June 13, 1895
THE Atlanta Constitution, of May 25, has an article in defense of the persecution of J. Q. Allison, by means of the Georgia Sunday law.
The Constitution attempts to make the following points, which we have numbered for easy reference in replying:—
(1.) In the Christian world the first day of the week is now observed as the Sabbath, and the seventh day is only an ordinary working day. Are the millions of Christians who observe the first day to have their devotions interrupted by a very few persons, perhaps not more than a score or so in a State, who claim that they have the right to do any kind of work and make as much noise as they please on that day?
(2.) We think not. The minority should follow the example of the pious Jews who observe both days, the seventh and the first, thus keeping their Sabbath and respecting the one observed by the majority.
(3.) Allison was not persecuted on account of his religious belief. He was punished because he violated a penal law of the State. Under the police powers of every commonwealth there are much severer statutes in relation to very small matters. Even under the municipal ordinances great hardships result when a man exercises natural and God-given rights in some cases where the law restrains him in the interests of the public.
(4.) The Douglasville man should have observed his own Sabbath, and then he should have respected the Sabbath of his neighbors who are in accord with the overwhelming majority of the State and the nation and all Christian lands. For the sake of peace and order we cannot allow a few to bring anarchy into our system simply because they claim to be acting according to their religious convictions. Once give way to this plea, and we would then have no right to prohibit polygamy among the Mormons. In a republic the majority rule, and it would be a dangerous thing to admit the right of the minority to defy the laws under pretense of living up to their religion. If the Douglasville man wants to smash the Georgia Sabbath let him pay the penalty or go elsewhere.
(1.) The fact that those who keep Sunday are overwhelming in the majority does not touch the question at all. Mr. Allison was not sentenced to the chain-gang “for disturbing anybody.” This is the statement of Judge Janes himself. The charge was “Sabbath-breaking,” and the State’s witnesses testified that they were not disturbed. Nobody’s devotions were interrupted; nor do observers of the seventh day claim the right to interrupt the devotions of anybody upon any day. Moreover, there are ample laws upon the statute books of Georgia, and of every other State, for the protection of religious worship upon any day.
Special laws to prevent the interruption of devotion on Sunday are not needed. The idea that private work, such as Mr. Allison was doing, could by any possibility interrupt anybody’s devotions is absurd and reveals the deliberate dishonesty of such a plea.
(2.) And pray, why should the minority respect the day “observed by the majority”? There can be only one reason, namely, its supposed sacred character. And the expression, “respecting the one [i.e., the Sabbath] observed by the majority,” is a confession that the purpose of the law is to guard the day and not the rights of the people.
But what right has the State of Georgia to require any man to show any respect whatever to any religious institution? No more right than has Spain and other Roman Catholic countries to require all men to remove their hats in the street while a religious procession is passing.
The constitution of Georgia says:—
Perfect freedom of religious sentiment shall be, and the same is hereby secured, and no inhabitant of this State shall ever be molested in person or property or prohibited from holding any public office or trust, on account of his religious opinion.
It may be objected that this guarantees only freedom to believe, but not to practice. But that is to charge the framers of it with trifling and dishonesty. The principle which should govern in all such cases is thus stated by Hon. James G. Parks, a native of Georgia, and judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit of Tennessee. Speaking of dissenters from the prevailing creed, Judge Parks said:—
It there were only one of them he would be entitled not only to his honest belief, but to the exercise of that belief, so long as in so doing he did not interfere with some natural right of his neighbors.
This was said of Tennessee, but it is just as true of Georgia; and that it is just what the constitution of Georgia means is evident from the limiting words of the same section previously quoted: “But the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the people.”
Here, again, the line is drawn just where Judge Parks draws it, namely, at the rights of the people. It may be urged that the phrase, “acts of licentiousness” has nothing necessarily to do with the rights of others; but even were that granted, the defenders of the Georgia Sunday statute would have gained nothing, for by no possibility could it be made to appear that plowing in one’s own field on Sunday was an act of licentiousness in any proper sense of the word; for only the sacred character of the day could make it such, and with such matters the State of Georgia has of right nothing to do.
Again, what right, either natural or constitutional, has the majority, however great, to require any man to yield up one-seventh of his time as a tribute to their religion? It is a principle of law that even the State has no power to take private property for public use without adequate compensation. But what compensation does the State of Georgia give to J. Q. Allison, or to any other man, for the one day which it demands each week as a tribute to Sunday sacredness? None whatever.
(3.) It is not true that Mr. Allison “was persecuted because he violated a penal law of the State.” He did violate a statute of the State, but not a law; for an unconstitutional statute is not law: and as we have seen, the constitution of Georgia gives the legislature no power to require of anybody anything contrary to conscience. Aside from “acts of licentiousness,” and in all matters not trenching upon the equal rights of others, conscience is supreme according to the fundamental law of Georgia, and all so-called laws violative of this principle are null and void, and the enforcement of them is only anarchy and tyranny; for “in a society, under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily united and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, when the weaker individual is not secure against the violence of the stronger.”
It is a fundamental principles of American government that natural rights are inalienable, and yet the Atlanta Constitution solemnly publishes to the world the statement that “under the municipal ordinances great hardships result when a man exercises natural and God-given rights in some cases where the law restrains him in the interests of the public.”
Are we living in America in the closing decade of the nineteenth century, or are we still in the Dark Ages? Have Washington, Jefferson and Madison lived in vain? They certainly have if such principles as those advocated by the Atlanta Constitution are to prevail.
Thomas Jefferson said: “Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us.” And again: “The idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural right.”
The government that restrains any man from the exercise of his natural rights, either for the supposed good of society or upon any other pretext whatever, is a despotism, no matter by what name it may be called.
(4.) Little remains to be said on this paragraph. Only an intolerant bigot can read it and find himself in harmony with it. The cry of “anarchy” raised in it will certainly fail to alarm any considerate and liberal-minded man. The anarchy most to be dreaded is the anarchy of despotic government, in which, under the forms of law, natural rights are denied and men sentenced to the chain-gang for exercising the soul-liberty given them by God and guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
The cry of Mormonism and polygamy is a favorite one with the bigot who would justify himself in forcing his religion upon his neighbor; but the candid and thoughtful will not be deceived by it. Marriage is a civil relation and involves duties and responsibilities which those who enter into it must not be permitted to shirk. For this reason and to preserve inviolable the contract rights of the parties and the rights of their offspring, the State properly regulates marriage and prohibits polygamy. With polygamy legalized anywhere in the United States no woman would have any legal guarantee of the inviolability of her marital right, for any man who so desired might, by merely changing his residence, take other wives, and his first wife would have no redress.
In no sense can the prohibition of plural marriages be shown to be parallel with the prohibition of Sunday labor, which in no wise interferes with the rest or devotion of others. The use of the Mormon argument shows plainly one of two things, either the absence of thought or the presence of intellectual dishonesty.