“The Declaration of Rights of Tennessee Vs. the Tennessee Sunday Law” American Sentinel 10, 16, pp. 124, 125.

THE preceding memorial to the Tennessee legislature deserves more than passing notice. It is a remarkable fact in itself that there should be occasion for such a memorial in the closing decade of the nineteenth century. The facts set forth are startling, the arguments used are convincing, and the principle stated is sound.

That the Sunday laws are religious in their origin and purpose there can be no doubt. This has so often been admitted even by the defenders of the Sunday laws that it is idle to question it. In deciding the King case in Western Tennessee, August 1, 1891, Judge Hammond, of the United States District Court, said: “Sunday observance is so essentially a part of that [the Christian] religion that we cannot rid our laws of it.” And again, in the same opinion, his honor said:—

Freedom of religious belief is guaranteed by the Constitution; not in the sense argued here, that King, as a Seventh-day Adventist, or some other as a Jew, or yet another as a Seventh-day Baptist, might set at defiance the prejudices, if you please, of other sects having control of legislation in the matter of Sunday observances, but only in the sense that he should not himself be disturbed in the practices of his creed; which is quite a different thing from saying that in the course of his daily labor, disconnected with his religion, just as much as other people’s labor is disconnected with religion, labor not being an acknowledged principle or tenet of religion by him, nor generally or anywhere, he might disregard laws made in aid, if you choose to say so, of the religion of other sects.

His honor erred in stating that Mr. King’s daily labor was disconnected from his religion; because Mr. King belonged to a class of religionists who believe that whether they eat or drink, or whatsoever they do, they should do all to the glory of God, and that the fourth commandment not only requires Sabbath rest, but forbids a like treatment of any other day.

The vital point, however, in this quotation from Judge Hammond’s opinion, is his recognition of the fact that Sunday is a religious institution, and that it has a place in our laws for religious reasons. His honor, Judge Parks, admitted the same truth in his opinion in the recent cases in Rhea County, Tenn. He said:—

Sunday is, and for a long time has been, recognized by nearly all Christian denominations as the Sabbath, and it is for this reason, no doubt, that the law which protects that day has been acquiesced in as constitutional.

Such authorities might be greatly multiplied, but it is unnecessary. The reasons given are not in keeping with American principles of government. “There is not a shadow of right in the general Government,” says James Madison, “to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation.” [273] This language is just as true of the government of Tennessee, whose Declaration of Rights declares “That no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.” It has certainly the purpose of the framers of the constitution of Tennessee to guarantee absolute freedom of conscience; and the language of the Declaration of Rights is even plainer and more comprehensive than is that of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

If it be objected that a man cannot be permitted to do everything that his conscience may lead him to do, it is sufficient to reply in the words of Thomas Jefferson: “Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their power, that their true office is to declares and enforce our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us.” [274]

The State need not ask what any man’s conscience is, but simply guard the rights of the individual. It is no concern of the State what the individual does so long as in so doing he does not infringe the rights of his fellow-man. Judge Parks stated this principle thus clearly in his opinion already referred to: “A man cannot kill another and excuse himself on the ground that he believed he was carrying out God’s will in so doing, because this would deprive his victim of a natural right, viz.: the enjoyment of life. Do the defendants, in keeping the seventh day and working on the [125] first, thereby interfere with any natural right of their neighbors? or is it an artificial right created by human law?” There can be but one answer given to the judge’s question, viz.: It is an artificial right. Private work on Sunday by one man does not interfere with the right of another man not to work. So that the only reason for enforced Sunday observance, by the individual, is a religious reason, as Judge Parks and Judge Hammond, in common with many other jurists, admit.

But it was clearly the purpose of the framers of the Declaration of Rights of Tennessee to forever prohibit the legalization of any religious institution or the enforcement of any religious practice. “Among all the religious persecutions with which almost every page of modern history is stained, no victim ever suffered but for violation of what government denominated the law of God.” [275] It was doubtless to prevent similar evils that the framers of the Declaration of Rights of Tennessee wisely prohibited the legislature from intermeddling with questions affecting the conscience.

But the memorial presented to the legislature by the Adventists of Rhea County goes farther than to merely assert their rights of conscience in this matter. It takes the ground that Sunday laws interfere with the rights of conscience of every man. The constitution of Tennessee was evidently not designed to guarantee toleration merely, but to establish religious liberty. It was evidently the purpose of the framers of that instrument to afford equal protection to all citizens of the State, whether Jews, Christians, or agnostics. “The protection of the constitution extends to every individuals or to none. It is the individual that is intended to be protected. The principle is the same whether the many or the few are concerned. The constitution did not mean to inquire how many or how few would profess or not profess this or that particular religion. If there be but a single individual in the State who professes a particular faith, he is as much within the protection of the constitution as if he agreed with the great majority of his fellow-citizens…. Under the constitution of this State the legislature cannot pass any act, the legitimate effect of which is forcibly to establish any merely religious truth, or to enforce any merely religious observances. The legislature has no power over such a subject. When, therefore, the citizen is sought to be compelled by the legislature to do any affirmative religious act, or to refrain from doing anything, because it violates simply a religious principle or observance, the act is unconstitutional.” [276]

This language, though used concerning the constitution of California, is just as appropriate to the constitution of Tennessee. The Declaration of Rights of the latter State seeks to provide for absolute religious equality: but the Sunday law of the State clearly does give preference to a religious institution, giving it the patronage of public authority. It gives those religious denominations that observe Sunday a decided advantage over all others, and imposes a heavy burden upon observers of another day. Thus it infringes the rights alike, of the seventh-day Christian, of the Jew, and of the man who professes no religion. Nor does it stop here, for, as is clearly set forth in the memorial, it interferes with the right of every man, for it leaves no man free to change his opinion and practice in regard to Sunday work. The memorial ought to receive candid consideration at the hands of the legislature and of the people of Tennessee. [125]

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