THE Canadian Baptist, in its issue of June 13, attempts to explain and justify Sunday statutes and the punishment of seventh-day observers under them, thus:—
Let us suppose, by way of illustration, that in a given community the question of Sunday laws is just being settled for the first time. Having decided that a statutory rest-day is essential to the general weal, the first question for the statesman is, evidently, “What day of the week shall be set apart as the day of rest?” He looks over the field and finds that a large proportion of the citizens, say three-fourths of the whole, are already accustomed to observe Sunday as a weekly sabbath, sacred to rest and worship; to assemble in the most peaceable and orderly manner on this day for religious purposes, etc. How long will the real statesman hesitate as to what day shall be chosen as the weekly rest-day for the whole community?
In order to aid our Baptist friend to see the real nature of this “illustration,” we will put it, slightly altered, into the mouth of a Russian defender of his established church, and the enforcement of the laws against Stundists:—
Let us suppose, by way of illustration, that in a given country the question of church establishment is just being settled for the first time. Having decided that an established religion is essential to the general weal, the first question for the statesman is, evidently, “Which one of the several religions shall be legally established and enforced upon all?” He looks over the field and finds that a large proportion of the citizens, say three-fourths of the whole, are already accustomed to worship according to the rites of the Greek Church. How long will the real statesman hesitate as to what religion shall be chosen for the whole country?
It may be objected that a law compelling all to remain idle on a certain day because a majority of the people are supposed to regard that day holy, is not parallel with the policy in Russia of compelling Jews, Stundists and other dissenters to conform to the religion of the majority. But there is absolutely no difference save in degree. The seventh-day observer who is imprisoned or put in the chain-gang in America for refusing to remain idle on the holy day of his neighbor, is as truly persecuted as is the Stundist who is exiled to Siberia for dissenting from the law-enforced creed of his Russian neighbor.
There is one point in the attempt of the Canadian Baptist to justify Sunday laws that deserves attention. It presumes that Sunday laws are first found necessary on purely civil grounds, and afterwards the day is selected which the majority regard as holy. But the Canadian Baptist has gotten the cart before the horst. There never was a Sunday act secured on that basis. All Sunday statutes originated in an attempt to protect the supposed religious character of the day, and afterwards when the doctrine of separation of Church and State prevailed; then and not till then was the civil excuse invented.
The statutes enforcing Sunday observance in all English-speaking countries are direct, legitimate descendants of the Sunday act of Charles II. This no historian or member of the legal fraternity will dispute. And now, to show that the act did not originate in the civil idea, but in the idea of enforced religious observance, we quote the statute here:—
For the better observation and keeping holy the Lord’s day, commonly called Sunday, be it enacted by the king’s most excellent majesty, and by and with the advice and consent of the lords, spiritual and temporal, and of the commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that all the laws enacted and in force concerning the observation of the day, and repairing to the church thereon, be carefully put in execution; and that all and every person and persons whatsoever shall upon every Lord’s day apply themselves to the observation of the same, by exercising themselves thereon in the duties of piety and true religion, publicly and privately; and that no tradesman, artificer, workman, laborer, or other person whatsoever, shall do or exercise any worldly labor or business or work of their ordinary callings upon the Lord’s day, or any part thereof (works of necessity and charity only excepted), and that every person being of the age of fourteen years or upwards offending in the premises shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of five shillings; and that no person or persons whatsoever shall publicly cry, show forth, or expose for sale any wares, merchandise, fruit, herbs, goods, or chattels whatsoever, upon the Lord’s day, or any part thereof, upon pain that every person so offending shall forfeit the same goods so cried or showed forth or exposed for sale. 297
Nearly all the Sunday statutes to-day wear ear-marks, which indicate their religious origin, nature and object. They contain such theological expressions as “violating the sabbath,” “breach of the sabbath,” “desecrate,” “worldly employment,” “Lord’s day,” “Christian sabbath,” etc., etc. But if all these distinctively religious expressions were eliminated this would not change their nature. A rose would smell just as sweet if called by some other name, and a law enforcing all men to be idle while some pray would be just as tyrannical if expressed in secular terms and called civil.
It is one of those strangely inconsistent things that follows the transformation of a weak, minority church into a powerful majority that makes this article a necessity. Think of it! A Baptist journal defending the imprisonment of Seventh-day Adventists for refusing to obey Sunday laws when Roger Williams was banished from an American colony, because among other things, he “declared the opinion that the magistrate might not punish a breach of the sabbath.” 298