THE following editorials are among the most recent contributions to the discussion of the question, are laws enforcing Sunday observance of the nature of the religious legislation of a State-church polity, or are they purely civil enactments for the protection of the man and not the day:—
FEBRUARY 21.THE “CHRISTIAN STATESMAN,”
We are rather severely taken to task by the
, a Seventhday Baptist publication, for an editorial concerning the prosecution and imprisonment in Maryland and Tennessee of seventhday keepers for violating Sunday laws. It says we undertake a “lame apology” for the wrongs done, and that, when we say that Sunday laws are not enforced by the courts because of the divine sanction or because of the religious aspects of the day, we are guilty of an “evasion of facts.” Let us see, Dr. Spear, in his “Religion and the State,” shows that the Christian Sabbath is not an institution of the Federal Government, and is wholly unmentioned in any of the State constitutions except that of Vermont; that it is treated in the laws as a day of cessation from labor, and not as a religious institution; and that the State courts have taken an entirely secular view of it. Thus the Supreme Court of New York held that it is a “civil and political institution,” resting on the same foundations as the laws against gambling, lotteries, selling intoxicants on election days, etc.; that of Pennsylvania that it is only a “civil regulation;” that of South Carolina that Sunday is a “mere day of rest,” with which religion has nothing more to do than with a statute which should make July 4th or January 8th a rest day; that of Alabama that Sunday legislation is simply an exercise of the police power, and “cannot be justified on the ground that such abstinence [from labor] is enjoined by the Christians religion;” and that of Ohio that the validity of such legislation is “neither strengthened nor weakened by the fact that the day of rest it enjoins is the Sabbath day.” Other citations are given by Dr. Spear; and he reaches the conclusion that the whole theory of Sabbath legislation, as expounded by the courts, is that it rests not upon divine sanction or religious reasons, but the desirability of securing a regular rest-day, and of protecting those who religiously observe it from annoyance and disturbance.
It will be noticed that in the clear and strong convention address given in this issue, the author uses the common and officially accepted legal phrase “Sunday laws.” This he does, evidently, in order to have the term throughout the address the same as that made use of in our courts. In the same way the author occasionally speaks of “a civil Sunday.” We refer to this matter for the purpose of urging the most careful distinction in the use of the words “Sabbath” and “Sunday.” The latter word is correctly used only in relation to the first day of the week or anything connected with that day when the idea of the Sabbath as an institution for rest and worship is entirely wanting. A Sunday newspaper is a paper published on the first day of the week in violation of the Sabbath. A Sunday-school is properly a school on the first day of the week without any closer relation to the rest and worship of the Sabbath than a Monday school might have. A Sabbath-school is one on the first day of the week for the promotion of what is in support of the rest and worship of the Sabbath.
So a law for the
purpose of preventing Sabbath desecration if property a Sabbath law
. A Sunday law is one like that of Louisiana which simply places the first day of the week on a level with such legal holidays as the 4th of July and Christmas. It contains no implication of the sacredness of a day of rest and worship, or of the institution of the Sabbath. But in our States generally this institution of a rest day and a day for worship is most clearly kept in view in the laws concerning the first day of the week. The proper designation of these laws, therefore, is Sabbath laws, and not Sunday laws. And we are sure that it would lead to a better regard for these laws as based on the divine law itself, if they were always designated in our statute books and in our courts as well as in general and popular usage by their right name.
The Independent is still clinging to the erroneous and illogical idea that Sunday laws are not religious legislation. It is driven to this defense because it is unwilling to adopt the State-church theory in which Sunday laws were born, and at the same time unwilling to abandon its defense of such laws. We have published the editorial from the Christian Statesman to show that there is a wide disagreement among Sunday-law advocates on the point of the nature of these laws. The Christian Statesman, the acknowledged leader in the crusade for the enactment and enforcement of Sunday laws, boldly avers that such laws are religious laws, that the only consistent basis for such laws is the divine command of God, and all attempts to place these laws on a civil basis is itself “political atheism.” Laying aside the question of facts, the opinion of the Christian Statesman is more important than that of the Independent, because the Statesman is the recognized champion of the Sunday-law movement in the United States, and devotes more space to the discussion of the question in a single issue than the Independent does in a month.
But as regards facts: The Statesman is certainly correct in its claims that Sunday laws are religious enactments. It traces Sunday laws through the State-church period of colonial days to the English State-church enactment of Charles II., and from there back to Constantine’s famous law. No one can read the law of Charles II. in connection with the Sunday laws of the several States and deny that they are modified copies of it. These facts the Independent will not attempt to deny. So much for the origin.
Neither will the Independent deny that the demand for them comes from the Church. Rev. W. F. Crafts, in his book the “Sabbath for Man,” says: “During nearly all our American history the churches have influenced the State to enact and improve Sabbath laws.”
The Independent attempts to hide behind the decision of courts that Sunday laws are devil regulations. It is true that most of the courts have taken this view, but although this is law it does not follow that it is fact. The Supreme Court of the United States once decided that the negro “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The Independent, while admitting for the time being that this was law, would deny that it ever was a fact. Sunday laws are religious in origin, nature, and object, and when courts can make sin righteousness they can make Sunday laws religious.
But the courts are not a unit in placing Sunday laws on a purely civil basis. The United States Circuit Court, in its decision of the famous King case, denominated as “disingenuous” the “argument of his [King]s] adversary sects that it is the economic value of the day of rest and not its religious character which they would preserve by civil law.”
Again, the Supreme Court of California, ex parte Newman, reviews the decision of certain courts that Sunday laws are mere civil regulations, in the following forcible language:—
These decisions are based upon the ground that the statutes requiring the observance of the Christian Sabbath established merely a civil rule, and make no discrimination or preference in favor of any religion. By an examination of these cases, it will be seen that the position taken rests in mere assertion, and that not a single argument is adduced to prove that a preference in favor of the Christian religion is not given by the law. In the case in 8 Barr, the court said: “It [the law] intermeddles not with the natural and indefeasible right of all men to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; it compels none to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent; it pretends not to control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and it establishes no preference for any religious establishment or mode of worship.”
This is the substance of the arguments to show that these laws establish no preference. The last clause in the extract asserts the proposition broadly; but it is surely no legitimate conclusion from what precedes it, and must be taken as the plainest example of petition principii. That which precedes it establishes that the law does not destroy religious toleration, but that is all.
Now, does our constitution, when it forbids discrimination or preference in religion, mean merely to guarantee toleration? For that, in effect, is all which the cases cited seem to award, as the right of a citizen. In a community composed of persons of various religious denominations, having different days of worship, each considering his own as sacred from secular employment, all being equally considered and protected under the Constitution, a law is passed which in effect recognizes the sacred character of one of these days, by compelling all others to abstain from secular employment, which is precisely one of the modes in which its observance is manifested and required by the creed of that sect to which it belongs as a Sabbath. Is not this a discrimination in favor of the one? Does it require more than an appeal to one’s common sense to decide that this is a preference? And when the Jew or seventh-day Christian complains of this, is it any answer to say, Your conscience is not constrained, you are not compelled to worship or to perform religious rites on that day, nor forbidden to keep holy the day which you esteem as a Sabbath? We think not, however high the authority which decides otherwise.
The truth is, however much it may be disguised, that this one day of rest is a purely religious idea. Derived from the Sabbatical institutions of the ancient Hebrew, it has been adopted into all the creeds of succeeding religious sects throughout the civilized world; and whether it be the Friday of the Mohammedan, the Saturday of the Israelite, or the Sunday of the Christian, it is alike fixed in the affections of its followers beyond the power of eradication; and in most of the States of our confederacy, the aid of the law to enforce its observance has been given, under the pretense of a civil, municipal, or police regulation.
Once more, Chief Justice Rafin of the Supreme Court of North Carolina in the case of the State vs. Williams, thus honestly and candidly says:—
The truth is that it [Sunday labor] offends us, not so much because it disturbs us in practicing for ourselves the religious duties, or enjoying the salutary repose of recreation, of that day, as that it is, in itself, a breach of God’s law, and a violation of the party’s own religious duty.
The history of the “civil” claim for Sunday laws is thus briefly told in the history of other religious legislation by the Baptist historian, Robert Baird:—
The rulers of Massachusetts put the Quakers to death and banish “Antinomians” and “Anabaptists,” not because of their religious tenets, but because of their violation of civil laws. This is the justification they pleaded, and it was the best they could make. Miserable excuse! But just so it is; wherever there is such a union of Church and State, heresy and heretical practices are apt to become violations of the civil code, and are punished no longer as errors in religion, but infractions of the laws of the land. So the defenders of the Inquisition have always spoken and written in justification of that awful and most iniquitous tribunal.—Religion in America, p. 94.
It is true that a large majority of court decisions have embodied the “civil” view of Sunday laws, but these decisions have followed precedents long established and from which jurists have not dared to break away. These precedents were established under a terrible ecclesiastical pressure brought to bear upon the courts, which demanded the transference of a State-church measure from the church establishment of England to the disestablishment in America, and a “civil” reason for it. The United States Circuit Court decision, previously referred to, states the situation thus:—
The court, in cases like this, cannot ignore the existing customs and laws of the masses, nor their prejudices and passions even, to lift the individual out of the restraint surrounding him because of these customs and laws before the time has come when public opinion shall free all men in the measure desired.
Seventh-day Adventists bring no railing accusation against our courts. They charge no man with dishonest. The churches have demanded Sunday legislation of the legislators and sustaining decisions from judges. We are persuaded that there are judges who are as anxious to let the inoffensive seventh-day observers go free, as was Pilate to save the life of Jesus; but outside the court stands the Church as of old with threatening mien, pointing to the law and demanding their punishment under penalty of political death. “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” John 19:11.