“Is It Religious Persecution?” American Sentinel 9, 50, pp. 396, 397.

THIS question was raised by the New York Independent, in its issue of November 29, in an article devoted to the discussion of the recent imprisonment of two Seventh-day Adventists in Centreville, Md., for “doing bodily labor on the Lord’s day.”

The Independent has several times in the past spoken in no uncertain terms concerning the imprisonment of Seventh-day Adventists and Seventh-day Baptists, for failure to observe Sunday in obedience to civil laws, and the opening paragraph of the present article has some of the old-time ring. Our contemporary says:—

In the progress of the spirit of independence and liberty persecution has become a hateful thing, an intolerance which the right-minded refuse to tolerate. It is with a feeling of humiliation, if not with positive horror, that we look back to the time in our own history, not so far away as we could wish, when the members of certain sects were proscribed and persecuted; when imprisonment and fines were meted out to those who did not fall in with prevalent religious practices. We are not sure that we have not still among us a vestige of that species of persecution by which the civil authorities used to punish men and women for their neglect or refusal to comply with religious observances enforced by law.

This is good. We certainly still have among us very considerable “vestige of that species of persecution by which the civil authorities used to punish men and women for their neglect or refusal to comply with religious observances enforced by law.” But the Independent grows timid as it progresses, and after giving expression to the sentiments we have quoted, begins to hedge in this fashion:—

Strictly speaking, the courts do not enforce this civil law because of the divine sanction or because of the religious observances of the day. The law is based on the idea that a periodical rest-day is for the good of men and that its enforcement is a matter of police regulation, for which it is perfectly proper that the State should make provision. This is the main ground, as we take it, but connected with it is also the principle that those who desire to observe it as a day of religious exercise are entitled to do so in quietness and peace without the disturbance which characterizes an ordinary day of labor.

Of course all the courts do not necessarily enforce this “civil law because of the divine sanction or because of the religious observance of the day,” but because the law directs them to enforce it. That does not, however, touch the real question at all: Why are such laws enacted? Let the Christian Statesman, of November 3, answer:—

The State is bound to keep the Sabbath as a witness for God before the eyes of the people. This witness must be kept on the witness stand that men may profit by its testimony. The Sabbath is a witness to the Lordship of the Almighty. God designed that men should not be permitted to forget his authority. He, therefore, so orders it by means of the institutions of the Sabbath, that every seventh day there should be before their eyes a reminder of his supremacy. And so it is that all over this wide world, wherever by human authority, men are required to cease from toil on the Sabbath God has a witness on the stand testifying to his supremacy. This is why wicked men desire to annul the legislation that requires the cessation from usual labor on the Lord’s day—they want to get rid of its testimony to the authority of GOD…. Next to the cross of Calvary, the ordinance of the Sabbath witnesses most eloquently to the benevolence of God.

This is a bold avowal of the real purpose of Sunday laws. Their design is to honor a religious institution as such; and they are enacted in obedience to the demand of the churches. In the Christian Statesman, of July 3, 1890, Rev. W. F. Crafts, the great Sunday law champion, said:—

During nearly all our American history the churches have influenced the States to make and improve Sabbath laws.

In like manner, United States District Judge Hammond, in his dictum in the well-known King case, in western Tennessee, said:—

Sectarian freedom of religious belief is guaranteed by the constitution [of Tennessee]; 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 matter of Sunday observance, but only in the sense that he should not himself 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.

Again, in the same connection, Judge Hammond, though deciding against King, says:—

It is a somewhat humiliating spectacle to see the Sunday advocates trying to justify the continuance of Sunday legislation … upon the argument that it is not in conflict with the civic dogma of religious freedom. It surely is…. The bare fact that the mass [of the people] desires Sunday as the public day of rest, is enough to justify its civic sanction, and the potentiality of the fact that it is in aid of the religion of that mass might be frankly confessed and not denied.

This is a plain statement of the fact which the Independent seeks to explain away, namely, that Sunday laws rest not upon civil but upon religious grounds, and hence are religious laws, i.e., laws designed to control, to some extent, the people in religious things. They rest confessedly upon religious prejudices and not upon civic reasons. The Independent would better get off the fence. It is impossible to serve two masters. The imprisonment of Seventh-day Adventists for working on Sunday is either right or it is not right. If right, let the Independent fearlessly defend it; if wrong, let it as fearlessly say so, as it has done in the past, and not try to carry water on both shoulders.

It is evident that the Independent is in a great strait betwixt a desire to please the people who demand Sunday laws, and an innate sense of justice which revolts at evident injustice. The third paragraph of the article in question runs thus:—

So far as the courts are concerned we have no reason for holding that the imprisonment of seventh day observers for laboring on the first day is in the nature of religious persecution. The courts must consider such cases as are legally brought before them, and must decide accepting to the law. The element of persecution may appear, however, in connection with the complaint. It is quite possible that some, whose zeal for the Christian Sabbath is warmer than their love for their Christian brethren, are led to secure the enforcement of law on account of a feeling of prejudice. However this may be, it is a painful thing to see men who conscientiously observe the seventh day, arraigned and imprisoned for refusing to observe also the first day. It looks like religious persecution; it looks like intolerance toward those who cannot conscientiously accept the views of the majority as to the Sabbath. Making all allowance for the charge that some of the seventh day people in the penalties of the law by ostentatiously violating it, it does seem to me that such cases as those in Maryland and Tennessee are an anachronism. It is perfectly easy so to nullify the law as to permit those who observe the seventh day regularly to have the privilege of working on the first day, provided they do not infringe, in their laboring, the rights of the majority. There is such a provision in the laws of this State and in those of other States, and we wish it were universal.

It may be, as before remarked, that so far as the courts in general are concerned, the motive is not religious. Indeed, we have personally known of judges who were very reluctant to try these Sunday cases, and States attorneys who were loth to prosecute them; but there are very many judges who are in hearty sympathy with just such legislation. A number of judges of various courts have been, and are, identified with the National Reform Association and the American Sabbath Union, thus giving their influence to the enactment of civil laws for the enforcement of religious dogmas.

Moreover, in some cases courts have, by construction, actually made laws of just this character. For instance, the statutes of Tennessee provide a fine of three dollars for violation of the Sunday law, to be recovered before any justice of the peace. But the courts of that State have, by construction, made a law that a repetition of such acts becomes a nuisance, an indictable offense, punishable by a fine in any sum over fifty dollars, at the discretion of the jury, and under that sum at the discretion of the judge. This decision was rendered, and this law made by the Supreme Court of Tennessee in a case where an Adventist was the defendant. And this decision was made in the face of a prior decision by the same court in a similar case, but where no religious issue was involved, to the effect that “to hold that it [ordinary labor] becomes a nuisance when carried on on Sunday, is a [397] perversion of the term ‘nuisance.’” Certainly, in view of this clearly expressed opinion of the same tribunal, there was no legal obligation binding the judges to decide that Sunday work was a nuisance; and this is but one of many cases that might be cited to show that judges as well as prosecuting witnesses have shown unmistakably that they were influenced not by a zeal for the maintenance of civil order, but by religious bigotry worthy of the Dark Ages.

And so it is not without reason that the Independent says, “It looks like religious persecution; it looks like intolerance toward those who cannot conscientiously accept the views of the majority as to the Sabbath.” Yes, it certainly does look “like religious persecution;” in fact, that is just what it is; dressed, it is true, in modern garb, but the same nevertheless, though still masquerading under another name; for religious persecution has never been willing to use its proper designation. Touching this “civil” disguise of religious laws, the church historian, Robert Baird, has this pungent paragraph:—

The rulers of Massachusetts put the Quakers to death and banished “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 as it is; wherever there is 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. 34.

This effectually disposes of the “civil law” argument. Of course, in one sense such laws are “civil,” i.e., in the sense that they are enacted and enforced by the civil power; but they are religious in this that they rest upon the religious prejudices of the people and are designed for the protection of religious institutions.

But the Independent takes another tack. It admits that the Adventists are conscientious, but thinks the matter of scarcely sufficient importance to make so much stir about. It says:—

Of course, as it seems to us, our seventh-day brethren of various Christian names make entirely too much of a particular day. It has always seemed to us that the difference as to day is a very narrow basis on which to build up separate denominations of Christians; but it is a matter of conscience with several thousand of our brethren, and we cannot ask them to violate their consciences by working on the seventh day and observing the first. It is impossible, of course, for them to avoid prosecution by observing the first day as well as the seventh, and this is what most of them do. There is in Plainfield, N.J., a very attractive church building, recently erected by the Seventh-day Baptists. When they made their contracts with the builders it was stipulated that no work should be doe on the seventh day. As most of the workingmen were in the habit of observing the first day of the week, work on the building could go on only five days in the week. Of course such a peculiar contract could not be made on the most favorable terms for the church. The contractors had to take the enforced idleness of two days in the week into account, and doubtless the church had to pay a larger amount because of it.

Now, the first part of this is quite aside from the real issue. It matters not how absurd the faith of any people may be, nor how few that people, they have a natural and inalienable right to practice that faith so long as in so doing they do not infringe the equal rights of others. But the Independent mistakes in supposing that it is possible for Seventh-day Adventists “to avoid prosecution by observing the first day as well as the seventh.” The seventh day is the badge or sign of the true God: “Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.” Ezekiel 20:12. In like manner the Sunday is a counterfeit of the Sabbath, the badge of an apostate power the mark of the papal power, the sign of the usurped authority of the “man of sin” “to appoint feasts and holy days, and to command men under sin.” No Seventh-day Adventist can observe it and remain loyal to God. Therefore, to keep Sunday is with the Adventist to apostatize from God. But the Adventist does not deem it necessary to needlessly offend their neighbors by “ostentatiously” violating Sunday. Adventists are a quiet, well-behaved people on all days of the week; but they insist that they have, from a proper civil standpoint, as much right to follow on Sunday their usual callings as their neighbors have to follow theirs on the seventh day.

The Independent concludes its article by this paragraph:—

It is very often an inconvenience and a matter of hardship to these people to be faithful to their own conscientious convictions and also to obey the civil law. Of course they cannot be compelled to work on the seventh day; but, on the other hand, does their conscience impel them to work on the first day? Hardly, one would say. If there were no alternative it would be better that they should suffer some inconvenience and loss in observing two days in the week than that the one rest day in which the great majority are united should be overthrown. When Mr. Whaley writes from jail to say that he is “thrust into prison for the sake of God’s eternal truth,” he does not truly represent the case. He was not imprisoned for observing the seventh day, but for working on the first day. But the number of seventh-day observers, including the Jews, is not numerous, and the law can be modified to suit their case without overthrowing the foundations of the general rest-day. It is a great deal better to be tolerant in this matter than to engage in what looks like religious persecution.

This is undertaking to say what is conscience and what is not. Mr. Whaley says he suffered for conscience’ sake; the Independent says not. How could the Independent possibly know what Mr. Whaley’s conscience is except by what he says it is? Resort was formerly had to torture to compel men to reveal the secrets of their hearts; and this is the logic of denying that a man’s conscience is just what he says it is. But inasmuch as Mr. Whaley is an Adventist, and as we know of our personal knowledge that Adventists regard Sunday-keeping in the light in which we have presented it, namely, as a denial of the sovereignty of God, we are morally certain that Mr. Whaley’s conscience is just what he says it is, notwithstanding the Independents denial. The Independents tortuous logic is simply indicative of the course that the remnant of the religious press will take. It is aptly expressed by a slight adaptation of the words of Pope:—

Persecution is a creature of such hideous valen
That to be hated needs but to be seen;
But seen too oft, familiar with his face;
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

The Scriptures tell us that persecution is to be the lot of the last church upon earth; and that for which the Independent so weakly apologizes is only the beginning of the end. [398]

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