at its expense as an institution for the cultivation of sound literature and solid science, and further, that it shall not teach or allow to be taught any religious tenet or doctrine contrary to those heretofore inculcated by the mission, a summary of which will be found in the confession of faith herewith enclosed,

Page 206 U. S. 209

and that, in case of the nonfulfillment or violation of the conditions upon which this transfer is made by the said government, the whole property hereby transferred, hereinbefore specified, together with any additions of improvements, should revert to the said mission."

This offer as made was not accepted by the government, but it instead submitted a counter-offer to the mission by which it offered to take over the school on the conditions made in the mission's original offer, but

"provided that, in case of the nonfulfillment on the part of this government of the conditions specified in the letter of the above-named gentlemen, it shall be optional with this government to allow the institution, with all additions and improvements which may have been made upon the premises and all rights and privileges connected therewith, to revert to the said mission, to be held in behalf of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, or to pay the sum of $15,000; provided also that, in case this government shall find it expedient to divert this establishment to other purposes than those of education, it shall be at liberty to do so, on condition that it sustain an institution of like character and on similar principles in some other place on the island, or pay the sum of $15,000 to said mission in behalf of the Mission Board in Boston."

A more definite form of the "confession of faith" was substituted and accepted by the government, and the whole arrangement ratified by the Hawaiian Legislature, Law of 1850 (F.C. 1850) 158, sec. 1 of Civil Code (1859) sec. 783, and by the prudential committee of the American Board.

The letter of the mission to the Minister of Public Instruction is inserted in the margin. [Footnote 2]

Page 206 U. S. 210

The Hawaiian government at once took possession of the Lahainaluna Seminary and carried on the school exactly as it had been conducted by the Mission, both in religious instruction and the inculcation of sound literature and solid science.

For many years after the government had taken over the school, the principals of the school continued their relations as missionaries of the American Board in their work in the school, and continued to make reports of their educational and religious

Page 206 U. S. 211

work and instruction in the school to the general meetings of the mission.

In 1862, the seminary buildings were burned down. Other buildings were built. The principal, in his report for that year, 1862-63, reviewing the history of the school, says:

"The Hawaiian government has always been a liberal friend and benefactor. . . . Never in any way have they interfered with our manner of instruction, or in the course of instructions

Page 206 U. S. 212

pursued. In our work, we have had all the freedom which we possibly could have had under the A.B.C.F.M."

Also, referring to pupils who, under the religious instruction at the school, became ministers, he says: "While six who were connected with it since it has been under the care of the Hawaiian government have been ordained to the same office."

Prior to the establishment of the Anglican Church in Hawaii, the board of education appointed as instructors such persons as were acceptable to the mission, generally selecting those nominated by the mission. When the Anglican mission was established, it was proposed that the forms and probably the substance of religious instruction should be changed, and advice was asked of the Attorney General. His reply reviewed the whole arrangement upon which the government received the seminary, and concluded as follows:

"Should the government not be willing to keep the conditions as far as I have shown, then the property and improvements must be restored to the A.B.C.F.M. "

Page 206 U. S. 213

In 1865, the Hawaiian Gazette, the official mouthpiece of the government, declared that the government had resolved that its support should be given to schools irrespective of their religious teaching, but pointed out that the board of education might be chargeable with partiality for supporting a state church, inasmuch as it paid large sums to defray the expenses of Lahainaluna, where the principles and theology of one particular sect were exclusively taught, although opposed to the belief of all in communion with Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches.

In the following years, upon the suggestion by the mission of certain instructors, a correspondence arose between the board of education and the mission in which the board of education said that it was understood that the institution was to be continued so as to aid, instead of to defeat, the purpose for which it had been founded, and that nothing had been done to justify the intimation that the board had any desire to defeat such purpose, and admitted

"that a full compliance with agreement consists in appointing persons teaching in the doctrine and after the manner of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches of the United States."

And further:

"The board are fully aware that, if they do not see fit to carry on the institution according to the terms of the contract, they have to reconvey it, or pay the sum of $15,000."

After 1865, the seminary continued to be conducted on the same lines as prior thereto.

In 1894, in the Constitution of the Republic of Hawaii, it was provided that " . . . No public money shall be appropriated . . . for the support of (or?) benefit of any sectarian, denominational, or private school." This provision is continued and remains in full force as a part of § 55 of the organic act.

Religious instruction ceased to be a part of the curriculum at Lahainaluna, as provided in the agreement, on or about September 1, 1903, at which date the religious tenets and doctrines, in accordance with the creed and articles of faith

Page 206 U. S. 214

of the mission, ceased to be taught, and are no longer taught. The "cultivation of sound literature and solid science" has also ceased, and the institution has become a technical school under the name of "The Lahainaluna Agricultural School."

The territory maintains no other institution of like character and on similar principles in any other place on the island.

The appellants are the successors of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

Upon these facts, it is alleged, that appellants have become entitled to a return of the property conveyed or to the payment of $15,000; that the territory has refused to do either, but has elected to retain the property, which election is evidenced by its refusal to pay the said sum, and the further fact that it is proceeding to erect expensive buildings thereon and expend large sums of money in fitting the property and the school to become a technical school -- namely, an agricultural college.

The petition was demurred to upon the grounds substantially as follows:

1. That the court had no jurisdiction of the subject matter of the claim. 2. That the United States was a necessary party, the property described in the petition having been transferred and ceded to the United States by the treaty of annexation of July 7, 1898. 3. That the petition did not set out facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action in that, (a) it did not appear that the agreement set forth in the petition was ratified by the legislature; (b) that the right of action accrued more than two years prior to the commencement of the action; (c) it did not appear that there had been a breach of the conditions of the agreement; (d) or, if so, that it occurred in compliance with law and statutes which rendered the fulfillment of the conditions impossible. 4. That the petition was indefinite and uncertain, in that the allegations as to breach of conditions pleaded were conclusions of law, it nowhere appearing in the petition in what respect the conditions had been broken. The supreme court overruled the first, second,

Page 206 U. S. 215

and fourth grounds, and divisions a and b of the third ground of demurrer.

Page 206 U. S. 218

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