February 16, 1893
NOW that Congress has gone beyond the Constitution on one point, for religion’s sake, and has legislated to close the World’s Fair on Sunday, it may, for the same reason, go beyond it on any or every point.
THE Congress of the United States had no right to put the Bible into its legislation and make it the basis of any legislative measure. The Constitution is the proper basis of congressional legislation, not the Bible. But the Constitution has been ignored and legislation had upon an assumed Biblical basis. To reach this the Constitution has been violated, the word of God has been blasphemed, and a statutory misinterpretation of a divine commandment has been had.
THE commandment says the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord; but in the face of this plain declaration the Senate of the United States has put its own interpretation upon that commandment, and has declared that the statement “the seventh day is the Sabbath” means “the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday.” Thus the Congress of the United States has taken the fourth commandment from the Bible and put it into its legislation, and has put its own interpretation upon the divine statute.
IF Congress can do this in one case, can interpret the Bible in one point, it can do it in any case; it can interpret the Bible on every point. When Congress went beyond the Constitution in this, as it did, it put itself and the Government in line with all the Church and State governments that have ever been, and assumed to itself to be the interpreter of the Bible for all the people in the land, and for all who come into the land. More than that, it not only assumed to itself the right and the authority to interpret and enforce divine law as such, but in doing that it put the stamp of its legislative approval upon a given religious and doctrinal belief. It made an adherence to that belief and observance distinctively necessary to citizenship under this Government. It built a surer foundation for that line of judicial precedent in religious law for which there has never heretofore been any adequate basis.
THIS is not strictly an adequate basis, but it will no doubt be accepted as such, in connection with the Supreme Court decision that this is a “Christian Nation.” It may be that the Supreme Court will be called upon during the coming year to state its position upon this definitely, and not in general terms. This may be brought about through the question of State rights, as to whether Congress has any jurisdiction within the municipality of Chicago by which it may enforce the Sunday-closing proviso, or lay any penalty for its non-observance. It may come through an appeal from the lower courts of some case brought under a religious statute or judicial precedent. However it may come it is not probable that the Supreme Court can long avoid the responsibility of defining directly the position which it has taken in the case of the Church of the Holy Trinity of New York. When that point is reached the Supreme Court will face an awkward alternative. It will be necessary either to antagonize openly the First Amendment to the Constitution, and indirectly the Tenth Amendment by assuming for Congress powers which have not been granted to it; or the opinion of Justice Brewer that this is a “Christian Nation,” and in which the entire bench concurred, will have to be overruled.
THE possibilities, rather even the probabilities, of the continuance of the Sunday-closing contest as regards the World’s Fair,—and of appeal to the highest court of Sunday-law cases on their merits,—are fraught with much that is uncomfortable to the occupants of the Supreme Bench. Congress took the fatal step in haste last session. In shame at the position in which it finds itself and in fear of the Church party it refuses now to retrace its steps, or even consider the propriety of so doing. When the Supreme Court is put in a similar position what will be its attitude? Will it refuse to review or antagonize the Brewer decision and allow this revolution to take its course?