STRANGE as it may seem, according to the decisions of the District and Supreme Courts of Tennessee and of Judge Hammond, of the United States Court, there is in Tennessee to-day, no constitutional guarantee of any freedom of religious belief beyond that which was allowed in New England two hundred and fifty years ago.
In sustaining the decision of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, Judge Hammond said:—
Sectarian religious belief is guaranteed by the Constitution, 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 himself should not 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.
The Judge’s meaning, is made clear by a further extract, as follows:—
If a non-conformist of any kind should enter the church of another sect, and those assembled there, were required, every one of them, to comply with a certain ceremony, he could not discourteously refuse, because his mode was different, or because he did not believe in the divine sanction of that ceremony, and rely upon this constitutional guarantee to protect his refusal.
This is precisely the measure of freedom of religious belief that was “guaranteed” or allowed under the Puritan theocracy of New England. The Congregational Church had control of legislature. It embodied Congregationalist doctrines in the law, and required every one to conform to the Congregational mode of worship. Every one was required to go to church. And some who did not go were forcibly taken to the church. The Baptists and Quakers did not believe in the divine sanction of the ceremonies of the established religion. They therefore refused to comply. Their refusal, of course, was counted “discourteous.” This discourtesy was a violation of the law, and they were fined; but they refused either to pay the fines, or to comply with the required ceremonies. They were then whipped; still they refused. They were then banished, and yet they refused; and the Quakers even refused to be banished. Then they were hanged; and yet those who still lived would not comply with the required ceremonies. And they had no constitutional guarantee to protect them in their refusal.
And now says Judge Hammond, in Tennessee, “If a non-conformist of any kind refuses to comply with a certain ceremony required of every one by another sect which has control of legislation, there is no constitutional guarantee to protect his refusal.” And the persecution of the Seventh-day Adventists in that State under the forms of civil law demonstrates that it is even so.