SUNDAY, February 3, forty-seven men were arrested in this city for violation of the Sunday law, their offense being playing billiards or being present in a room where such a game was in progress.
All the arrests were made in two billiard rooms on Broadway. The games were being conducted in a quiet manner, and it is not charged that the places are in any sense disorderly resorts, or that liquor is sold in them contrary to law; the only offense charged being violation of the Sunday law.
The arrests were made on the complaint of a man who refused to give his name, and who merely told the sergeant at the station-house that the Sunday law was being violated at the two rooms mentioned.
When the forty-seven men were arraigned in the police court on Monday, Justice Taintor discharged all but the two proprietors of the two billiard rooms, holding that as the other prisoners had been arrested under the section of the code against disturbing the peace on Sunday, and there was no evidence to that effect, there was nothing to do but discharge them.
The two proprietors were bound over to answer in the special sessions for keeping their rooms open on Sunday, and their attorney declared that he would carry the case into the highest courts if satisfaction was not received in special sessions.
The arrests have created quite a sensation, as billiard rooms have not previously been interfered with on Sunday. The World of Tuesday says editorially:—
A Sunday-law Outrage
A number of persons were arrested on Sunday, in this city, for playing billiards. The arrest was possibly, though doubtfully, in accordance with the letter of a puritanical statute, but it was none the less an outrageous invasion of personal liberty.
It is not pretended that these people were disturbing the peace in any way or that their private indulgence in a harmless game of skill injured or could possibly injure anybody. It is even doubtful whether their play was in fact a violation of any law. Section 265 of the Penal Code, under which the arrest was made, prohibits “shooting, hunting, fishing, playing, horse racing, gambling, unequal, oppressive law, a law in restraint of reasonable liberty, but it is very doubtful indeed whether it covers the quiet playing of a game of billiards in an orderly billiard hall.
Whether it does or not it is a law that ought to be repealed. It is not the business of an American State to prescribe or enforce religious observances or to regulate them in any way except to protect every citizen in his right to do as he please respecting them.
All laws to enforce the Sabbatarian observance of Sunday are violative of the fundamental idea of American institutions. They invade that liberty of conscience which lies at the very root of our system. Yet curiously enough in our Penal Code they are grouped together, as if in irony, under the title, “Crimes Against Religious Liberty and Conscience.”
Again, the same paper remarks:—
It is remarkable but unfortunately not extraordinary, that in a city like New York, a police sergeant on the complaint of somebody or anybody, can have fifteen or twenty respectable and orderly citizens dragged through the streets as criminals and law-breakers. Could the Russian police show any greater disregard of the unalienable right every inoffensive person has to freedom from police violence?
The Evening World, of the 4th inst., characterized the action of the police as “disorderly,” and says:—
It has long been the custom of billiard-room proprietors to keep their places open for Sunday players. Yesterday the police raided the establishments run by Maurice Daly, at Broadway and Thirty first street, and George Slossen, at Broadway and Twenty-second street, at an early hour of the evening, and marched forty-five prisoners, players, spectators and employés, guarded by about sixty policemen, through the streets to the station house. They were all bailed out after a brief detention, their bondsmen being Daly and Slesson, the proprietors of the raided rooms.
Without reference to the question of Sunday billiard-playing, which is prohibited by the Penal Code, it certainly seems to have been quite unnecessary, and by no means in good judgment to have made such a raid. It was well known to the police that the proprietors have been in the habit of opening their rooms on Sundays, and a notification to them that it would not be allowed as being against the law would have remedied the evil without any scandalous pubic exhibition.
The scene was disgraceful to the city and caused more riotous demonstration in the streets and more disturbance of the peace than would have been occasioned by Sunday billiards in years.
The Recorder remarks that “Sunday billiard-playing is not yet a felony under the law,” and adds that “it is probably owing to somebody’s forgetfulness.” Doubtless there are not wanting those who will endeavor to have this “defect” in the law corrected, now that attention has been called to it. If “the venerable day of the Sun,” honored alike by pagans, papists and misguided Protestants, is not effectually protected by civil law, it will not be the fault of the modern “reformer.”
New York’s reform mayor, who has declared himself in favor of Sunday liquor selling, is credited with saying that he is opposed to Sunday billiards. “The best clubs in the city,” says his honor, “veil their pool tables on Sunday.” But the members drink their liquor just the same; for this reason the mayor thinks the saloons ought to be permitted to sell at certain hours, so that rich and poor may be on an equal footing before the law. But to play billiards on Sunday one must be able to own his own table! We are not billiard players, but we can see neither good morals nor good sense in such views, nor yet in such arrests. Billiards can be prohibited on Sunday more than on other days only out of deference to the religious character of the day, and with that the State has of right absolutely nothing to do.