“Civil or Religious, Which?” The American Sentinel 2, 8, pp. 60, 61.

August 1887

LAMST month we showed that the universal demand for Sunday laws is the wave upon which National Reform will ride to success and that this is the issue under cover of which the unsuspecting nation will be plunged into the evils of a union of Church and State. We showed that the passing of all laws enforcing the observance of Sunday is essentially religious legislation, because Sunday is wholly a religious thing, and laws enforcing its observance must be based upon religious grounds, for the thing itself exists upon no other grounds. Of course the National Reform Association itself does not propose legislation, whether in favor of Sunday observance or anything else, upon any other than religious grounds. But there are thousands of people who pretend to stolidly oppose any such legislation, yet who, at the same time, strive most strenuously to secure the enactment of laws enforcing Sunday observance, under the plea that such laws have nothing to do with Sunday as a religious institution, but entirely as a “police regulation;” that such laws have nothing at all to do with religion, but are wholly in the interests of health, education, patriotism, etc. But every such plea is a sheer fallacy. We have read a good many arguments based upon this plea, even in court decisions, but never yet have we read one in which the plea was fairly sustained. Nor can the thing ever be done, because to do so there has to be established, that which is always attempted, a distinction between what are called the civil and what the religious aspects of the day. But no such distinction can ever be shown, because it does not exist. They may call it Sabbath, Christian Sabbath, Lord’s day, or whatever else they please, the institution is wholly a religious one. Its duties and its obligations pertain solely to the church, and it has no civil aspects, and never can have any.

But perhaps as good a way as any to show this would be to set down some of the arguments that have been made in the endeavor to justify Sunday laws on a civil basis. One of the most prominent, and perhaps the best known, of the advocates of this theory, is Rev. Wilbur F. Crafts, of Brooklyn, New York. He has written a book entitled “The Sabbath for Man,” which the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union commands to be kept in constant circulation. He tries to make it appear that Sunday laws and their enforcement have nothing to do with religion, but have “relation to health, education, home virtue, and patriotism,” and his attempt is crowned with the [61] usual success of such efforts, that is, to prove emphatically the contrary. He says:—

“Such a day [as is secured by well-enforced Sabbath laws] causes rich and poor to meet on the platform of”—What suppose you, reader? On the platform of “health” interests? of “educational” interests? of the blessings of “home virtues”? on the platform of “patriotism”? Not at all. But “causes rich and poor to meet on the platform of religious equality.” Yet Sunday laws well-enforced have no relation to religion! Again:—

“Liberty allows the majority no right … to enforce its religion upon others. But inasmuch as more than three-fourths of the population are members or adherents of Christian churches, and so accustomed to set apart the first day of each week for rest and religion; and inasmuch as it is the conviction of this majority that the nation cannot be preserved without religion, nor religion without the Sabbath, nor the Sabbath without laws, therefore Sabbath laws are enacted,” &c.

Let us analyze this. (a) The nation cannot be preserved without religion. (b) But religion cannot be preserved without the Sabbath. (c) But the Sabbath cannot be preserved without laws. Now if these laws are to preserve the Sabbath that the Sabbath may preserve religion, it inevitably follows that all such laws are enacted in the interests of religion solely.

To obtain proof that Sunday laws “in relation to health” are justifiable, Mr. Crafts sent out the following question:—

“In your observation of clerks, mechanics, and other employes, which class are in the best physical and mental condition for the renewal of business on Monday morning, those who are church-goers, or those who spend the Sabbaths in picnics and other pleasures?”

To secure testimony to show whether Sunday laws are justifiable on the score of health, he inquires which class has the better health on Mondays, church-goers or non-church-goers! and yet Sunday laws have no relation to religion!!

But what answer did he get? He says he received written answers from about one hundred and fifty persons, and “the general answer is ‘church-goers.’” One says, “The church-goers are worth twenty-five per cent. more on an average.” Another says, “Church-goers. Their conscience is void of offense. Their mental peace and comfort impart increased power and endurance to the physical system.” Another says, “Many workingmen have told me that a short, practical sermon rests them.” Another says, “The church-goers are as fresh as larks, while the pleasure-goers have aches in the head, heart, and home, and so come into the week all out of breath.” Mr. Clem. Studebaker answers, “My observation is, that clerks and mechanics who spend their Sabbaths in church and Sabbath-school work are the best fitted for the duties of the office or shop on Monday morning.” And Col. Franklin Fairbanks answers,” Those who attend church and Sunday-school on Sunday are the most valuable in our business. I can tell the difference between them and the others by their work in the shop.” And last, Dr. Crafts says, “Scores of manufacturers and merchants on both sides of the sea, agree that those who go to church on Sunday are best fitted to go to work on Monday.”

Now we do not object at all to these statements. We do not doubt in the least that such is the fact in the case, as a rule. We freely admit that Sabbath-keeping, church-going people are better off in every respect than are those who are not such kind of people. It is not at all to the statements, nor to the fact, that we object. But we do most decidedly object to the use that he makes of them in his argument. For if his argument proves anything at all, it proves positively that laws should be enacted compelling everybody to go to church on Sunday.

Mark, his proposition is that “laws requiring that the people shall rest on Sunday from the exciting pursuit of gain and amusement are consistent with liberty in the same way as other health laws.” But all his proofs show that it is the church-goers who above all have the best health. The only conclusion therefore that can be drawn from his premises is that the State should enact laws compelling everybody to go to church on Sunday, and listen to a short, practical sermon to rest them, because their health will be twenty-five per cent. better than if they don’t. And so all such laws “are consistent with liberty in the same way as other health laws.” And yet Sunday laws well enforced have no relation to religion! And so will end, logically, every argument that is ever made to justify Sunday laws on a “civil basis.” We say again, There is no such basis, and nothing is needed to more plainly prove it than do these attempts to prove that there is, which always end in proving the opposite.

Thus says Mr. Crafts:—

“Sabbath laws for protecting the worshiping day of the prevailing religion, … are vindicated.”

And so he goes on, insisting all the time that Sunday laws must have “no relation to religion,” yet proving by every line of argument, in spite of his propositions, and in spite of logic, that such laws are wholly in the interests of religion. So it is, and always will be, with everyone who attempts the task. All of this goes to show that the animus of the whole discussion is the Sunday as a religious institution, and the enforcement of its observance as such. A further illustration of this is seen in the above quotation. Notice, he says the “majority has no right to enforce its religion upon others.” Then without the slightest break, or hesitation, he goes right forward and declares that a majority “are members or adherents of the Christian churches, and have set apart the first day of each week,” etc., etc., and winds up with the demand for laws for the enforcement of Sunday “for the preservation of religion, in obedience to the will of that majority.”

After all this we are not surprised to find him sanctioning an exposition(?) of the first Amendment to the Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” He calls it “that much misunderstood article of the National Constitution,” and says:—

“President Charles E. Knox, D. D., of the German Seminary at Bloofield, N. J., in a very able paper on the ‘Attitude of Our Foreign Population toward the Sabbath,’ urges that this Amendment needs to be expounded everywhere to our foreign population. It should be shown to them that while Congress possesses no law-making power in respect to an establishment of religion, it may, and does, and always has, passed laws which have respect to religion.”

Then our foreign population are to be informed, are they, that Congress “may, and does, and always has,” violated the Constitution? That would be an exposition of this article indeed. This will be news to the National Reform Association, too, as well as to the rest of us. We feel almost sure that if Dr. Crafts can convince that Association of the truth of this exposition, he will be promoted to great honor. However, we doubt his ability to do it. First, because this statement of Mr. Knox is notoriously false; and secondly, because the idea advanced by Mr. Crafts himself that the enactment of Sabbath laws is “not in violation of this article,” stands contradicted by the United States Senate, in that, when in 1830 it was petitioned to legislate on this very subject of Sunday, it declared that such action would be unconstitutional.

A. T. J.

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