May 2, 1895
THE action of the Governor of Tennessee in pardoning the imprisoned Adventists presents to the legislators of that State a problem worthy of their careful attention.
This pardon was granted unconditionally upon recommendation of the trial-judge, not only without any promise upon the part of the convicts that they would obey the law in the future, but in the face of explicit statements from them that they could not obey the law.
Nor was this all: several of the pardoned men were already under bonds to stand trial upon new indictments for violations of the same law under which they were imprisoned. Under these circumstances the pardon can be viewed in no other light than an arraignment of the law as unjust: and the question arises, What will the Legislature of Tennessee, now in session, do about it?
The American principle of government is, “that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men.” Will the Legislature of Tennessee see to it that the Seventh-day Adventists of that State are permitted to exercise the rights to which both judge and governor have in effect officially declared that they are entitled; if not under the laws of the State, certainly under that higher law to which all just governments are amenable, namely, the law of inalienable rights?
The State of Tennessee may, in the pride of her authority, refuse the plea of Justice and continue the persecution; but might does not make right. “What other nations call religious toleration we call religious rights. They are not exercised in virtue of governmental indulgence, but as rights of which government cannot deprive any portion of citizens, however small. Despotic power may invade these rights, but justice still confirms them.” It has been admitted by members of the Legislature of Tennessee that the Sunday law does infringe natural rights; that it does trench upon the religious liberty of the individual; but it is claimed that there is a “practical difficulty” in the way of repeal. But what is the “practical difficulty”! It is simply the intolerance of the people, the indifference of the law-makers and the groundless assumption that religion cannot survive without special protection by the State.
But such a “practical difficulty” is entirely aside from the constitution of Tennessee. That instrument recognizes no religion and makes no provision for the fostering of any religious cult or creed; it recognizes no other power than that of persuasion for enforcing religious observances. Let the Sunday keepers of Tennessee recommend their religion by deeds of benevolence, by lives of virtue and by deeds of piety, and they will accomplish vastly more for Christianity than could possibly be accomplished by the use of the entire police power of the State. In the language of another: “Let them combine their efforts to instruct the ignorant, to relieve the widow and the orphans, to promulgate to the world the gospel of their Saviour, recommending its precepts by their habitual example: government will find its legitimate object in protecting them. It cannot oppose them, and they will not need its aid. Their moral influence will then do infinitely more to advance the true interests of religion, than any measure which they may call on Congress to enact. The petitioners [for the discontinuance of Sunday mails] do not complain of any infringement upon their own rights. They enjoy all that Christians ought to ask at the hands of any government—protection from all molestation in the exercise of their religious sentiments.”
The rights asserted by the Tennessee Adventists are the natural, inherent, inalienable rights with which every man is endowed by his Creator. They may be trampled upon by the State, they may be denied by the Legislative, the Judicial, and the Executive branches of the Government of the State of Tennessee or of all the States or of the United States, but they do not thereby cease to be rights, and they will one day be recognized as such; possibly never at the bar of any earthly tribunal, but in the words of Elder Colcord before the Circuit Court of Rhea County: “There is a time coming when there will be a change, and God and not man will be the Judge—and in that court questions will be decided, not by the statute books of Tennessee, but by the law of God.”