August 28, 1889
“Some ‘Constitutional’ Arguments for a National Sunday Law” The American Sentinel 4, 31, pp. 241, 242.
WHATEVER the Sunday-law movement is advocated it is met with the valid objection that a national Sunday law would be unconstitutional. The field secretary of the American Sabbath Union has had to meet this more in the last few months than has anybody else in this country, because his work has been more widely carried on, and he attempts to answer the argument. He attempts to prove, and to his own satisfaction proves, that Sunday laws are strictly constitutional. The first step in his argument is that “the supreme courts of twenty-five States have declared them to be constitutional.” And he seems to be astonished almost out of countenance to think that anybody in this Nation should deny the unconstitutionality of a national Sunday law in the face of such an overwhelming argument as that the supreme courts of most of the States should say that they are constitutional.
We have heard the field secretary several times on this point, and for sometime we were considerably at a loss to decide in our own minds whether the argument was a piece of deliberate sophistry or whether the gentleman supposed it actually to be the truth. The field secretary of the American Sabbath Union needs to become informed upon this subject to the extent that he shall know that decisions of supreme courts of States have no bearing whatever upon questions of national law. A thing might be constitutional and declared so to be by the supreme courts in all the States of the Union and yet it might be wholly unconstitutional if framed into a national law. In many things the States can do what the Nation cannot do. Article X. of the United States Constitution says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.” There are powers that are not delegated to the United States; there are powers that are not prohibited by it to the States. These still remain with the States or with the people, therefore the States may exert such powers under their own constitutions, while it would be wholly unconstitutional for Congress to attempt to exercise such powers. The enactment and the enforcement of Sunday laws is one of these powers. We know full well that, the States have declared Sunday laws to be constitutional because in these things the States can do what they please unless forbidden by their own constitutions. All this is true, and it is equally true that a national Sunday law would be uuconstitutional. State constitutions and decisions have no bearing whatever upon that question.
When the field secretary next speaks upon this subject, we ask him for his own sake not to presume upon the ignorance of his hearers by passing off the supreme court decisions of the States as though they were the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The next step in his argument is that it would be constitutional because the Constitution already contains a Sunday law in itself in the phrase, “Sundays excepted” in the clause which allows the President ten days to consider a bill. But this argument is also sheer fallacy, because that clause does not undertake in any sense to control the action of the President on that day. It does not even say nor imply that he shall not sign a bill on Sunday. The phrase is simply the recognition of the fact that the President of the United States may be a person who deems Sunday to be a holy day, and the Constitution in harmony with itself throughout, in this simply recognizes the right of every man to the free enjoyment of his religious profession if he makes any.
Suppose the President of the United States should be a man who regards Saturday as the holy day and observes it religiously, and he should except the Saturdays and count the Sundays in those ten days. The Constitution would sanction that action as fully as it would the action of the President who deems Sunday a holy day.
Suppose further, that the President were a man who makes no religious profession at all; suppose in fact he were an infidel, cared nothing whatever for Sunday as such, and should actually sign a bill on that day; that bill would thus become a law as certainly as those that were signed on Monday, or any other day of the week. That phrase does not in any sense conflict with the first amendment, nor does it sanction in any way the demand that is being made upon Congress to pass a law establishing the religious observance of Sunday or declaring what people shall or shall not do on that day.
The fallacy further appears in this that whereas the Constitution through thus excepting Sunday, does not in any way propose to say what the President shall or shall not do on Sunday, nor to touch upon his actions in any way upon that day, the Sunday-law workers demand that this as “the acorn” shall be expanded into such a mighty oak as shall cover every action of every soul in this Nation on Sunday, and under which shall be declared what things only can be done on that day not only by all the people but by the President himself. This certainly is to force in-finite possibilities from infinitessimal proportions. But there is nothing too extravagant to be beyond the demands of this would-be hierarchy.
The next argument is that Sunday work and the carrying of Sunday mails “is an infringement of the first amendment to the Constitution” which prohibits Congress from making any law  prohibing the free exercise of religion “because no man who keeps Sunday can keep his place in the government service, and therefore such are excluded as really from the public service as though a direct religious test were applied,” only that that in this case it is declared to be “an irreligious test.”
Well, let us examine this. Suppose we admit that in the carrying of the mails and in other work on Sunday, the man who regards Sunday as a holy day, and who treats it as such, is thereby virtually excluded and the government does him injustice and that therefore a national law must be enacted forbidding all such work on the Sunday to protect these in their rights of conscience, and to give them their share of the offices. Then, there are thousands of people who regard Saturday as a holy day and who keep it as such. These are citizens equally with the others, and have equal rights as citizens with the others; but, the government runs the mails, and does all manner of work on Saturday, and so long as that is so, no man who regards Saturday as a holy day can have a place in the public service. Therefore the next thing for Congress to do would be to pass a national law absolutely prohibiting all such work on Saturday so as to give equal justice to these with the rest.
But no, none who demand Sunday laws would for a moment allow that any such thing as this ought ever to be done. But if it shall be done in behalf of one class of religionists, why not of another? If religious profession is to be the basis of legislation why should the government discriminate, why should it expressly open the way for one class of religionists and exclude another class? Every fair-minded man must admit that this would not be equal and exact justice. Those who demand the Sunday law will not allow for a moment that the government should do such a thing, therefore, it is clearly proved that they want governmental discrimination in their favor, and that solely upon the basis of religious profession.
But under civil government no man can ever of right make his religious profession the basis of any claim for governmental favor. Civil government is for all alike. It takes cognizance of men’s actions and deals with men solely as men, without regard to any question whatever of religious or non-religious profession or worship. Government rests solely upon this basis, it is composed of men as men, and its affairs are all conducted solely upon this basis.
“Oh!” it is exclaimed, “in a Christian land this would exclude all Christians from office, and thus deprive them of rewards and emoluments that men enjoy who are not Christians, and would thus be a discrimination against the Christian religion.” To those who offer it this appears very forcible; but it is easily answered. The Christian who is indeed a Christian, enjoys privileges and rewards as far above the rewards and emoluments of governmental office as heaven is higher than the earth; so that the government when treating all men as men, and treating them all alike, does not discriminate against the Christian. The Christian’s profession is the free choice of a heavenly gift which is worth more than all earth’s treasures and all its honors. In the precious presence of Jesus Christ no such question ever comes into his mind as to whether he can have a twelve-dollar or a twelve-thousand-dollar post-office or not. This complaint of the Sunday-law workers, that Christians are excluded from a share in the governmental plunder in its analysis, simply argues that the blessedness of the religion of Jesus Christ, and the riches of the heavenly gift in him, are upon a level with the offices and emoluments of governmental service; and so entirely so at that, that they cannot afford to do without legislation in their special favor. A people who put no more value than that upon the unsearchable riches of Christ haven’t enough of the Christian religion about them to do either themselves or the government any good, and the more any government allows itself to favor any such pleas the lower it will be brought.
Oh that those who name the name of Christ would name him for what he is! that they would see in his religion something more than temporal expediency! that they would see in the riches of his grace something more valuable than to fear the competition of the emoluments of governmental service! that they would see that there is a power in the manifestation: of his glorious character greater than that of all the legislative enactments that have been or can be written upon the statute books of all ages and all nations.
A. T. J.