“The Breckinridge-Morse District Sunday Bill” American Sentinel 9, 19, pp. 149-151.

[At the hearing on the Breckinridge Sunday bill for the District of Columbia, held before the House Committee on the District, Jan. 6, 1891, Alonzo T. Jones, editor of this paper, addressed the committee. Much of his address is just as applicable to the Morse bill, which is now before the Commissioners and the District Committees. The following is taken from what was there said before the committee by Mr. Jones.]

THERE is enough virtue in Jesus Christ, and enough power in that virtue, to enable a man to do right in the face of all the opportunities and all the temptations to do wrong that there are in this world. That virtue and that power are freely given to every man who has faith in Him who brought it to the world. Why, then, do not these men, these professed ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,—why do they not endeavor to cultivate in men that faith in Christ which will empower them to do right from the love it of, instead of coming up here to this capitol, and asking you gentlemen of the national legislature to help men to do what they think right by taking away the opportunity to do what they think to be wrong. Virtue can’t be legislated into men.

But there is yet more of this. I read now from the same book (Craft’s “Sabbath for Man”), page 428:—

Among other printed questions to which I have collected numerous answers, was this one: Do you know of any instance where a Christian’s refusing to do Sunday work, or Sunday trading, has resulted in his financial ruin?” Of the two hundred answers from persons representing all trades and professions, not one is affirmative.

Then what help do the people need? And especially what help do they need that Congress can afford? Wherein is anybody being “forced to labor on Sunday?” Where is there any danger of anybody’s being forced to labor on Sunday? Ah, gentlemen, this effort is not in behalf of the laboring men. They do not need any such help as is proposed in this bill. That claim is only a pretense under which those who are working for the bill would hide their real purpose. And just here I would answer a question that has been asked, in which there is conveyed a charge that we have no sympathy with the workingmen. It has been asked, “Why is it that you—the AMERICAN SENTINEL—have no words to say in favor of the law to assure the workingman his Sunday rest, but instead oppose those who are in favor of it?” I answer, It is because we have more respect for the workingmen of this country than to think of them that they are so lacking in manliness, and have so little courage and ability to take care of themselves, that it is necessary for the Government to take charge of them, and nurse and coddle them like a set of grown-up babies. And therefore it is in the interest of manliness and courageous self-dependence that we object to the church managers coming to the national legislature to secure a law under such a plea as this, whose only effect would be to make grown-up babies of what should be manly men. We have respect for the laboring men in this matter, and we want them all to have the respect of their employers. Therefore we would ever encourage and help them to stand so courageously by their convictions of right and duty, as that to each one his employer may be led to say, as did this railroad superintendent to that engineer, “I respect your position, and you shall never be called on for Sunday work again.”

Gentlemen of the committee, if evidence can prove anything, then the evidence which I have here read—not from an opponent, but from the chiefest factor in the movement in favor of this bill—proves to a demonstration that the object of this bill, as defined in the title, and as pleaded here to-day, is absolutely unnecessary and vain. This evidence proves to a demonstration that nobody in this District, nor in the United States, nor in the world around, is being forced to labor on Sunday. Not only this, but it demonstrates that there is not the slightest danger of anybody in this nation ever being forced to labor on Sunday; because actual “gain” and “worldly prosperity” lies in the refusal to work on Sunday, and it is certain that in this land everybody is free to refuse. This evidence, also coming from the source whence it does come, demonstrates that the title of the bill does not define its real object, but is only a pretense to cover that which is the real purpose—to secure and enforce by law the religious observance of the day.

Now, as to Sunday in the Constitution, will the gentleman who has just spoken on the opposite side, or will any of these gentlemen, insist that the phrase “Sundays excepted,” in the Constitution, bears the same relation to the President as they by this bill, would make the Sunday bear to the people of the District of Columbia? Is there any inhibition in it? Is the President forbidden by it to perform any secular labor or business on that day? Cannot the President go a-fishing, or do anything on that day, and that, too, without any inhibition whatever by the Constitution? Does that phrase in the Constitution mean anything else than simply the recognition of the legal dies non? That is just what it is, and that is all that it is. And against this we have not a word to say in itself; but when it is proposed to take this mere legal no-day and stretch it into the creation of a precedent that will sanction an act of Congress prohibiting everybody from doing any manner of work, labor, or business pertaining to this world, on Sunday—then we most decidedly protest. If these men are ready to go so far as that in the construction and use of a mere non-committal phrase, what would they not do under the authority of the specific words of a sweeping statute?

But Mr. Elliott—Rev. J. H.—says Sunday laws have been sustained as constitutional by the Supreme Court of the States. True enough. But what does that amount to in a question as to the laws of Congress? I would like by some means, if possible, to get into the minds of these men who are supporting Sunday laws, the fact that the decisions of the Supreme Courts of the States have no bearing upon a national question. Let them bring a decision of a national case. There is no such case, and no such decision, for the simple reason that no such statute has ever been enacted by Congress, because it is forbidden by the Constitution. Therefore such a question has never come within the province of the United States Supreme Court. And every one of the decisions of the States, in reference to this question, have been rendered upon the basis of religion. Mr. Elliott—Rev. George—cited here to-day the decisions of the Supreme Courts of New York and Pennsylvania. I am glad he did, because both these decisions sustain the constitutionality of the Sunday laws upon the basis of Christianity as the common law, which clearly shows that religion is the basis upon which rest Sunday laws and the decisions which sustain them. All the original thirteen States were formerly the thirteen Colonies, and every one of these Colonies had an established religion, and therefore Sunday laws, as is proved by the old Maryland statute of 1723, cited here to-day, which is now the Sunday law of the District of Columbia. Thus the original thirteen States had Sunday laws, and this is how they got them. The younger States have followed these in Sunday legislation; and as the Supreme Courts of the original thirteen Stats have held such laws to be constitutional, the Supreme Courts of the younger States, from these, have held so also.

But the United States Government has no religion and never had any. It is forbidden in the Constitution. Therefore I say, We should like, if it were possible, to get these men to understand that though the Supreme Courts of the States have declared Sunday laws to be valid under the constitutions of those States, such decisions can have no bearing whatever upon Sunday laws under the Constitution of the United States.

MR. GROUT—Will you quote that part of the Constitution to which you refer?

MR. JONES—Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Congress can make no law upon the subject of religion without interfering with the free exercise thereof. Therefore the Seventh-day Adventists, while observing Saturday, would most strenuously oppose any legislation proposing to enforce the observance of that day. That would be an interference with the free exercise of our right to keep that day as the Sabbath. For we already have that right—

THE CHAIRMAN—Would this law take away your right to observe the Sabbath?

MR. JONES—Yes, sir. I was about to prove that it does interfere with the free exercise of our right to observe it; and having done that, I will prove that this bill does distinctly contemplate the taking away of the right to observe it.

First, as to its interference with the free exercise of our right to observe the [150] Sabbath. I take it that no one here will deny that now, at least, we, as citizens of the United States, have the constitutional right to observe Saturday as the Sabbath, or not to observe it, as we please. This right we already have as citizens of the United States. As we already have it by the Constitution, their proposal to give it to us is only a concealed attempt to deprive us of it altogether. For if we consent to their right or their power to grant it, the power to grant carries with it the power to withhold. In consenting to the one we consent to the other. And as the granting of it is, as I shall prove, for a purpose, and for a price, the withdrawing of it will surely follow just as soon as the purpose of it is accomplished, and especially if the price of it is not fully and promptly paid.

Now this bill positively requires that whosoever does not observe Sunday shall “conscientiously believe in and observe” another day of the week. We do not keep Sunday. The bill does, therefore, distinctly require that we shall conscientiously believe in and observe another day. We maintain that we have the constitutional right to rest on Saturday or any other day, whether we do it conscientiously or not, or whether we conscientiously believe in it or not. Haven’t we? Congress has no constitutional power or right to require anybody to “conscientiously believe in” anything, or to “conscientiously observe” anything.

But when it is required, as is proposed in this bill, who is to decide whether we conscientiously believe in it or not? Who is to decide whether the observance is conscientious or not? That has already been declared in those State Sunday laws and decisions which have been referred to here to-day as examples for you to follow. It is that the burden of proof rests upon him who makes the claim of conscience, and the proof must be such as will satisfy the court. Thus this bill does propose to subject to the control of courts and juries our conscientious convictions, our conscientious beliefs, and our conscientious observances. Under this law, therefore, we would no longer be free to keep the Sabbath according to the dictates of our own consciences, but could keep it only according to the dictates of the courts. Gentlemen, it is not enough to say that that would be an interference with the free exercise of our right to keep the Sabbath; it would be an absolute subversion of our right so to do.

Nor is it for ourselves only that we plead. We are not the only ones who will be affected by this law. It is not our rights of conscience only that will be subverted, but the rights of conscience of everybody—of those who keep Sunday as well as those who keep Saturday—of those who are in favor of the law as well as those of us who oppose the law. When the law requires that those who do not observe Sunday shall conscientiously believe in and observe another day, by that it is conclusively shown that it is the conscientious belief in, and observance of, Sunday itself that it required and enforced by this law. That is, the law requires that everybody shall conscientiously believe in and observe some day. But every man has the constitutional right to conscientiously believe in and observe a day or not as he please. He has just as much right not to do it as he has to do it. And the legislature invades the freedom of religious worship when it assumes the power to compel a man conscientiously or religiously to do that which he has the right to omit if he pleases. The principle is the same, whether the act compels us to do that which we wish to do, or whether it compels us to do that which we do not wish to do. The compulsory power does not exist in either case. In either case the State assumes control of the rights of conscience; and the freedom of every man to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience is gone, and thenceforth all are required to worship according to the dictates of the State.

Therefore, in opposing this bill, and all similar measures, we are advocating the rights of conscience of all the people. We are not only pleading for our own rights to keep the Sabbath according to the dictates of our own consciences, but we are also pleading for their right to keep Sunday according to the dictates of their own consciences. We are not only pleading that we, but that they also, in conscientious beliefs and observances, may be free from the interference and dictation of the State. And in so pleading we are only asserting the doctrine of the national Constitution. In the history of the formation of the Constitution, Mr. Bancroft says that the American Constitution “withheld from the Federal Government the power to invade the home of reason, the citadel of conscience, the sanctuary of the soul.” Let the American Constitution be respected.

Now to the point that this bill, through its promoters, does distinctly contemplate the taking away of the right to observe the Sabbath. I read from the bill the exemption that is proposed:—

This act shall not be construed to apply to any person or persons who conscientiously believe in and observe any other day of the week than Sunday, as a day of rest.

Now why is that clause put in the bill? The intention of the law-maker is the law. If, therefore, we can find out why this was inserted, we can know what the object of it is. During the past year Mr. Crafts has advertised all over this country, from Boston to San Francisco, and back again, and has repeated it to this committee this morning, that the Seventh-day Adventists and the Seventh-day Baptists are the strongest opponents of Sunday laws that there are in this country, and that they are doing more than all others combined to destroy respect for Sunday observance. All this, and yet these are the very persons whom he proposes to exempt from the provisions of the law, which is expressly to secure the observance of Sunday!

Why, then, does he propose to exempt these? Is it out of respect for them, or a desire to help them in their good work?—Certainly not. It is hoped by this to check their opposition until Congress is committed to the legislation.

How do we know this?—We know it by their own words. The lady who spoke here this morning as the representative of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union—Mrs. Catlin—said in this city, “We have given them an exemption clause, and that, we think, will take the wind out of their sails.” Well, if our sails were dependent upon legislative enactments, and must needs be trimmed to political breezes, such a squall as this might take the wind out of them. But so long as they are dependent alone upon the power of God, wafted by the gentle influences of the grace of Jesus Christ, such squalls become only prospering gales to speed us on our way.

By this, gentlemen, you see just what is the object of that proposed exemption—that it is only to check our opposition, until they secure the enactment of the law, and that they may do this the easier. Then when Congress shall have been committed to the legislation, it can repeal the exemption upon demand, and then the advocates of the Sunday law will have exactly what they want. I am not talking at random here. I have the proofs of what I am saying. They expect a return for this exemption. It is not extended as a guaranteed right, but as a favor that we can have if we will only pay them their own stated price for it. As a proof of this I read again from Mr. Crafts’ book, page 262:—

The tendency of legislatures and executive officers toward those who claim to keep a Saturday-Sabbath is to over-leniency rather than to over-strictness.

And in the convention held in this city Jan. 30, 31, 1890, Mr. Crafts said that this exemption is “generous to a fault,” and that “if there is any fault in this bill it is its being too generous” to the Seventh-day Adventists and the Seventh-day Baptists. But I read on:—

For instance, the laws of Rhode Island allow the Seventh-day Baptists, by special exception, to carry on public industries on the first day of the week in Hopkinton, and Westerly, in each of which places they form about one-fourth of the population. This local-option method of Sabbath legislation after the fashion of Rhode Island or Louisiana, if generally adopted, would make not only each State, but the nation also, a town heap, some places having two half Sabbaths, as at Westerly, some having no Sabbath at all, as at New Orleans, to the great confusion and injury of interstate commerce and even of local industry. Infinitely less harm is done by the usual policy, the only constitutional or sensible one, to let the insignificantly small minority of less than one in a hundred, whose religious convictions require them to rest on Saturday (unless their work is of a private character such as the law allows them to do on Sunday), suffer the loss of one days wages rather than have the other ninety-nine suffer by the wrecking of their Sabbath by the public business.

Why, then, do they offer this “special exception”? Why do they voluntarily do that which they themselves pronounce neither constitutional nor sensible?—It is for a purpose.

Again I read, and here is the point to which I wish especially to call the attention of the committee. It shows that they intend we shall pay for the exemption which they so over-generously offer:—

Instead of reciprocating the generosity shown toward them by the makers of Sabbath laws, these Seventh-day Christians expend a very large part of their energy in antagonizing such laws, seeking, by the free distribution of tracts and papers, to secure their repeal or neglect.

Exactly! That is the price which we are expected to pay for this generous exemption. We are to stop the distribution of tracts and papers which antagonize Sunday laws. We are to stop spending our energy in opposition to their efforts to promote Sunday observance. We are to stop telling the people that the Bible says “the seventh day is the Sabbath,” and that Sunday is not the Sabbath.

But have we not the right to teach the people that “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord,” even as the Bible says, and that only the keeping of that day is the keeping of the Sabbath according to the commandment? Have we not the right to do this? Have we not the right to tell the people that there is no scriptural authority for keeping Sunday, the first day of the week? Why, some of these gentlemen themselves say that. Mr. [152] Elliott here—Rev. George—confesses “the complete silence of the New Testament, so far as any explicit command for the Sabbath, or definite rules for its observance, are concerned.” Many others speak to the same effect. Have we not as much right to tell this to the people as they have? They do not agree among themselves upon the obligations of Sabbath-keeping, nor upon the basis of Sunday laws. In every one of their conventions one speaks one way and another in another and contradictory way. Have we not as much right to disagree with them as they have to disagree with one another? Why is it, then, that they want to stop our speaking these things, unless it is that we tell the truth?

More than this, have we not the constitutional right freely to speak all this, and also freely to distribute tracts and papers in opposition to Sunday laws and Sunday sacredness? Does not the Constitution declare that “the freedom of speech, or of the press,” shall not be abridged? Then when these men propose that we shall render such a return for that exemption, they do propose an invasion of the constititutional [sic.] guarantee of the freedom of speech and of the press. Why, gentlemen, this question of Sunday laws is a good deal larger question than half the people ever dreamed of.

Share this: