Sunday Laws and “Works of Necessity and Charity”

IN all the Sunday laws it is provided that the prohibition of work on Sunday shall not extend to “works of necessity and charity.” This exemption gives the law a benevolent appearance, but in practise the exemption is never carried into effect. If it were, to the full extent of what “necessity and charity” demand, the law would be almost wholly robbed of its force.

Consider, for example, the man who observes another day of rest than that specified in the law. He is held to this observance by the demands of his conscience, which he cannot set aside. So to observe the Sunday law, he must rest two days in the week, and lose one day every week which he would otherwise have for labor. This seriously interferes with his business. Is it a “necessity” that he should be successful in business? Being a poor man (as most men are in this day) he finds that he cannot get along successfully working only five days in the week. Is it a “necessity” that he have time enough for work so that he can “make both ends meet?” And would work done on Sunday to this end, to enable him to live in comfort and decency, be “work of necessity?” If not, what does “necessity” mean?

He is a married man (most workingmen are) and has a wife and children to support? Is work done that is necessary for their support “work of necessity,” if done on Sunday? And is there anything like “charity” in the act or acts which provide them with food, clothing, and decent and comfortable surroundings? Does “charity” mean that little children shall not suffer form hunger or insufficient clothing or squalid and unsanitary surroundings, and from all the adversities which poverty brings? And if a man has to work six day sin the week, and one of those days Sunday, to save his family from poverty, is such Sunday work “work of charity?”

Or consider the case of the man who does not observe the seventh day, but who cannot find steady work and is obliged to take all the work he can find to get along. If he works on Sunday, and thereby adds to his scanty resources for supporting himself and his family in decency and comfort, is such work “work of necessity” or of “charity?” The Sunday law does not allow that it is, either in this case or (in some States) in the case of the men who observes another day. In Tennessee, in Georgia, in Pennsylvania, and in other States, by the rule of the Sunday law it is not necessary nor charitable for a man to provide for himself and his family under the circumstances we have described. We have known of poor families in this country whom the Sunday law has deprived of their entire means of support, the husband and father being thrown into jail solely because he worked on Sunday to support them; so that if kind hands had not been extended to them from without, they would have been entirely destitute. And yet this was under a Sunday law which always excepted “works of necessity and charity.”

The truth is that opportunity to work six days in the week is a necessity to most men and to those dependent on them. The opportunity to do this without violating conscience is likewise a necessity. The Creator recognized this when he provided for six days of work: “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work.” More than this: the personal liberty and freedom of choice with which the Creator has endowed every man, is also a necessity. If it had not been such the Creator would not have bestowed it upon the human family. The Sunday laws, while claiming to respect necessities, interfere with all these necessities; and these necessities in turn demand that such laws should be abolished. A law which denies to any person the necessities of life, is not only uncharitable but inhuman.

“Note” American Sentinel 15, 12, p. 178.

LAW cannot bring men nearer to the perfect Standard of goodness, and therefore cannot make them better than they were before. If perfection of law is demanded as the essential of success in reforming society, this was in the law that was proclaimed to the world from Mount Sinai. If power to impress the law upon the minds of the people is thought to be the missing essential, there was no lack of this in the sight of Sinai smoking, burning summit, and the voice of thunder that shook the earth. Yet all this only drove the sinful people further from the Lord than they were before.

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