IN the city of Nashville, Tenn., public sentiment has been agitated of late over the question of the removal from office of the chief of police. It appeared certain that the removal would be made, and it was charged by a class of the citizens standing for certain ideas of “moral” government, that it was the work of the gamblers and Sunday tipplers. We do not mention it to discuss the conflict of the good and bad elements in the city government, but to notice a common idea of good government which came to the surface in connection with this agitation, and appeared in the Nashville Banner. In a communication to that journal, a citizen says:—
“In my opinion the time has come when the good people of this city, without severing their party ties, shall say to these law-breakers. ‘The party is bigger than the gamblers’ association and the Sunday tipplers’ association, and if they don’t like the party there is plenty of room to quit it.’
“These associations have so manipulated parties as to have an undue weight in public affairs. They must be told that they have no exclusive rights; that seeking the protection of the law in their just rights, they must obey it; that the merchant, the mechanic, the manufacturer, are not allowed to keep open shop on Sunday, and they do not in defiance of law undertake to do it; that the farmer, though his crop—his young corn and cotton—may be choked with weeds, dare not go into the field with his plow on Sunday; that even the Seventh-day Adventist, who is impelled by the strongest religious convictions to give Saturday to his devotions, is not allowed to plow his corn on Sunday, and that the saloon man is not better than they; that the gambler’s occupation is certainly not a favored calling; that betting has its penalties, which may be paid and the law satisfied, but keeping gambling houses in a city with its awful consequences on society cannot and will not be tolerated; and that this community will not quietly submit to the removal of a public officer because he develops a capacity to enforce the law.”
The idea which appears all through this quotation is that good government is to be attained by suppressing gambling and liquor selling on Sunday. The manufacturer, farmer, and seventh-day observer must observe Sunday, and the gambler and saloonist are not better than they. Hence they must be made to do likewise, and the good people of the city should see the chief of police is retained who will carry this into effect.
Instead of recognizing that gambling and liquor selling are wrong and demoralizing on all days, by their very nature, this idea of good government passes over the inherent evil of these things and lays its stress upon the desecration of Sunday. But good government can not be promoted anywhere by losing sight of the inherent evil of vicious practices. And this is certainly one tendency, and a strong one, of the agitation for the compulsory observance of Sunday. The more the attention becomes fixed upon the assume sanctity of Sunday, the more tendency is there to see in the desecration of the day a greater offense than in the vicious practice by which it is desecrated; until at length the main evil of gambling and liquor selling seems to lie not so much in the demoralizing nature of such practices as is the fact that they are conducted on Sunday.
In this way the Sunday laws tend really to strengthen the hold these evils have acquired upon public tolerance. The effort that should be directed toward their entire suppression on all days is largely expended in making them conform to the requirements of the Sunday law; and having conformed to its requirements, they by that very thing acquire a degree of respectability in the public view which otherwise would not be possible. Cannot those who desire good city government see the danger which lies in this diversion of the force of public sentiment from the evil thing itself, to its desecration of Sunday? If they cannot, it is not because the danger is not real and conspicuous.
To suppress liquor selling on Sunday only, is to tacitly assent to the traffic on other days of the week. To prohibit it by law on Sunday only, is to justify is by law on other days; and behind such a law the evil traffic can take refuge, and hold up its monster head without fear as a law-abiding institution. But do lovers of good government want such a condition of things to exist?
Let all such arouse to the danger of the movement which would oppose these evils by suppressing them on Sunday. Friends, you cannot advance in the direction of good government by way of Sunday laws. They are a deception and a snare. To secure good government an evil must be opposed because it is such in its nature, and not because it is connected with what may or may not be wrong, according to the truth or falsity of theological tenets. With such conditions civil government can have nothing to do. Whether Sunday desecration is right or wrong, is a question with which the chief of police of any city, or any other civil officer, as such, has no concern whatever. It is a question to be settled by Scripture, and the truth of Scripture can be settled for an individual only by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.