July 11, 1895
The Bill of Rights Again Violated and Religious Liberty Outraged.
ARTICLE 1, Section 3, of the constitution of the State of Tennessee declares: “That no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” But notwithstanding this explicit guarantee of religious liberty, EIGHT Seventh-day Adventists are again incarcerated in the jail at Dayton, Tenn., for no other offense than not keeping the sabbath established by the statutes and decisions of the State of Tennessee.
Besides the right Seventh-day Adventists, one young man, not an Adventist, is imprisoned for the same offense, namely, working on Sunday. This young man, though of age, is unmarried and is the sole support of his widowed mother and his mother’s sister. He is a miner and worked in the mines near Graysville. This he did on the days the mines were operated and on Sunday he cut wood for his mother. This was in January and February of this year. This was his only offense; he injured no one, and disturbed no one. Why then was he prosecuted?—The answer is not far to seek: his widowed mother is an Adventist and she is persecuted in the person of her son. The young man’s name is Allen Cathy.
One other man, not an Adventist, was under indictment, but was justly acquitted on the ground that the work done was a work of necessity. He was absent from home on Saturday, being detained by a storm. His family was without fuel and he borrowed some wood from a neighbor and hauled it on Sunday. That he was prosecuted for this can be accounted for only in one of two ways: either the witnesses did it for the fees, or else it was because he sometimes attended the Adventist church and it was done to warn him against becoming an Adventist. The latter seems the more probable as out of the large number of men that work on Sunday in Rhea County, only the Adventists, the one by kindred, the other by some degree of sympathy, were prosecuted. This man’s name is George Dodson.
The names of the imprisoned Adventists, with the amounts of their fines, will be found at the close of the judge’s decision which follows this article.
The imprisoned men were each found guilty on one indictment with the exception of the widow’s son, Allen Cathy; he was convicted on two indictments.
There were two indictments against H. C. Leach, but for want of evidence he was acquitted on the second indictment.
There were also three indictments against N. B. England, two against E. S. Abbott, one against E. R. Gillett, one against Walter Ridgeway, and one against Oscar England. There were two verdicts of acquittal in N. B. England’s case, and one mistrial.
It was agreed between Mr. Abbott and the attorney general that one verdict should settle both his cases; but the jury failed to reach a verdict; these cases therefore went over to the next term of court.
The witnesses against E. R. Gillett could not be found and his case was continued against his earnest protest. He is a rather feeble old man of sixty four years and pleaded that his case might either be tried or else the indictment dismissed. But his plea was denied.
Mr. Ridgeway’s case was also postponed because of the absence of witnesses, against his earnest protest.
The only defense made in most cases was that the defendants kept the seventh day and believed that they had the God-given right to work six days. They maintained that the civil law had a right to take cognizance only of acts which infringed the equal rights of others; and that as the keeping of a Sabbath had reference solely to God and the recognition of his claims upon them, to enforce its observance was clearly outside the sphere of human government. The defendants insisted that under the Bill of Rights of the State they could not be legally required to observe any day, and that they had a constitutional right not only to keep the seventh day but to work on the first day of the week, so long as in so doing they did not trench upon the equal rights of their neighbors.
Judge Parks’ view of the law and his duty under it has not changed in the least. He publicly declared that his sympathies were with the Adventists, and he believes that the law ought to permit them to do quiet work on Sunday; but declared that it is not his province to make law but to enforce it as it has been made by others. He referred to what he said last March in regard to the law and declared that he did not regret in any particular the action he had taken at that time in suspending the fines and subsequently recommending the pardon of the convicted men. But, as what he said will appear elsewhere in this paper, it is not necessary to repeat it here.
The attitude of Attorney General Fletcher was not materially different from what it was last March. He simply proceeded upon the theory that it was his duty to prosecute the cases; and manifested no feeling whatever toward the defendants.
Some change, however, was noticeable in the attitude of the juries. As previously stated, there were several acquittals, and a number of mistrials, which would have scarcely been possible four months ago. It is evident that the agitation of the subject in Rhea County has resulted in quite a change in sentiment. There are good reasons to believe that there will be no more cases of this kind for some time to come, except the cases which have been postponed which will necessarily come up at a future term of court.
Of course there are not wanting evil-disposed persons who would continue the persecutions either from motives of religious intolerance, or for the purpose of securing witness fees; but a better sentiment seems to be prevailing, and it is confidently predicted that no indictments will be found by the present grand jury.
A noticeable event of the trials was a speech by ex-Congressman Snodgrass in which he declared his belief that the statute was unconstitutional, the opinion of the Supreme Court, notwithstanding. He expressed great sympathy for the Adventists, but advised them strongly that they ought to submit under the circumstances, and obey the law until it could be repealed, as he was very confident it would be by the next legislature. He said that he would remind the Adventists of that scriptural  injunction which says, “Be subject unto the higher powers,” for “the power that be are ordained of God.” The ex-congressman seems to have forgotten, or never to have understood that God has ordained no human power to rule over conscience. Nor did it occur to him that to adopt his view of the scripture in question would be to make conscience entirely a creature of civil law, and would justify the condemnation and execution of every martyr from Stephen to the present time. For, with but few exceptions, all these have died as violators of the civil law. Had nobody ever disobeyed laws that were in conflict with conscience, the Reformation could never have taken place. Luther would never have left the Catholic Church; Wesley would never have preached contrary to the Established Church; and John Bunyan would never have insisted on preaching the gospel contrary to the orders of the civil magistrate.
The early Baptists and Quakers of New England and the Baptists of Virginia suffered fines, imprisonments, whippings, banishment and death for violation of the civil law. And the degree of religious liberty which we enjoy to-day is due to the fact that they dared to disobey unjust laws; and that they continued to disobey such laws until the things that they suffered brought their fellow-men to recognize the fact that there was such a thing as the rights of conscience. It is a matter of surprise that intelligent men are found to-day who will endeavor to maintain the position that it is a Christian duty to surrender conscience to civil laws.
If every man who sees the injustice, yea, the abominable iniquity of such statutes as the so-called Sunday law of Tennessee, would act upon his honest conviction and treat the statute as void in practice, as it is in fact, it would speedily be wiped from the statute books. But as long as men recognize the binding force of such statutes and obey then, so long they will continue to be used as instruments of oppression and injustice. We have not the slightest doubt of the integrity of Judge Parks and we have nothing but the kindest feeling toward him, and only respect for him. But we cannot agree that under the American system of government any man is under obligations to do a moral wrong. And it certainly is morally wrong to imprison honest men for honest work which disturbs no one. The fact that it is the State instead of an individual that does the wrong does not make it any less a wrong. A despotism of the many over the few is not less intolerable than the despotism of one over many. It is as iniquitious for the majority to violate and trample upon the fundamental law of the State as is done in these Adventist prosecutions, as it would be for a single individual to defy and to override a just law. The judge says that it is the duty of the court to sustain and enforce the law, and yet the very judgment he passed against the Adventists was in flagrant violation of the Bill of Rights quoted in the outset of this article, as his honor well knows, and as ex-Congressman Snodgrass admitted in open court when speaking for the attorney general. Can it be possible that in an American State, under the American system of government, it is the duty of an officer to override what his conscience tells him is the just rights of his fellowmen? We don’t believe that it is.