THIS pledge or guarantee of freedom to the citizens of Maryland in the practice of religion, is contained in Article 36 of the Constitution of 1864, which is now in force. That article declares:—
That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore no person ought, by any law, to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice, unless under the color of religion any man shall disturb the good order, peace, or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil, or religious rights.
It would seem that such a declaration as this in the fundamental law of the State should constitute a bulwark of liberty behind which the citizen might, without molestation, quietly practice that form of religion which his conscience might dictate, even though his practice should be at variance with that of the majority of citizens around him. Certainly a constitutional guarantee of religious freedom is a meaningless thing if its design is not to protect those in the minority; for the majority have the power to protect themselves. And in all cases where the minority is sufficiently powerful to command the respect of their opponents, such a constitutional guarantee of protection would doubtless be of force; but in case the minority whose privileges are in question is very weak in numbers, so as to be most in need of protection, as is true of the Seventh-day Adventists in Maryland, it seems that the constitutional guarantee is without any force whatever.
In proof of this, we have but to cite the case of Mr. Faust, an Adventist shoemaker in Baltimore, who was arrested for working at his trade in his own house on Sunday, with closed doors, and so quietly that the arresting officer had to peep in at the window to discover that any work was being done. Mr. Faust was indicted by the grand jury, and is now awaiting the summons of the trial court.
The parties who instigated this persecution are themselves more worthy of indictment, according to the spirit if not the letter of the constitutional provision under consideration; for that expressly guards against injury to any citizens “in their natural, civil, or religious rights.” And the injury done in this case was no less grievous or less to be condemned because it was not done “under the color of religion.” It was religious prejudice and animosity that prompted the whole proceeding; and certainly no worse motive for infringing upon “natural, civil, or religious rights” could be found.
It is useless to deny that the Sunday work done by Seventh-day Adventists is the direct result of their religious views. They are religious people, believing in the binding obligation of the Sabbath, as well as of the other precepts of God’s law. Most of them, before becoming Adventists, were observers of the first day of the week, and such they would doubtless be to-day did they not believe the seventh day to be the Sabbath according to the testimony of God’s Word. That they now labor on the first day of the week, is in most cases due entirely to this change of religious belief.
Furthermore, as the SENTINEL has often stated, the Adventists see that it is impossible to sanctify the seventh day, as the Word of God commands, without making a separation between it and the other days of the week; and to do this, according to the directions of the fourth commandment, they must make that day, and that alone, the weekly day of rest. In other words, they must rest on the seventh day and treat the first day as a working day, after the example set by the Creator.
It is therefore from the free exercise of their religion, and from that only, that their disregard of the first-day sabbath arises. And the fundamental law of the State guarantees to them, in common with all others, freedom and security in this respect. There is nothing in ordinary, quiet, peaceful labor that is against “the good order, peace, or safety of the State.” Indeed, there is nothing that now menaces the interests of the State in this respect more than the fact that so many men are averse to honest labor, and are trying to get a living by some other means.
It is obvious that we have reached a time when even a constitutional guarantee is inadequate to afford the weak minority protection in the exercise of religion against the prejudice and bigotry of the majority. And this, coming upon the end of our one hundred years’ practice of the principle of liberty to all in the exercise of religious belief, constitutes a portentious and baleful sign of the times before us.