“The Idaho Test Oath” The American Sentinel 5, 36, pp. 281, 282.

September 11, 1890

WE are asked by a contemporary in Idaho, what is our opinion of the Idaho test oath, and Mormonism in general? THE SENTINEL has given its opinion of that phase of Mormonism which consists of polygamy; so that part of the question has been answered. As for Mormonism in general, apart from its polygamous doctrine and practice, it is akin to the National Reform Association, the American Sunday-law Union, and their allied organizations, in that it involves a union of Church and State, and aims to accomplish and constantly to carry on that which it involves. Therefore Mormonism in general, whether practicing polygamy or not, is only evil; but as polygamy is an essential part of the ism the whole things is doubly evil.

We are willing to give our opinion of the Idaho test oath; and that opinion is that it goes too far. The article published in THE SENTINEL, of last week, on the subject of polygamy, shows, and justifies us in saying, that if the Idaho test oath stopped with the prohibition of bigamy and polygamy, no one could have any just cause to criticize it. But that oath does not stop there. It goes so far as to prohibit every religious duty, that a majority of the people of Idaho might decide to be wrong.

We here print the test oath, putting in italics that point wherein the oath goes too far:—

I do swear (or affirm) that I am a male citizen of the United States of the age of twenty-one years (or will be on the sixth day of November, 1888); that I have (or will have), actually resided in this Territory four months and in this county for thirty days next preceding the day of the next ensuing election; that I have never been convicted of treason, felony, or bribery; that I am not registered or entitled to vote in any other place in this Territory; and I do further swear that I am not a bigamist or polygamist; that I am not a member of any order, organization, or association which teaches, advises, counsels, or encourages its members, devotees, or any other person to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy, or any other crime defined by law as a duty arising or resulting from membership in such order, organization, or association, or which practices bigamy, polygamy, or plural or celestial marriage as a doctrinal rite of such organization; that I do not and will not, publicly or privately, or in any manner whatever, teach, advise, counsel, or encourage any person to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy, or any other crime defined by law, either as a religious duty or otherwise; that I do regard the Constitution of the United States and the law thereof and the laws of this Territory, as interpreted by the courts, as the supreme laws of the land, the teachings of any order, organization, or association to the contrary, notwithstanding, so help me God.

That phrase, “or any other crime defined by law either as a religious duty or otherwise” is where this oath goes too far. This makes the State of Idaho supreme and absolute in everything religious as well as civil.

There is a question now agitating the whole country which will serve as a forcible illustration of what we mean. There is a strong demand being made on all legislative bodies, from Congress to the Legislature of Idaho, that laws shall be enacted compelling everybody to observe Sunday, and making it a crime to do any work on that day. Now there are a considerable number of people in the United States, and there are some in Idaho,—Seventh-day Adventists, and Seventh-day Baptists—who do not recognize Sunday [282] as a day to be observed in any way different from any other working day. They work on that day. They teach that it is right to work on that day. Yet, if the State of Idaho should enact such a Sunday law, as is demanded by those who are working for Sunday laws everywhere, this test oath would disfranchise every Seventh-day Adventist, and every Seventh-day Baptist in the State,—not for anything that is wrong, nor for anything that injures any soul on earth, but simply because Sunday laws make a crime of honest work; and these people from honest conviction would work on Sunday, even though the law prohibited it. For nearly a year, Tennessee has been carrying on a series of persecutions of some of these people for committing such a heinous crime as plowing corn and hoeing potatoes on Sunday. Tennessee has no such test oath as Idaho. If she had, every Seventh-day Adventist, every Seventh-day Baptist, and every Jew who stood by his honest convictions would be disfranchised. Idaho has the test oath, but we believe has not as yet any such Sunday law. If Idaho should adopt such a Sunday law as Tennessee, or should Tennessee adopt such a test oath as has Idaho, then it would soon be seen that such a test oath accomplishes a great deal more than was contemplated when that oath was made a part of the law. And it would be a great injustice too. To work on Sunday is not a crime, and never can properly be made a crime, and therefore to disfranchise whole peoples for Sunday labor would be itself a crime against society.

The observance of the day of rest is a religious duty only, and its obligation rests wholly between the individual and the Lord of the Sabbath. It has no bearing whatever upon any relationship of a citizen to his fellow-citizens or to the State. And no State can ever have any right to legislate upon the subject in any way. Every State that does so puts itself in the dominion of God, assumes his jurisdiction, and demands of men that they render to the State that which is to be rendered to God only.

This is the defect of the Idaho test oath; it makes the State supreme in everything, not only in civil affairs, but in all things religious, not only in things that pertain to the State but in those things which pertain only to God. Under penalty of disfranchisement this oath obliges every citizen of Idaho to swear that he does not, and “will not publicly, or privately, or in any manner whatever teach, advise, counsel, or encourage any person to commit the crime of bigamy, or polygamy, or any other crime defined by law as a religious duty or otherwise.” Whatever, therefore, the State of Idaho shall define by law to be a crime, whether it be a religious duty or anything else, that is to be laid aside by every person in that State. If that State should define it to be a crime to pay any allegiance, whether as a religious duty or otherwise, to a foreign potentate or power, then every Roman Catholic in Idaho would be disfranchised. And this is precisely the claim that has already been made under the precedent. But the claim is as wicked as the law would be. And as before shown, if the State of Idaho should define it to be a crime to work on Sunday, then every Seventh-day Christian, and every Jew would be disfranchised, or else would have to give up his religious convictions and cease to be religiously what he is.

Therefore, as this test oath makes the State supreme in religious things, as well as in civil, it goes too far. If it confined itself to men’s relationship with one another, with the relationship of the citizen to his fellow-citizen, or to the State, then nobody could object, and it would accomplish all that it does accomplish in prohibiting polygamy as it really does; but when it goes far beyond this and puts itself in the domain of God, and makes itself supreme in all things religious, in all matters of religious duty as well as otherwise, then in that it has gone too far.

The Mormon Church, like the National Reform Association, the American Sabbath Union, and the leadership of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, confounds civil and religious things. In this confusion the Mormon Church, under the garb of religious claim, wants to practice that which is uncivil. In this test oath the State of Idaho also confounds civil and religious things. And in this confusion, the State of Idaho prohibiting what is uncivil goes away beyond and asserts authority to prohibit whatever may be religious. The Mormon Church has the inalienable right to profess and practice whatever religious doctrine it pleases; but it has not the right, under the claim of religion, to practice that which is uncivil, as polygamy essentially is. The State of Idaho has the absolute right to prohibit anything that is uncivil, under whatever claim it may be practiced; but the State of Idaho has not the right, either to assert or to claim authority to prohibit anything that may be a religious fluty. In the confusion of religious and civil things the Mormon Church occupies one extreme, the State of Idaho occupies the other. The Mormon Church, in its assertion of right to practice polygamy, is civilly wrong. The State of Idaho in its assertion of right to prohibit religious duty, is religiously wrong. The Idaho test oath, so far as it pertains to bigamy or polygamy, is right, because bigamy and polygamy are essentially uncivil. The Idaho test oath, so far as it assumes jurisdiction of religious duty, is wrong, because with religious duty no State can ever of right have anything to do.

A. T. J.

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