THE Seventh-day Adventists, recently in the chain-gang in Rhea County, Tenn., have been released. They were not required by the authorities to work upon the Sabbath, but were required to work an additional number of days for the “privilege” of resting upon the Sabbath as required by the divine commandment. The officials were magnanimous(?) and did not exact the full pound of flesh; they “gave” them from one to three days each, because, as they said, the Adventists had been good hands, and had given them no trouble.
But the release of these men in no wise affects the question at issue; the fact remains that they were unjustly deprived of their liberty, and that the State of Tennessee still claims the right to impose upon them the observance of the so-called sabbath under penalty of further imprisonment.
THE law of God is spiritual. The Saviour, in his sermon on the mount, showed that the sixth and seventh commandments could be broken even by an evil desire. And the Sabbath commandment, like the others, requires more than a conformity in outward acts. It requires that we should not seek our own pleasure on the Sabbath day, or speak our own words, but should make it a day of spiritual delight. See Isaiah 58:13, 14. And no one can do this without being spiritually-minded. Hence it is utterly impossible for any human sabbath law to help any person to keep the Sabbath; and all the legislation that might be passed on earth, though enforced as strictly as ever human law was enforced, could not save the nation from being a nation of Sabbath-breakers in the eye of God.
THE World, of August 26, had the two following items of news, which serve to illustrate the wickedness of the statute which makes an act, otherwise commendable, a crime, simply because it is done on Sunday:—
Of the Sunday-law arrests the most interesting was that of Thomas Doughlin, of No. 1763 Third Avenue. He was selling ice, and a policeman saw him sell five cents’ worth to a girl from a tenement-house. There used to be an order that the selling of ice was a work of necessity, but City Magistrate Simms, of the Harlem Police Court, held him for trial.
Another case was that of Cassel Goldman, clerk, in No. 17 Canal Street. He sold a policeman three cents’ worth of writing paper. The place is a cigar shop as well as a stationer’s, and the policeman, whose memorable name is Grimshaw, came in and said: “I want to write a letter. Won’t you accommodate me with a piece of paper?” City Magistrate Denel held Goldman for trial.
It is difficult to properly characterize these arrests. It is astonishing that officers would make arrests under such circumstances, and still more astonishing that a police magistrate would hold a man for trial, arrested for selling ice. Bad as the Sunday law of New York is, it permits works of necessity and charity, and defines necessity as being “whatever is necessary for the health, comfort, or well-being of the people.” It is evident, however, that nothing is to be permitted to stand in the way of a rigid enforcement of the Sunday law.
The other case, while not having in it the same elements of barbarous cruelty, as in the circumstances attending the arrest of the ice-man, presents a sad commentary on the morals which are fostered by Sunday legislation. The sale of manufactured tobacco is legal in New York State on Sunday, therefore it was not a violation of the law for the clerk to sell cigars on that day, and it was doubtless for that purpose that the shop was open. The policeman who made the arrest, did not find the clerk selling other articles, nor did he induce him to violate the law simply by proposing to buy stationery from him, but professing that he wanted to write a letter, asks simply as an accommodation that he might be supplied with the necessary material; and for doing this favor the clerk was arrested. The first impulse is to blame the officer and to feel that society is unsafe in the guardianship of such men; but the fault is primarily with the “law” which makes an act otherwise commendable a crime because it is done upon Sunday. Sunday laws, instead of promoting morality, foster immorality.
THE plea that the imprisonment of men under the Sunday statutes of the various States is not religious persecution because “Sunday laws are civil enactments,” can be honestly made only by those ignorant of history. With the exception of isolated cases of individual and mob violence, no martyr ever suffered except for violation of civil law. Of the Puritan regimé in Massachusetts, Bancroft says: “Since a particular form of worship had become a part of the civil establishment, irreligion was a civil offense.” 352
Very much of the intolerance of the Puritans was “justified” on civil grounds. Of the banishment of certain offenders from the territory of Massachusetts, Bancroft says:—
The government feared, or pretended to fear, a disturbance of the public peace…. The triumph of the clergy being complete, the civil magistrates proceeded to pass sentence on the most resolute offenders. Wheelwright, Anne Hutchinson and Aspinwall were exiled from the territory of Massachusetts.
Religious intolerance has always masqueraded as the conservator of civil order.