“More Religious Persecution in Tennessee” American Sentinel 10, 12, pp. 89, 90.

March 21, 1895

Seventh-day Adventist Academy at Graysville Closed by Religious Intolerance

IN 1892, Prof. G. W. Colcord, a Seventh-day Adventist minister, established an academy at Graysville, Rhea County, Tenn. He invested in this school all the money he had, amounting to several thousand dollars. Several of his brethren likewise invested money in the enterprise, not as a speculation nor with the expectation of any financial return, but for the purpose of building up a school that would afford young people in that part of the country an opportunity to acquire a good education and thus fit them for usefulness in the world.

Elder Colcord associated with him in this work, his wife and his nephew and wife, who gave their time to the work, receiving only a very limited remuneration. The school prospered, and when it closed a few days since, had an enrollment of over one hundred students.

A number of Adventist families from different parts of the State and from neighboring State, moved to Graysville in order that they might educate their children at this academy. Pleasant homes were established and the village soon wore an air of prosperity to which it had long been a stranger. Everything moved along pleasantly until the fall of 1894, when some persons, probably envious of the prosperity of the Adventists, invoke the Tennessee Sunday law against them and secured the indictment of fourteen members of the Graysville Church, including Elder G. W. Colcord, Prof. I. C. Colcord, his nephew, and M. C. Sturdevant, manager of the boys’ dormitory. These indictments were found at the instigation of a man who had moved into the neighborhood and who had taken offense because one of the Adventists who kept a grocery had refused to sell him goods on credit. The attorney-general, be it said to his credit, used his influence to prevent this action, but without avail, and in due course the indictments were docketed for trial at the March term of court, which just closed at Dayton.

Three of the indicted Adventists were absent from the neighborhood and were not arrested. One asked to have his case continued until another term of court, and his request was granted. Nine appeared for trial. The cases were taken up March 5. The defendants employed no counsel, each one making a brief statement to the court and jury, of which the following are samples:—

Wm. Burchard’s Defense Before the Court and Jury

I would just like to say that I am indicted for violating the Sabbath. I plead not guilty. I have been keeping the seventh day for four and one half years. I have found out that the Bible says that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath. I obey the laws of the land, but when they conflict with the laws of God I obey the laws of God; and when they do not, I obey the laws of the State. The Bible says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” The State says the first day of the week is the Sabbath. God created the heavens and the earth, and when other gods contravene, I obey the God of [22] heaven. I’ll read Acts 5:29: “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 4:19: “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” I count this a case against me for my belief. I read in Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” I believe my Bible; my faith is that the seventh day is the Sabbath, so it is a case about my belief in the Bible. I was born and raised in Rhea County, Tennessee, and have never been in court before. The Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee has decided that it is the commitment of more than one act that constitutes a nuisance. They have only one offense against me.

Henry Burchard’s Defense

I will just say to the gentlemen of the jury that I am here before you to-day for working on Sunday. I am keeping the seventh-day Sabbath; that is the reason I am brought before you. Had I not kept the Sabbath of the Lord, I would not be before you. There are other people that carry on the usual vocations of life on Sunday, but are not brought before you. I am brought before you because I keep the seventh day, not because I work on Sunday. The civil law says we shall not work on Sunday, and the law of God says we shall keep the seventh day, and work six. I owe my first allegiance to my God. I will obey the laws of the land till they come in conflict with the law of my God, then I feel compelled to obey God rather than man. Forty years ago Seventh-day Adventists preached that this thing would come; people said it was not so. They said they would never see in America persecution for conscience’ sake. The Adventists based their statements upon the Bible, and you see it is true. I have corrupted no one, I have disturbed no one. No one has said this. God says we shall keep the Sabbath day: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” And I believe what God says. I thank God that I do believe what he says, and that he gives me courage to obey him rather than man. Not that I wish to disobey the laws of the State, I wish to submit to the laws of my country until they come in conflict with the laws of my God. I submit my case to you, gentlemen of the jury.

These simple statements were listened to with intense interest, not only by the judge and jury, but by all in the court room; and they evidently made a deep impression upon all. The men who made these pleas on their own behalf were “unlearned and ignorant;” but the Lord had said, “When they bring you into the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: for the Holy Ghost will teach you in the same day and hour what ye shall say.” And again, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall be able to gainsay nor resist.” No attempt whatever was made to answer these simple, but forcible pleas in behalf of liberty of conscience, though the defendants were all convicted. In passing judgment in the cases, his honor, Judge J. G. Parks, candidly admitted the force of their arguments, the injustice of the law, and the malice of the prosecution. His honor was evidently an unwilling party to what he regards as religious persecution. Only his sense of official duty led him to act the part which he did in these cases. The following is the final judgment of the court as written and furnished to us by Judge Parks himself:—

State vs. Wm. Burchard and Others

In these cases the defendants have been adjudged guilty, after a fair trial by a jury of good men, of violating that day which is recognized by the law of our State as the Sabbath, and becomes my duty—painful though it be—to pronounce judgment upon the verdict.

While my private sympathies are with the defendant, and while I might go even further and say that I believe they have good grounds for their belief as to the Sabbath, yet this is a temporal, not a spiritual, court. We are not trying the question as to whether a particular belief be right or wrong. The only concern we have is to ascertain what the law is and whether it has been violated. As to the law, it is plain, and it is not only our sworn duty to enforce it, but it is also our duty to encourage respect for all law in general. As individuals, we may each have our own opinions as to the justice of a law, but as public officials, entrusted with its administration, our duty is unequivocal. A coördinate branch of the government is clothed by the people with the law-making power, and when the power is exercised within constitutional limits, the judiciary can do nothing but enforce the law thus enacted. The Supreme Court of this State, whose decisions must be taken as final by the lower courts, has passed upon the law in question and we cannot rightfully reverse the decision.

As an individual, I am moved to say, however, that there is nothing I regard with more concern or solicitude than an encroachment of legislative enactment upon the personal rights of the individual in matters of conscience. That there is a limit in these matters beyond which legislation cannot rightfully go, will be conceded by every man. Where is that limit? This is a question which even the enlightened civilization, it seems, cannot answer. Human laws are of necessity imperfect. One class of individuals will claim that their rights are encroached upon in this way; another, in that way, and so on. This arises from diversity and shades of opinion. These are questions which cannot be settled to suit everybody. In the cases at the bar there is a very large and intelligent part of the people who honestly and conscientiously believe that secular labor on Sunday is a desecration of the true Sabbath, and that this tends to corrupt public morals. That this belief is widely prevalent it fully evidenced by the several laws we have prohibiting various things as tending to desecrate the day. These laws would not exist but for public sentiment in their favor. And it must be conceded that the people who entertain this sentiment are as honest in their belief as are the people who believe in observing a different day. They honestly believe that public morality requires the observance of that day which has been recognized practically by all Christian denominations as the Sabbath, and this is the purpose of the legislation on this subject. As to the constitutionality of this legislation, grave doubts are entertained by many who adhere to Sunday as the Sabbath. While every man is guaranteed the right to worship as his conscience dictates, and while no law respecting the establishment of religion can be passed, yet this has always been interpreted to mean that no particular creed or form of religion shall be prescribed, and the Church and State shall remain divorced. All our laws recognize Christianity in general as the basis of our civilization, and laws for its protection have always been regarded as in keeping, not only with the Constitution, but also with public policy. Sunday is, and for a long time has been, recognized by nearly all Christian denominations as the Sabbath, and it is for this reason, no doubt, that the law which protects that day has been acquiesced in as constitutional. It has not been regarded as a law which prescribes any particular belief, but as one which protects the unanimous belief of nearly all Christian denominations.

But here we have a very respectable element of Christian believers who are honest, inoffensive, law-abiding people in all matters not conflicting with their sense of duty, who believe they are under divine command to observe the seventh day as the Sabbath. As a matter of abstract, individual right can they be required to observe another day also? Their position is not that of a person who claims that as a matter of personal liberty he has the right, if he chooses, to run an open saloon on Sunday, or to do any like act. That is not a matter of conscience—this is. They claim that it is not only their right, but their duty under divine command to observe the seventh day. Calling them “cranks” is no argument and has nothing to do with the question. If there were only one of them he would be entitled not only to his honest belief, but to the exercise of that belief, so long as in so doing he did not interfere with some natural right of his neighbors. A man cannot kill another and excuse himself on the ground that he believed he was carrying out God’s will in so doing, because this would deprive his victim of a natural right, viz.; the enjoyment of life. Do the defendants in keeping the seventh day and working on the first, thereby interfere with any natural right of their neighbors? Or is it an artificial right created by human law? Has any power but the divine will the right to establish any one day as the Sabbath? If the day has been appointed by divine edict, but two or more persons honestly and conscientiously differ as to what day was appointed, can the dispute be settled by legislative enactment? And shall one be given rights which are denied the other? Does might make right, and have the majority the right to dictate in matters purely of conscience? These are grave questions upon which no opinion is now ventured. But in this country, which we proudly call free, and to which our fathers came to escape religious persecution and to establish a government which would wipe out every vestige of religious intolerance, we cannot be too careful to guard with jealous care the cherished rights of freedom of opinion not only in matters affecting conscience, but in politics and in all sociological relations of life. I have serious doubts as to the justice of the law, but the remedy is not to be found in disobeying it, but in having it repealed. Fine defendants $2.50 each, but suspend judgment.

This opinion does credit both to the head and to the heart of Judge Parks. As might be supposed, it made a profound impression upon those who heard it, and public sentiment in the town of Dayton is decidedly against the persecution of the Adventists. Some difficulty was experienced in securing juries because of the unwillingness of men to sit in these cases. All the papers in the town have spoken plainly and emphatically against the prosecution of such cases. But the officers of the law have under the laws of Tennessee no option in the matter. The fault is not with the officials of the court but in the law which makes it possible for irresponsible and unprincipled men to use it to oppress and harass those who differ from them in religious opinion and practice.

The costs in each of these cases amount to about twenty dollars, and this the defendants refuse to pay, choosing rather to suffer an unjust imprisonment than to pay an unjust fine. The State of Tennessee has taken them from their homes and from their work for no just cause and they simply submit to the powers that be, but refuse to become parties in any degree to the iniquitous proceeding by the payment of a fine. Of course the imprisonment of Elder Colcord and Professor Colcord resulted in the immediate closing of the Graysville Academy for an indefinite length of time and the students, some of whom were ready to graduate, are again scattered to their various homes. It is thus that religious intolerance, operating through an unjust and oppressive law, arrays itself in Tennessee against education, progress, and liberty of conscience. [96]

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