“The Constitutionality of Sunday Laws” The American Sentinel 4, 31, pp. 244, 245.

THE Supreme court decisions of the different States of the Union on the subject of Sunday laws, are worth the study of any person who will take the time, not particularly for any real worth that there is in them, but just to see what queer freaks the judicial mind is capable of. The most recent, as well as one of the most remarkable, is the decision of the supreme court of Arkansas. Considerable mention has been made in the SENTINEL of the prosecutions of seventh-day observers in that State, in 1885 to 1887, for working on Sunday. The first case prosecuted was appealed to the supreme court. The court rendered a decision in which it cited particularly a Massachusetts decision, confirmed the judgment of the lower court, and closed with the following words:—

“The appellant’s argument, then, is reduced to this: That because he conscientiously believes he is permitted by the law of God to labor on Sunday, he may violate with impunity the statute declaring it illegal to do so; but a man’s religious belief cannot be accepted as a justification for his committing an overt act made criminal by the law of the land. If the law operates harshly, as laws sometimes do, the remedy is in the hands of the Legislature. It is not the province of the judiciary to pass upon the wisdom or policy of legislation. That is for the members of the legislative department; and the only appeal from their determination is to the constituency.”

This decision gives to the Legislature all the omnipotence of the British Parliament, and in that does away with all necessity for a written constitution. The decision, on this principle alone, is un-American. No legislative body in this country is framed upon the model of the British Parliament in respect to power. In this country, the powers of every Legislature are defined and limited by constitutions. It is the prerogative of supreme courts to define the meaning of the constitution and to decide whether an act of the Legislature is constitutional or not. If the act is constitutional, then it must stand, whatever the results may be. And the supreme court is the body by which the constitutionality or the unconstitutionality of any statute is to be discovered. But if, as this decision declares, the Legislature is omnipotent, and that which it does must stand as law; if it be true that “the only appeal” from a legislative enactment is “to the constituency,” then there is no earthly use for a constitution. “One of the objects for which the judiciary department is established, is the protection of the constitutional rights of the citizen;” but if the only appeal of the citizen is to the constitutency [sic.], then he has no constitutional rights in any true sense of the word. Such a decision is contrary to every principle of constitutional law.

So long as there is a constitution above the Legislature, which defines and limits its powers, and protects and guards the rights of the citizens, so long it is the province of the supreme court to pronounce upon the acts of the Legislature. The supreme court of Arkansas, therefore, in this case, clearly abdicated one of the very functions for which it was created, or else subverted the constitution of Arkansas; and in either case, bestowed upon the Legislature the omnipotence of the British Parliament, which is contrary to every principle of American institutions. Nor is the State of Arkansas an exception in this case, for this is the usual procedure of supreme courts in sustaining Sunday laws. They cannot be sustained upon any American principle; resort has to be made for every instance, and has been with scarcely no exception, either to the Church and State principles of the British government, or to the British principle of the omnipotence of the legislative power. But American principles are far above and far in advance of the principles of the British Government, in that they recognize constitutional limitations upon the legislative power, and countenance no union of Church and State; consequently Sunday laws never have been, and never can be, sustained upon American principles.

That this stricture upon the supreme court of Arkansas is not unjust, we have the clearest proof. The three judges who then composed the supreme court were all members of the Bar Association of the State. In less than three months after this decision was rendered, the Bar Association unanimously made a report to the State on “law and law reform,” an official copy of which we have in our possession. In that report, under the heading “Sunday Laws,” is the following:—

“Our statute, as it stands in Mansfield’s Digest, provides that ‘persons who are members of any religious society who observe as Sabbath any other day of the week than the Christian Sabbath, or Sunday, shall not be subject to the penalties of this act [the Sunday Law], so that they observe one day in seven agreeably to the faith and practice of their church or society.”—Mans. Dig., sec. 1886.

“This statute had been in force from the time of the organization of the State government; but it was unfortunately repealed by the act of March 3, 1895.”—Acts 1885, p. 37. [245]

“While the Jews adhere, of course, to the letter of the original command to remember the seventh day of the week, there is also in the State a small but respectable body of Christians who consistently believe that the seventh day is the proper day to be kept sacred; and in the case of Scoles vs. State, our supreme court was compelled to affirm a judgment against a member of one of these churches, for worshiping God according to the dictates of his own conscience, supported, as he supposed, by good theological arguments. It is very evident that the system now in force, savoring as it does very much of religious persecution, is a relic of the Middle Ages, when it was thought that men could be made orthodox by an act of Parliament. Even in Massachusetts, where Sabbatarian laws have always been enforced with unusual rigor, exceptions are made in favor of persons who religiously observe any other day in the place of Sunday. We think that the law as it stood in Mansfield’s Digest should be restored, with such an amendment as would prevent the sale of spirits on Sunday, as that was probably the object of repealing the above section.”

Now the Arkansas constitution says:—

“All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent. No human authority can, in any case or manner whatsoever, control or interfere with the right of conscience; and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment, denomination, or mode of worship, above any other.”

This report of the Bar Association says: “In the case of Scoles vs. State, our supreme court was compelled to affirm a judgment against a member of one of these churches, for worshiping God according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

Thus the Bar Association of that State declare that the supreme court of that State confirmed a judgment against a man for doing that which the constitution of that State explicitly declares that “all men have a natural and indefeasible right to do.”

And the members of the supreme court all being members of the Bar Association, in that unanimous report of the association they confessed that they confirmed a judgment against a man for doing that which the constitution, which they were sworn to uphold, explicitly declares that “all men have a natural and indefeasible right to do.”

And that is how Sunday laws were made “constitutional” in Arkansas.

A. T. J.

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