“Protecting Religious Liberty” American Sentinel 11, 13, pp. 98, 99.

THE Christian Advocate, of February 20, commenting upon the provisions of the New York State Sunday law, says: “Section 264 protects religious liberty in the following: ‘It is a sufficient defense to prosecution for work and labor on the first day of the week that the defendant uniformly keeps another day of the week as holy time, and does not labor on that day, and that the labor complained of [Sunday labor] was done in such a manner as not to interfere with or disturb any other person in observing the first day of the week as holy time.’”

If religious liberty in the State of New York had no better protection than this, we think it would not long survive.

By the provisions of this section, but two classes of citizens are considered as entitled to religious liberty; namely, those who observe Sunday, and those who uniformly keep another day of the week as holy time. All other classes may whistle for their religious liberty, but never get it so far as the law is [99] concerned. Yet it is a fundamental principle of our system of government that all men have equal rights. The Sunday “law” denies to certain classes of citizens what the Creator has freely given them.

But this is not all that is wrong with this “protective” provision. In order to be entitled to its benefits, the individual must uniformly keep another day as holy time. If he ceases to do this, he falls at once without the provisions of the section, and becomes liable under the law. More than this: he is required to observe the day as holy time. This is more than is required of the Sunday observer, he being merely obliged to abstain from Sunday labor.

The law declares that every citizen of the State shall regularly observe some day of the week as a day of rest. If he chooses Sunday, he is obliged to refrain from secular labor; if his choice falls on any other day, he is obliged to observe it as holy time. In any case, his religious observance of the day is under legal compulsion. And compulsion is not liberty, but the opposite.

This “exemption clause” of the “law” shows conclusively that the statute is religious in character, and not civil. It exempts from the penalty for Sunday labor such persons as uniformly keep another day of the week as holy time. That is to say, the law annuls itself, in the case of such individuals, in everything except that which pertains to religion. They may do secular work on Sunday, but they must observe another day of the week as “holy time.” They must observe the day religiously; this the “law” demands.

We willingly recognize in the provisions of the section an honest attempt to combine justice with a Sunday “law.” But the two will note unite; and hence some very curious features of the “law.” It prohibits secular labor on Sunday on the part of any of its citizens, and yet leaves all free to escape from its prohibition by the avenue of regard for some other day. It accepts in lieu of abstinence from secular work on Sunday, a religious regard for another day of the week, which it does not claim will be of any possible utility or value to the State; in other words, it exchanges what it assumes to be of value, for nothing. It exempts the very class who have the strongest objections to obeying it,—namely, those who regard another day of the week as sacred; it makes an act which is the most contrary to its requirements—the observance of another day—a valid ground for noncompliance with the same. Such are some of the anomalous features of a Sunday “law” when enacted with, it may be, the best motives and an honest desire to protect religious liberty.

Such a “law” falls very short of constituting a safeguard to religious freedom.

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