“The Free Exercise of Religion” The American Sentinel 5, 24, pp. 189, 190.

THE following is an extract from a speech delivered by the editor of this paper before the House Committee on the District of Columbia, February 18, 1890:—

There is another consideration in this which shows that the State will be compelled to take official and judicial cognizance of the conscientious beliefs and observances of the people. It is this: When a law is enacted compelling everybody to refrain from all labor or business on Sunday, excepting those who conscientiously believe in and observe another day, then there will be scores of men who know that in their business—saloons, for instance—they can make more money by keeping their places of business open on Sunday than on another day, because more men are idle that day. They will therefore profess to observe another day and run their business on Sunday. This is not simply a theory, it is a fact proved by actual examples. One of the very latest I will mention. I have here a clipping from the Southern Sentinel, of Dallas, Texas, February 4, 1890, which I read:—

Right here in Dallas we have an example of how the law can be evaded. Parties have leased the billiard hall of the new McLeod Hotel, and have stipulated in their lease that they are conscientious observers of the seventh day [though to the best of the common knowledge and belief they are not]; that, in consequence, their business house will be closed on Saturday, and will be open on Sunday.

Mr. Grout—If they are known not to be conscientious worshipers, and keepers of the seventh-day Sabbath, what defense would they have?

Mr. Jones—The defense would still be a claim of “conscientious belief in, and observance of, another day.” The claim indeed might not be sincere. And if there were any question of it in the community, it would certainly be disputed and the court would be called upon to decide. Thus you see that by this bill the United States courts will be driven to the contemplation of conscientious convictions and compelled to decide upon the sincerity of conscientious beliefs and observances. And thereby it is proved that the introduction and advocacy of this bill is an endeavor to commit Congress and the Government of the United States to the supervision of the conscientious convictions of the people.

Now, gentlemen, to prevent this was the very purpose of the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is well known, as I have stated, that the Colonies which formed the original thirteen States had each one an established religion. When it was proposed to organize a Federal Government, the strongest influence that had to be met and overcome was jealousy of a national power—a fear that a national power would override the powers and interfere with the domestic affairs of the States. It was this that caused the adoption of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Their affairs of religion and the exercise thereof being the dearest of all, are first assured protection. Fearing that the national government might enact laws which would restrict or prohibit the free exercise of the religion of any of the people of the States; or that it might adopt or indorse some one of the religious establishments of the States, and thus form an alliance which might annihilate both political and religious individuality; that the political individuality of the States and the religious individuality of the people might be free; for themselves and their posterity the people declared that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

It is not to be inquired whether there was any danger of that which they feared, they feared it and that is enough. And because they feared it, because they were so jealous—rightly jealous too—of their religious rights and conscientious convictions, they guarded these, as they intended and supposed, forever, from any supervision or cognizance whatever on the part of the national Government. And upon this I quote now more fully the words of Bancroft, to which I merely referred a little while ago:—

Vindicating the right of individuality even in religion, and in religion above all, the new Nation dared to set the example of accepting in its relations to God the principle first divinely ordained in Judea. It left the management of temporal things to the temporal power; but the American Constitution, in harmony with the people of the several States, withheld from the Federal Government the power to invade the home of reason, the citadel of conscience, the sanctuary of the soul; and, not from indifference, but that the infinite spirit of eternal truth might move in its freedom of purity and power.—History of the Formation of the Constitution, Book V, chapter I.

Thus says the historian, there is by the Constitution “perfect individuality extended to conscience.” This individuality, these rights, are as dear to us and as sacred as they were to the fathers of our Nation, yet no more so to us than to other people. Therefore, gentlemen of the committee and the representatives of the people, by your respect for the Constitution and your oath to support it, and in behalf of the sacred rights of all the people, we implore you to give no heed to any demand for legislation, which in any way, to the least degree, proposes to touch the conscientious beliefs or observances of a solitary individual in all the land; give no heed to this bill, which in its very terms, proposes to commit Congress to the supervision of conscientious beliefs, and proposes to drive the national power into a field where the makers of that power forbade it to go, and to compel it to assume jurisdiction of questions which they have forbidden it even to consider.

Now, as to the petition—their petition I mean (our petition is all right, that needs no defense), the petition which the other side is circulating—that petition shows what this bill means. Both this bill and the Senate bill, “which includes this,” were framed and introduced upon this petition. If we know what the petition asks for, we shall know also what the bills are intended to give. Here is the petition—I read the one for the national law, “which includes this.”

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

The undersigned organizations and adult residents (21 years of age or more) of the United States hereby earnestly 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 the Territories, all Sunday traffic and work, except works of religion.

The question then which would inevitably arise upon this is, What religion is it whose works of religion only shall be excepted? That question would have to be answered. It would have to be answered by the United States courts or by Congress. But whenever, or by whichever, it shall be answered, when it is answered, that moment you have an established religiona union of Church and State. You cannot go back if you take the first step. The last step is in the first one, and we beg of you, gentlemen of the committee, and of these men themselves, for their own sakes as well as ours, do not take the first step.

We all know that the most wickedly cruel and most mercilessly inconsiderate of all governments is that in which the [190] ecclesiastics controls the civil power. And how are you going to escape it under such laws as here proposed? Who is to enforce these Sunday laws? Who, indeed, but those who are working for them? Certainly those who are opposed to them, or indifferent about them, will not enforce them. Who then are they who are working for the enactment of these laws? Who organize the conventions and count out the opposite votes? Who appeared here before your committee to argue in favor of it? Who, indeed, but the Church managers? for you saw how summarily the Knights of Labor part of the delegation was squelched.

Well, then, if it is the Church which secures the enactment of the law, it will be the Church that will have to see to the enforcement of the law. In order to do this she will be compelled to have police and courts which will do her bidding. This is her great difficulty now. There is now no lack of Sunday laws, either in the States or the Territories, but the laws are not enforced. In order to get executives and police and courts who will enforce the law to her satisfaction, the Church will have to elect them. Then, as said Mr. Crafts in this city the other day, they will form “law and order leagues to enforce” the Sunday laws. Here then is the system: The Church combines to get the law enacted; the Church secures the election of officers who will do her bidding; the Church forms “law and order leagues” to make sure that the officers do her bidding and enforce the law. Where, then, will the State appear, but in the subordinate position to formulate and execute the will of the Church? Then you have the Church above the State, the ecclesiastical superior to the civil power. This is just what is in this national Sunday-law movement; and this is what will certainly come out of it. It is inherent there.

But when George III. undertook to make the military superior to the civil power, our liberty-loving fathers declared it tyranny and avowed such things should not be in this land. And now when a movement reaches the national Capitol which bears in itself an attempt to make the ecclesiastical superior to the civil power, it is time for the American people to declare that this is tyranny also, and resolve that no such thing shall be in this land. That attempt one hundred and fourteen years ago grew out of the “divine right of kings” to govern, and the doctrine that governments do not derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. This attempt now grows out of the divine right of the ecclesiastics to govern, and likewise that governments do not derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The President of the American Sabbath Union, which is the originator of this national Sunday-law scheme, has definitely declared in so many words that “governments do not derive their just powers from the consent of the governed;” and one of the secretaries of an auxiliary Union has as definitely stated that “this movement is an effort to change that feature of our fundamental law.”

Gentlemen, when such doctrines as these are openly avowed, and when such an attempt is as this is made by those who avow them, to embody them in national law, it is time for all the people to declare as we decidedly do, that this Nation is, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT OF ALL ECCLESIAMSTICAL OR RELIGIOUS CONNECTION, INTERFERENCE, OR CONTROL.

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