“A Sunday-Law Convention” American Sentinel 3, 1, pp. 4, 5.

IN the Union Signal of October 20, 1887, Mrs. Lydia B. Clark gives an article on the “Hopeful Outlook for Sabbath Observance,” and says that in its Sunday-law work the W. C. T. U. has found “most cordial helpers” in the World’s Prayer Union, the International Sabbath Association, and the National Reform Association. She reports certain legislative action that was taken last year in several States. Of the matter in California she says:—

“Two years ago in California the Sunday law was repealed, but the people last winter plied the Legislature with petitions to replace the repealed law with an improved statute, and in San Francisco a convention of ministers was called, a bill prepared and introduced in the Legislature demanding protection of the Sabbath.”

Yes, that is so. And as such things are now quite widely prevalent, we propose to show to the people the way in which a typical Sunday-law convention works to secure the “demanded” legislation. This excellent lady has given us the text, and we shall supply the sermon. The Sentinel was at the Convention named, and took copious notes of the proceedings, and has preserved the report for just such a time as this. This work has now become so general that it is highly important that the public in general and legislators in particular should know the methods employed to secure the enactment of “civil” and “protective” Sunday laws.

This San Francisco Convention, like most of such conventions, was composed almost wholly of preachers. The thing originated in the “Pastors’ Union” of Sacramento, it being “the sense of the Pastors’ Union of Sacramento that a meeting of the pastors and members of the churches of the State, and of all other friends of Sun-day legislation in the State, should be called… to secure the passage of a Sunday law,” etc. This “sense” was approved by “the preachers of the Methodist Church” and the Convention was called, and met accordingly in the Young Men’s Christian Association building, November 29, 1886.

The first and perhaps the most notable thing about the Convention that would be noticed by a looker-on was the perfect confusion of ideas as to what was really wanted. It is true that there was perfect unanimity on the point that there should be a law demanded of the Legislature, but that was the only single thing upon which there was any real agreement.

With some, nothing but a Sunday law would do; with others, nothing but a Sabbath law would answer. With some, it must be a civil Sabbath law; with others, a religious Sabbath law. With some, it must be a civil Sunday law; with others, a religious Sunday law. With some, it was a Christian Sunday that was wanted; with others, a Christian Sabbath. With some it was a religious Sabbath law that was wanted, and a religious Sabbath law that must be had, and they were ready to go to the Legislature upon that basis; but these were very few. While with others, and these the great majority, it was a religious Sunday law or a religious Sabbath law that was wanted, but at the same time it was naively argued that to go to the Legislature with such a request would be all in vain, for the Legislature would not act upon any question of a religious nature; therefore, to get what they wanted, they must ask only for a civil Sunday law.

It was upon this last point that the discussion and the action of the Convention culminated. And by this action there was irresistibly forced upon the mind of an observer a strong impression of the insincerity of the great majority of the members of this Sunday-law Convention. The course of the discussion and this culminating action show that the majority of the members of that convention were willing to cover up the real purpose which they had in view, and deliberately to go to the Legislature of California under a false pretense. They show that while a religious law, and nothing else, is what they wanted, yet, as to openly ask the Legislature for that would be fruitless, they proposed to obtain what they wanted—a religious Sunday law—by getting the Legislature to pass a civil Sunday law. That is, they would have the Legislature to pass a civil Sunday law, and then they would enforce it as a religious Sunday law. In other words, they proposed to hoodwink the Legislature of California. They didn’t succeed.

Another evidence of this insincerity was the ringing of the now familiar changes upon the “workingman.” One had very great sympathy [5] for the “toiling multitudes.” Another was the “friend of the workingman,” and “if any people are the friends of the workingman, they are the ministers.” And yet not one of them was there as the representative of the workingman, nor was it the needs of the workingman upon which the call of the Convention was based. When that which gave rise to the calling of the Convention was officially stated, it was that “the Christian people of Sacramento had been disturbed in their worship, and their religious feelings had been outraged by the disregard of the Sabbath; the matter had come before the Pastors’ Conference; a correspondence opened with divines throughout the State on the subject of a Sunday law; and accordingly the present Convention had been called.” And one of the principal speakers in the Convention, in the speech that was the most applauded of any made in the Convention, said plainly that the movement was a religious one and that he was decidedly opposed to divorcing it from a Christian standpoint.

It was that “the Christian people” had been disturbed in their “worship,” and not that the workingmen had been deprived of their rest; it was that the “religious feelings” of “the Christian people” had been outraged, and not that the workingman had been oppressed, nor that his feelings had been outraged; it was with the “divines,” and not with the workingmen throughout the State that a correspondence had been opened; it was these considerations and not the needs of the workingman that formed the basis of the call for the Convention. And yet in the face of these definite statements, some of these “divines” would get up in the Convention, and fish for the favor and try to catch the ear of the workingman, by trying to make it appear that they came there as “the friends of the workingman.”

And, too, just think of a lot of “divines” called in general convention to secure the enactment of a Sunday law to protect the “worship” and the “religious feelings” of “Christian people;” and then to fulfill the purpose, and to attain to the object of that call, they, in convention assembled, unanimously decide to go up to the Legislature and demurely ask for a law entirely civil! And why is this? Why could they not go to the Legislature in the name of that purpose for which they were called? Oh, that would never do! For if the word “civil” be stricken out, “you cannot reach the Legislature.” Therefore just put in the word “civil and the purpose of the Convention will be accomplished, for we will get all we want and the Legislature will not know it.” But the Legislature of California was not so exceedingly verdant as to be unable to see through that piece of wire-work, so deftly woven by these worthy divines.

The demand of these “Christian people” for a Sunday law, because their worship was disturbed, is just as hollow a pretense as is any other part of their scheme. For if their worship was really disturbed, they have already a sufficient resource. For the protection of religious worship from disturbance, the statutes of California make provision that ought to satisfy any ordinary mortal. Section 302 of the Penal Code of California reads as follows:—

“Every person who willfully disturbs or disquiets any assemblage of people met for religious worship, by noise, profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior, or by any unnecessary noise either within the place where such meeting is held, or so near as to disturb the order and solemnity of the meeting, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

And such misdemeanor is, punishable by “imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars, or both.”—Id., sec. 19.

Are not six months in jail and a fine of five hundred dollars a sufficient punishment for the disturbance of worship? Or is this penalty so insignificant that these “divines” and “Christian people” disdain to inflict so light a punishment and therefore demand a Sunday law to make the punishment heavier?

But if the present penalty is insufficient to properly punish those who disturb their worship, then what will satisfy these “divines”? Where the State chastises with whips, do they want to chastise with scorpions? Do they want to imprison a man for life and mulct him of all his property for disturbing (?) their worship by working on Sunday on his farm, in his shop or garden, far away from any place of worship? We firmly believe that if the truth were told it would appear that it is not their worship at all but their doctrine that has been disturbed.

Just a word more on their pretended friendship for the workingman. We freely hazard the opinion that if they should obtain the “civil” Sunday law which they seek, then the poor workingman, who, to support his needy family, should work on Sunday, will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We venture this opinion because of facts of which we know. In Tennessee there were at that time lying in prison, honest, hard-working men, whose families were dependent upon their daily labor, and these men were in that prison for working on Sunday to obtain the necessary means to support their families, and while they were in prison their families were in want, and had to be supported by the charity of Christian friends. That is the kind of friendship for the workingman that is shown in the enactment of these “civil” Sunday laws. And if the people of California, or in any other State, want to see the same thing repeated in their State, or in the Nation, then just let them allow these “divines” to secure the enactment of the “civil” Sunday law that they want. Then may be seen exemplified everywhere this solicitous friendship for the workingmen.

One of the leading members of the Convention remarked that he had “been in politics long enough to know that legislators keep their finger on the public pulse, and that they generally give what the people want.” From our observations in the Convention, of the speeches, and of its workings, we are prepared to give it as our private opinion, publicly expressed, that the most of the members of the Convention have been in politics enough to know a good deal about the ways and means by which politicians too often compass their ends.

A. T. J.

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