IN every possible place in the country there is now being circulated by the American Sabbath Union, and the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union the following petition to Congress:—
“To the House of Representatives of the United States [duplicate to the Senate”]:—
“The undersigned organizations, and adult residents (21 years of age or more) of the United States, hereby petition your Honorable Body to pass a bill, forbidding, in the United States mail and military service, and in interstate commerce, and in the District of Columbia, and in the Territories, all Sunday traffic and work, except works of religion and works of real necessity and mercy, and such private work by those who religiously and regularly observe another day of the week, by abstaining from labor and business, as well neither interfere with the general rest nor with public worship.”
This petition has been largely signed, and many times more largely indorsed, but we seriously question whether one of those persons has ever taken the precaution to study the petition to know really what it asks for. We propose to look into it a little, to see what that petition embodies.
It asks Congress, within its jurisdiction, to forbid all Sunday traffic and work with certain exceptions. What are the exceptions?
First, “except works of religion.” Suppose then that Congress should pass a bill embodying the very words of the petition so far. Then nobody in the Territories, the District of Columbia, the army, the navy, or in interstate commerce could do any work on Sunday except works of religion. Is that all that would need to be done? Is that they only step that would need to be taken?—Not by any means. The question would at once arise, “What religion is it, whose works only are excepted?” And the question would have to be answered: There are several kinds of religion in the country. There is the Christian religion, the Mormon religion, the Chinese religion, the Buddhist religion, the Agnostic religion, and many others of lesser note. Now there are works that would be perfectly consistent with certain of these religions, and in fact a necessary part of these religions, which would not by any means be consistent with the Christian religion. Such works performed by these on Sunday in perfect conformity with their own religion, would not be considered as being in any sense in harmony with the Christian religion nor according to the Christian idea as to what is proper work on Sunday.
The next thing, therefore, to do, and it would have to be done, would be for Congress or the Supreme Court to define what religion it is whose works only shall be excepted, and just as soon as that definition should be set forth, there would be an established religion in the United States. For wherever a government selects a particular religion, and bestows favor and protection upon that religion above all others, and at the expense of all others, there is an established religion, and such would be the first and inevitable result if the request if the request of that petition were enacted into law. This is indisputable, because if the phrase “works of religion” be left undefined by the government, and everybody left, each for himself, to decide what works of religion are proper for Sunday, then the law would be of no effect whatever. Besides it is not the right principle of government that the subject shall interpret the law in his own case. The government must interpret its own laws and define its own terms, used in the laws. The government, therefore, having enacted a law in which is found the phrase “works of religion” must define the meaning of the phrase. It must declare what religion is meant; it must define what are the works of that religion; and the moment that is done there is an established religion. And it is needless to say to any well informed person that an established religion is an unmitigated evil in any form whatever. Are all those who have signed or indorsed that petition ready for this thing for which they have asked?
Again, in excepting, with works of “real necessity and mercy,” only “works of religion,” it is shown to be wholly in the interests of religion that the demand is made. It is clearly religious legislation that is demanded, and they do propose virtually to compel men to religious observances. Of course it does not say in so many words that the people shall do works of religion, but it does say they shall not do anything but that. And, further, if they are willing to go so far at the very first step, having once secured this, how long will it be before they will take the next step and actually demand that the people shall do works of religion on that day which they have got the national Legislature to set apart for that special purpose?
Secondly, it proposes to “except” “private works by those who religiously and regularly observe another day of the week.” Whoever, therefore, will come within this exception must “religiously and regularly observe another day of the week by abstaining from labor and business.” Therefore this petition does ask that whoever does not want to keep Sunday shall be compelled to religiously observe another day. In other words, the petitioners propose to have Congress enact a law which shall enforce the religious observance of another day than Sunday upon those who do not choose to keep Sunday.
But when they propose to compel all who do not keep Sunday, to religiously observe another day, that plainly proves that it is also the religious observance of Sunday which they ask shall be enforced  by a law of the United States. This is confirmed by that clause of the petition which speaks of those who “religiously” observe another day “by abstaining from labor and business.” This shows that in the mind of the one who wrote that petition, to regularly abstain from labor and business on a certain day is to religiously observe that day. Now the petition asks Congress to “forbid,” within its jurisdiction, “all Sunday traffic and work,” which, by the definition of the petition itself, is to enforce the religious observance of Sunday. In logical formula the matter stands thus:—
To regularly abstain from labor and business on a certain day is to religiously observe that day.
The petition asks Congress to compel all within its jurisdiction to regularly abstain from all labor and business on Sunday.
Therefore the petition does ask Congress to compel all within its jurisdiction to religiously observe Sunday.
The truth is that that petition for a Sunday law does not, and never did, contemplate anything else than that religious observances shall be enforced by such law. But the enforcement of religious observances by law is wicked in every form in which it may be proposed. It was to guard the rights of the people from such interferences as this that the Constitution was made to declare that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” For Congress to compel men in any way whatever to religious observance is to prohibit the free exercise of religion—even in those who already practice the religious observances sought to be enforced. This petition asks Congress to do an unconstitutional thing; and any bill introduced in Congress in harmony with the petition will be an attempt to do an unconstitutional thing.
There is another point in these “exceptions” that is worthy of attention. The petition asks that the law shall “except” “private work by those who religiously and regularly observe another day of the week,” &c. And the writer of this article heard the author of the petition say that this means “work in the home.”
Now we should like to know how the Sunday-law people are going to be able to tell whether or not anybody is doing any private work in his home on Sunday unless they enter into that person’s home to see, or else set spies upon him and his home to detect whether he does such work or not. This petition, therefore, does ask that the private affairs, and the homes of American citizens shall on Sunday be made subject to the invasion and the bigoted surveillance of the Sunday-law meddlers. But our fathers supposed they had enough of that to last them and their children through all time to come, when they threw off the yoke of England; and they, therefore, expressed their mind to that effect when they declared in Article IV. of the United States Constitution, that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” That that petition is contrary to this provision of the Constitution, there can be no honest dispute. Under this government every man’s house is his castle. He is lord there. And no man, no set of men, on this earth has any right whatever to invade the privacy of that home. The government itself cannot do it, it is forbidden to do it except upon a warrant issued in proper form. “And no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Therefore it is proved by this count also that the petition for a national Sunday law which is being circulated by the American Sabbath Union does ask Congress to do an unconstitutional thing, and any bill proposed in Congress embodying this part of the petition will be an attempt to do an unconstitutional thing.
The fact is that the whole Sunday-law scheme which is now so extensively worked, is nothing else than an attempt to carry into effect here that same despotic spirit of religious meddling in civil things that has been the bane of all nations but this,—and this one has been free from it only since the formation of the national Constitution and of the national government by it.
As we said at the first, we do not suppose that one person in ten of those who have either signed or indorsed that petition ever looked into it to see what it does really ask. This is not spoken of the leaders however; we are perfectly satisfied that they know precisely what the petition asks for, and that they are ready to enforce all its provisions, just as soon as they can secure the much-coveted power to do it. But are all the people ready to have it done?
For convenience’ sake we here insert the following petition to Congress, which we ask the reader to examine and compare with the Sunday-law petition, and then candidly ask himself whether it is not more worthy of the indorsement of American citizens than the other. This petition covers the other one and more; it is against the proposed constitutional amendment also.
“We, the undersigned, adult residents of the United States, 21 years of age or more, hereby respectfully, but earnestly, petition your Honorable Body not to pass any bill in regard to the observance of the Sabbath, or Lord’s day, or any other religious or ecclesiastical institution or rite; nor to favor in any way the adoption of any resolution for the amendment of the national Constitution that would in any way give preference to the principles of any one religion above another, or that will in any way sanction legislation upon the subject of religion; but that the total separation between religion and the State, assured by our national Constitution as it now is, may forever remain as our fathers established it.”
A. T. J.