“The Georgia Courts and the Sunday Law” American Sentinel 10, 22, pp. 169, 170.

May 30, 1895

AN interesting question, though by no means a new one, has been raised by the case of J. Q. Allison, at Douglasville, Ga., an account of which is given elsewhere in this paper.

Mr. Allison produced a Bible in court and proposed to show from it his authority for holding that the seventh day is the Sabbath. But he was stopped by the judge, who told him: “That won’t do in this court.” “We allow every man his own religious opinions, but this is simply a civil law.”

Mr. Allison then read from Section 6, Article 1, of the constitution of Georgia, which is as follows:—

Perfect freedom of religious sentiment shall be, and the same is hereby secured, and no inhabitant of this State shall ever be molested in person or property, or prohibited from holding any public office or trust, on account of his religious opinion; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the people.

Mr. Allison was interrupted by the court before he had finished reading this section, and was informed that the only question before the court was, whether he had worked on the first day of the week or not, at the time charged in the indictment. And in this connection the judge said:—

I would not interfere with you in any way in the enjoyment of your religion; this is simply a law of the State, and we are bound thereby. The State could say that you should keep Wednesday or Thursday or every other Thursday, that it would be a crime to work on every other Wednesday or every other Thursday, and we would be bound to obey that law.

This statement by the judge would be true if the law were indeed a merely civil regulation based upon civil reasons; but according to decisions of the Supreme Court of Georgia, his statement is not true. The Supreme Court of that State has sustained Sunday laws upon distinctively religious grounds. And the reasons given could not by any possibility apply to Wednesday or Thursday or to every other Wednesday or Thursday. Moreover, the judge cannot find in American law anywhere an enforced civil holiday. The prohibition of secular labor and business on Sunday has absolutely no other basis except the supposed sacred character of the day. No other reason could possibly exist for forbidding a man to plow in his own field on Sunday; and Judge Janes can ascertain for himself that this is the ground upon which the Supreme Court of Georgia has sustained the Sunday law.

In 1852 Judge Lumpkin, of Georgia, said: “All agree that to the well-being of society stated intervals of rest are absolutely necessary. We should not tempt mankind, therefore, to yield obedience to municipal arrangements which overlook and disregard the moral law of the great Jehovah, who, from the smoking top of Mount Sinai, proclaimed to all the world, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy; in it thou shalt not do any work.’” [284]

This is a direct acknowledgment of the religious character of Sunday, and likewise of the laws which sustain it, and the same could never be true of Wednesday or Thursday, for nobody claims that the fourth commandment has any reference to those days. Again, as recently as 1871, Judge Lochrane said that in presuming the law of Kansas to be the same as that of his own State (Georgia) in this regard, because the contrary view would suppose the people of Kansas to have annulled the Decalogue and to have permitted by law the disregard of Christian obligation; and not only to have forgotten, but violated the injunction, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; in it thou shalt do no manner of work.” [285] [170]

Again, in the same year (1871) it was held by the same court [286] that the power to enact a Sunday law was collected from the general powers delegated to maintain good order, but added: “The power is a very high prerogative, and is supported by the principle involved in the preservation of morals and the duties of citizens upon the Lords day.” In 49 Ga., 436, Bass vs. Irvin, it is said that “the code denominates if [the first day of the week] the Lord’s day, and as the Lords day, all courts and magistrates are to consider it.”

It is quite evident from these authorities that while the Sunday law of Georgia is a “civil” law in the sense that it has a place upon the statute books of the State and is enforced by the civil courts, it is not more civil than would be any other law requiring the observance of any other religious institution. The terms “Lord’s day,” and “Sabbath” occur no less than eight times in the several sections of the Georgia code referring to Sunday, while in Section 4582 it is provided that “all moneys arising from fines for offenses, the gist of which consists in their being committed on the Sabbath day, shall be paid to the ordinary of the county, to be by him distributed for the purpose of establishing and promoting Sabbath-schools in the county.” This language is conclusive as to the character and intent of the law; it has no other purpose than to honor Sunday as a religious institution.

It will be observed that under this Sunday law there are certain offenses, “the gist of which consists in their being committed on the Sabbath day.” The gist of these offenses is not that they invade the rights of other people, or even that they injure the person himself who commits them, nor that they are licentious nor that they disturb the public peace, but that they are violations of “the Sabbath.” And yet the courts of the State refuse to allow one accused of Sabbath-breaking to show from the Bible which day is the Sabbath, telling him that “that [the Bible] won’t do in this court;” “we allow every man his own religious opinions, but this is simply a civil law.” And so, and in exactly the same sense, would be a law requiring all parents to have their children sprinkled, as was once the case in Massachusetts, and that too, for the protection of morals.

Religious persecution has always been defended on exactly the same grounds. Robert Baird, the church historian, says:—

Religious persecution has always been defended on exactly the same grounds. Robert Baird, the church historian, says:—

The rulers of Massachusetts put the Quakers to death and banished “Antinomians” and “Anabaptists,” not because of their religious tenets, but because of their violation of civil laws. This is the justification they pleaded, and it was the best they could make. Miserable excuse! But just so it is: wherever there is such a union of Church and State, heresy and heretical practices are apt to become violations of the civil code, and are punished no longer as errors in religion, but infractions of the laws of the land. So the defenders of the Inquisition have always spoken and written in justification of that awful and most iniquitous tribunal.—“Religion in America,” p. 94.

It is in precisely this way that Cardinal Gibbons defends the Inquisition. He says:—

The Spanish Inquisition was erected by King Ferdinand, less from motives of religious zeal than from human policy…. It must be remembered that in those days, heresy, especially if outspoken, was regarded not only as an offense against religion, but also as a crime against the State, and was punished accordingly.—Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 292, 293.

It is the same to-day and among so-called Protestants. Rev. Robert Patterson, D.D., says in defense of Sunday laws:—

It is the right of the State to protect by law such a fundamental support of government. This attack on the Sabbath is treason against the very foundations of government. As such let it be resisted by every American citizen. The American Sabbath is essential to American liberty, to our Republic and to God’s religion.—“The American Sabbath,” by the Rev. Robert Patterson, D.D.; Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia.

This is only putting into slightly different phrase the papal “argument” in justification of the Inquisition. It is neither better nor worse in the one case than in the other. In the days of the Inquisition the Roman Catholic faith was regarded as the bulwark of social order, and therefore to be protected by civil law; now, the Sunday institution is declared by professed Protestants to be essential to good government, and so to be jealously guarded by the State. In these Sunday-law prosecutions, history is simply repeating itself.

Jerome, the subject of our illustration, was not burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church any more than are Seventh-day Adventists in Georgia and Tennessee imprisoned and sent to the chain-gang by the so-called Protestant churches whose influence created and sustains the Sunday laws. The Roman Catholic Church simply declared Jerome a heretic, and as such he was regarded as an enemy of the State; and our illustration shows him being led to the stake, not by ecclesiastics, not by officers of the church, but by the civil authorities—officers of the State—just as Adventists are to-day imprisoned and driven in chain-gangs by authority of the State, but none the less in obedience to the behest of professed Protestants. The religious sentiment of the community was then crystallized into civil law precisely as it is to-day and that not for the protection of civil rights, but for the enforcement of religious dogma.

It was not pretended in this Allison case that anybody was interfered with in the least degree. There was no disturbance, no infringing upon the rights of others. The gist of Mr. Allison’s offense was the he worked on Sunday, the day which the State of Georgia has declared is the “Sabbath,” “the Lord’s day,” and which it has decreed must be kept “holy.” There is absolutely no civil element in it except the fact that the day is intrenched in the civl law. A law requiring everybody to be baptized and to join a church would be civil in just the same sense as is this law requiring the observance of Sunday in the State of Georgia; and such a law would be no more in conflict with the constitution of that State than is the Sunday law.

The assertion that Mr. Allison or anybody else is left perfectly free in religious matters under a Sunday law is false. How free would the Sunday-keepers of Georgia consider themselves if they were taxed one-sixth of their time for the benefit of Mr. Allison’s religion?

Moreover, the fact that Mr. Allison is in the minority does not alter the case one iota. Judge Parks, of Tennessee, has well said: “If there were only one of them he would be entitled not only to his honest belief, but to the exercise of that belief, so long as in so doing he did not interfere with some natural right of his neighbors.”

This is the touchstone to which all such laws and all such questions ought to be brought, namely, the equal rights of others. Does one man, by working on Sunday, thereby infringe the equal rights of another man to rest or to worship? If not—and he certainly does not—any law forbidding such work is simply an expression of intolerance and despotism, none the less intolerable, because instead of being the intolerance and despotism of one it is the intolerance and despotism of the majority. [170]

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