A DENIAL that persecution is intended, or that it will result from the passage of religious laws in this country, is of no avail in the face of existing facts. It is a political maxim that “the domain that government invades it dominates; the jurisdiction it takes it keeps.” And this Government having invaded the domain of religion and assumed jurisdiction in religious questions, will inevitably dominate that domain and retain that jurisdiction. Moreover, those who are clamoring for governmental recognition of religious dogmas and institutions, have shown that they are not slow to avail themselves of any advantage afforded by legislative action, whether State or national.
“REVOLUTIONS never go backward,” especially when they are in the wrong direction; and a most wonderful religio-political revolution has taken place in this country in the last decade. By this revolution, persecution for conscience’ sake has been inaugurated in several different States of the Union; the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution has been practically swept away by the Supreme Court decision of Feb. 29, 1892; and the Government has been made a party to a religious controversy by the act of Congress conditioning the World’s Fair appropriation on the Sunday closing of the Columbian Exposition. And the promoters of this religio-political movement themselves declare that these are only the beginnings. What then will the end be?—Clearly, anything except the continuance of the liberty of conscience hitherto enjoyed by a free people.
THAT the spirit of bigotry and intolerance is not dead, nor even sleeping, in this the closing decade of the nineteenth century, is proven beyond a doubt by the fact that honest, God-fearing men, members of a Christian church, and conscientious observers of the Sabbath enjoined by the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, have been fined and imprisoned in several different States, at the instigation of members of other churches, and that for no other offense than doing quiet farm work on Sunday after having, according to their faith, observed the day of their choice. And not the least significant feature of this persecution is that it has elicited practically no protest form the religious press of the country. The facts have been published broadcast, and special pains have been taken to bring them to the attention of the press everywhere. The silence is not due therefore to ignorance but to indifference and approval. Thus by silence, the religious press of this country has given assent to persecution for conscience’ sake, and by giving assent, is has become partaker in the evil deeds of the persecutors.
THE facts in the most recent of these persecutions are briefly as follows: Near Springville, Henry County, Tenn., there is a church of nearly sixty Seventh-day Adventists. They are, as even their persecutors admit, honest, God-fearing people. They observe the seventh day of the week by rest and worship. On Sunday they ordinarily go quietly about their secular pursuits, choosing on that day only the more quiet and less conspicuous kinds of farm labor. For this, “five of the leading members of the church” were, not at the instigation of their immediate neighbors, but on complaint of Sunday-keeping church members of adjoining neighborhoods, indicted for maintaining a nuisance by their Sunday work; were tried and convicted, notwithstanding the fact that their immediate neighbors testified that they were not annoyed by the work, and were actually imprisoned in the common jail, and though not chained themselves, were worked in the chain gang with common criminals, in this 1892nd year of grace, and in “free America;” and that without protest from the churches or from the religious press.
THE Constitution 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;” yet the courts of the State hold that this provision of the Constitution is not to be understood as permitting dissenters from the prevailing religion to disregard laws made in aid of the religion of those having control of legislation, but only as guaranteeing to every man freedom to hold and practice his own religion without molestation. The same view of the matter was taken by Judge Hammond, of the United States District Court, in the Case of R. M. King, indicted and fined for Sunday work. The case was brought before Judge Hammon on writ of habeas corpus. The Judge said:—
Sectarian religious belief is guaranteed by the Constitution, not in the sense argued here, that King, as a Seventh-day Adventist, or some other, as a Jew, or yet another, as a Seventh-day Baptist, might set at defiance the prejudices, if you please, of other sects having control of legislation in the sense that he himself should not be disturbed in the practices of his creed; which is quite a different thing from saying that in the course of his daily labor … he might disregard laws made in aid, if you choose to say so, of the religion of other sects.
That is to say, a man may belong to a sect; that sect may have a creed; they may practice according to that creed, and may not be disturbed in such practice; but at the same time, they must conform to the laws made in aid of the religion of other sects, that have control of legislation.
ACCORDING to this interpretation of Tennessee law, if a man be a Baptist he may practice the precepts of the Baptist creed, but if the Methodists should have control of legislation, they could oblige the Baptists by law to conform to the precepts of the Methodist creed. Or one company of people might be Methodists, another Baptists, another Quakers, and so on; but if the Roman Catholics only had control of legislation, and should enact laws enforcing Roman Catholic doctrines and precepts, then the Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, etc., would all be obliged to conform to the Roman Catholic precepts, as by law required. And although protected in the undisturbed practice of their own creeds, none of these dissenting sects would be in any wise at liberty to disregard the laws made in aid of the religion of the Roman Catholic sect! And such, according to the courts, is the freedom of religious belief guaranteed by the Constitution of Tennessee! And the Supreme Court decision of February 29, of the present year of grace, and the act of Congress closing the World’s Fair on Sunday, show that practically nothing more than this is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.
IN view of the facts cited, and very many more might be given, does not THE SENTINEL do well to sound an alarm; to say that the United States is following in the footprints of Rome; that already our fancied constitutional guarantees of religious liberty have been swept away; and that liberty of conscience in America rests now not on a substantial basis in our fundamental law, but upon the whim of the majority, or even worse, upon the forbearance of an arrogant and aggressive minority?
UNITED STATES senators have declared it to be “not wise statesmanship” to disregard the demands of the churches for legislation deciding a religious controversy as to whether Sunday is the Sabbath, or not. Now why shall not this principle apply in other cases? Why shall not the Spiritualists now work up some issue by which they can demand legislation which will decide the question as to whether or not people are alive when they are dead? There are as many Spiritualists as there are church members; and, of course, it would not be “wise statesmanship” to disregard their demands. Besides this, they would have the unanimous and hearty support of all the “evangelical churches” in the country. And as Congress has granted the demands of the churches alone on this Sunday-Sabbath question, how much more would the same body grant the demands of the same ones over again with largely increased numbers with them. For such would only be “wise statesmanship,” according to the latest definition of the term. What queer ideas these gentlemen have of what statesmanship is! The truth is that it is not statesmanship at all. It is sheer demagogism; and that of the worst sort. These gentlemen should be told that statesmanship goes not pander to the selfish and arbitrary demands of classes; it creates sound and healthy public opinion.