“An Interesting Question Raised” The American Sentinel 5, 27, pp. 209-211.

July 10, 1890

IN the last number of THE SENTINEL we reprinted from the Sun, a dispatch from Nashville, Tennessee, stating that the conviction of a Seventh-day Adventist for working on Sunday had been confirmed by the Supreme Court of that State; and that the National Religious Liberty Association was about to make an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. The dispatch stated that the point on which the appeal is to be taken, is the rights of a citizen of the United States under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. This question is both interesting and important. In Tennessee and Georgia at the present time, religious people who conscientiously observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, and who are honest and model citizens in every respect, are being meanly persecuted, as have been others of the same class in Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, at other times, by those who profess to observe Sunday.

It is important to know as soon as possible whether it is true that in this Nation one class of citizens must be compelled to pay tribute to the religious views of another class. Is it true anywhere in this country that there is a class of religionists who have a monopoly of religious views secured to them by the State? As these things have been going on for a considerable length of time, we have longed to see the day come when the matter should be tested by the National Constitution, and we are glad that the prospect of its being tested is now so good, and we hope that the Religious Liberty Association will make good the announcement which we have read in this dispatch. We have no doubt whatever that if the decision shall be rendered according to justice, and the logic of the Constitution, it will put a quietus upon this exercise of the persecuting propensities of certain Sunday religionists.

If the First Amendment to the Constitution stood alone, there would be no ground of appeal on this point, because it simply forbids Congress to make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; but in that amendment there is no inhibition upon the States. The States are not forbidden to do what Congress is there for-bidden to do. The powers not prohibited to the States by the Constitution, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people, and as that amendment does not forbid the State to do thus, that power may be exercised by the State to any extent. So far as this amendment goes in itself, any State in the Union might establish any religion and forbid the exercise of any religion but that. But this amendment, taken in connection with the Fourteenth, assures perfect, religious liberty to every citizen of the United States.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States established a new order of things under this Government. Before this amendment was adopted, there was primarily no such thing as a citizen of the United States. Every person was a citizen of a State first, and a citizen of the United States only because he was a citizen of a State; but the adoption of that amendment made all persons born or naturalized within the United States, citizens of the United States, and of, the several States in which they reside; so that now every person is a citizen of the United States first of all, and after that is a citizen of whatever State it may be in which he resides. The Fourteenth Amendment further says that “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or [210] immunities of citizens of the United States.” Citizenship of the United States, therefore, and the rights, privileges, and immunities of persons as such, under this amendment takes precedence of all the powers of the States. Under the First Amendment there is secured to all citizens of the United States perfect immunity from any form of oppression on account of religious convictions; because the power of the United States is positively forbidden to be exercised in any such way. And as, by this amendment, every citizen has perfect immunity and privilege secured to him in the free exercise of his religious convictions, and as by this amendment every State is absolutely prohibited from either making or enforcing any law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, it therefore follows logically and justly, that no State can make any law, or enforce any law that is already made, which would interfere in any way with the right of an observer of the seventh day, or any other, to be free from any interference whatever on the part of, or in behalf of, those who observe Sunday or any other day.

Logically and justly the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States would absolutely prohibit any State from making or enforcing any law for the observance of Sunday, and much more, any law compelling the observance of Sunday by those who have already observed another day.

We know that the turn is now attempted to be taken by the courts, that Sunday legislation is not religious legislation, and that Sunday laws are not enacted or enforced in the interests of religion; but this is false. There is not a Sunday law on any statute book in Christendom that is not there out of deference to religion, and that is not there because of the distinctively religious idea that attaches to it; and for judges on the bench to undertake to make it appear that these laws are not religious, and that such legislation is not religious legislation, is to falsify the record in two particulars. First, Sunday is in itself religious, and religious only. The first Sunday law that ever was made was enacted solely in the interest of religion, and the object of the law was to devote the day to “the purposes of devotion,” thus putting into the law the religious idea that attaches to the day; and every Sunday law that has ever been enacted from that day till this has been enacted with this same idea in it.

Sometimes, indeed, the laws are found to read, “The first day of the week, commonly called Sunday,” but that does not modify the matter in the least. The idea of the first day of the week as such, and as a distinctive day, is religious, and there is no other idea that attaches to it in the laws that have been enacted or in the minds of those who observe the day or who seek to enforce the law. The first day of the week owes its precedence to the fact that Christ rose on that day, and it is in honor of this event that the day is said to have been set, apart and to be observed; and this is entirely religious, so that whether it be as “the first day of the week” or as plain “Sunday,” the thought that is in the phrase and that is in the law wherever it may be found is religious only, and for judges on the bench to attempt to make it otherwise is simply to do violence to all the logic of the question, and to contradict all the facts in the history of the question.

Again, every one of these laws has been enacted with the distinct intention of showing deference to the religious idea that is expressed in the day. The laws were enacted solely for that purpose. The original laws of this country were the Sunday laws of the colonies. Each one of the colonies having an established religion and considering itself to be set for the propagation of the kingdom of God in the earth, established by law the observance of Sunday, the first day of the week, or the Lord’s day, solely with the intention of compelling all people within its jurisdiction to comply with the forms of the religious establishment of that particular colony. All the Sunday laws of the other States, and the idea of them have been taken bodily from those of the original thirteen. Now it is a principle in the interpretation of law, that no meaning shall be given to a law that was not in it when it was enacted. The rule is that a statute “is not to be made to mean one thing at one time, and another at some subsequent time, when the circumstances may have so changed as perhaps to make a different rule in the case seem desirable…. The meaning of the Constitution (or statute) is fixed when it is adopted, and it is not different at any subsequent time when the Court has occasion to pass upon it.” And says Cooley: “A Court or Legislature which should allow a change of public sentiment to influence it in giving to a written Constitution a construction not warranted by the intention of its founders, would be justly chargeable with reckless disregard of official oath and public duty.”

This is as true of a statute as it is of a Constitution. No Court has any right to give to any law a meaning other than that which was in it when it was made. As the Sunday laws have been enacted solely out of regard for religion; and as the purpose in the enactment of the laws was solely religious; when a Court attempts to read into the statute any other meaning, and to give to the laws any other purpose, it simply does violence to the rules of law established for the guidance of courts, and sets up the mere opinion of the judges who so decide, and makes their will to be the law.

Legislation and laws in behalf of Sunday, being religious legislation solely, are clearly prohibited to Congress by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It therefore follows that so far as the power of the United States is concerned, every citizen of the United States has perfect immunity from any such legislation. And as the Fourteenth Amendment makes all persons born or naturalized in the United States citizens of the United States first of all, and then positively prohibits any State from making or enforcing any law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, it follows that properly and logically the Constitution of the United States absolutely prohibits any State from making or enforcing any Sunday law. And much more does it prohibit the enforcement of the observance of Sunday upon those who religiously observe another day.

We know that this point has never yet been raised under the Constitution, and consequently the Constitution has never yet been officially construed with reference to this question. But that this is the logic of the Constitution upon this point, there can be no question; and that we have excellent authority for saying that this is the proper construction of the Constitution is equally clear. Hon. James G. Blaine was in Congress when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. He played a leading part in all the movements which secured the adoption of this amendment as a part of the Constitution. His opinion of the meaning of this clause of the amendment can be only second in weight to that of the official declaration of the Supreme Court of the United States; and as the Supreme Court has not yet been called upon to pronounce upon the question, Mr. Blaine’s opinion is, so far, of the very highest importance and of the greatest value. On pages 312-314, Vol. II of his work, “Twenty Years of Congress,” Mr. Blaine discusses the value and importance of the Fourteenth Amendment, and on page 314 are the following words:—

The language of the, Fourteenth Amendment is authoritative and mandatory: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Under the force of these weighty inhibitions, the citizen of foreign birth cannot be persecuted by discriminating statutes, nor can the citizen of dark complexion be deprived of a single privilege or immunity which belongs to the white man. Nor can the Catholic, or the Protestant, or the Jew be placed under ban or subjected to any deprivation of personal or religious right. The provision is comprehensive and absolute, and sweeps away at once every form of oppression and every denial of justice.

This clearly touches the point at issue in the case which is proposed to be carried up from Tennessee. If the Catholic, or the Protestant, or the Jew cannot be placed under ban, or subjected to any deprivation of personal or religious right, then certainly each one of these classes is free from religious subjection to the religious [211] dictates or observances, of any of the others. And as this is true as between Protestants and Catholics, and between Catholics and Jews, and between Protestants and Jews, it is equally true as between one class of Protestants and another; and therefore the Sunday-keeping people of Tennessee or of any other State, cannot place under ban, or subject to their religious dictates, under penalties of law, a people who choose to observe another day than Sunday.

Again we say, this is a question of the deepest interest and of the greatest importance to every citizen of the United States. We are glad that the question is to be brought to the test; we hope the Religious Liberty Association will do indeed what the Nashville dispatch says that it has proposed to do, and we wish the Association complete success in its noble undertaking. The Constitution, the logic, the justice, and the probabilities are all on the side of the Association. Whether the law will be put there also, remains to be seen; for that depends upon how the United States Supreme Court shall decide.

A. T. J.

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