ACCORDING to Dr. H. H. George, the one “really practical” theme discussed at the recent National Reform Convention in New Castle, Pa., was “The Present Crisis of the Pennsylvania Sabbath Law.”
This discussion was opened by Mr. J. W. Houston, of Pittsburg, a gentleman who has been very prominent in enforcing the Sunday law in Pittsburg and Allegheny.
Mr. Houston explained the nature of the present Sunday law of the State and the manner of its enforcement, its penalty, etc. The law was passed in 1794, and provides a penalty of four dollars (one-half to go to the informer), to be recovered before any justice of the peace or other magistrate having concurrent jurisdiction with a justice of the peace, such as police justices, mayors, etc. Some years ago the penalty was, by a special act, increased to twenty-five dollars in Allegheny County.
At the last session of the Pennsylvania legislature an effort was made to so modify the law as to permit the publication and sale of Sunday papers and the sale of cigars, soda water, etc. The bill also provided for a uniform fine of four dollars throughout the State, repealing the special act making the fine twenty-five dollars in Allegheny County. This bill passed both houses of the legislature, but was vetoed by Governor Pattison, who has shown himself the pliant tool of the National Reform forces.
At the recent election a new governor was elected, and the man—Mr. Walter Lyon—who, above all others, was instrumental in securing the passage of the amendment which the Governor vetoed, was elected Lieutenant-Governor. Mr. Lyon was pledged to use his influence to secure certain modifications of the act of 1794, and for this cause the Sunday forces opposed his election. His ticket was however successful by an overwhelming majority, but owing to the religious boycott declared against him, Mr. Lyon ran behind his ticket about ten thousand votes. This would represent ten thousand voters in Pennsylvania who cared more for the maintenance of the Sunday law of 1794 than for the success of their party. These ten thousand voters are now styling themselves the “best people of the State,” the “law-abiding people of the commonwealth,” etc., and are demanding that instead of being modified in any degree the law of 1794 shall be so amended as to increase the penalty to twenty-five dollars throughout the State. To this end  petitions are now being circulated and signed all over the State. These will be presented to the legislature at an early day and an effort will be made to secure the proposed legislation.
On the other hand, the forces opposed to the law of 1794 are determined to secure important changes in the law. The first thing they propose is to take away from justices of the peace and other magistrates, the power of summary conviction in cases arising under the Sunday law. Violators of the Sunday law will then have to be prosecuted, if at all, before the higher courts, and the chances of conviction will be materially lessened. In the first place, complaining witnesses must attend court from day to day awaiting the pleasure of the grand jury, and this at their own expense. Then, when an indictment is found and the case set for trial, the prosecuting witnesses must again attend court day after day until the case is called. Then, if for any reason the accused is not convicted, the prosecutor must pay the costs; and it is manifest that in many cases there would be no conviction, because it is only reasonable to suppose that upon almost every jury there would be at least one man not in sympathy with the law or at least in sympathy with the accused. Thus the friends of the Sunday-law would find themselves laboring under great difficulties.
But it is not expected that this change in the law can be accomplished without a sharp contest; and as a sop to the Sunday-law advocates the anti-Sunday-law forces will probably consent to an amendment raising the fine to twenty-five dollars throughout the entire State. The effect of this will be readily seen: those who are not conscientious in the matter and have “influence,” or who are willing to avail themselves of devious ways to escape the penalty of transgression, will nine times out of ten escape punishment, while the Seventh-day Adventist, who will not deny working on Sunday, but who, on the contrary, avows his right to labor on that day, will fall an easy prey to the amended law with its increased penalty. We do not say that this is the design of either party to the Sunday-law controversy in Pennsylvania, but it will be the inevitable result.
Another point of attack upon the Sunday law will be an amendment permitting the publication and sale of Sunday papaers, and the running of Sunday trains, etc., and the sale of cigars, soda water, etc., on Sunday. This amendment will be opposed first, last and all the time by the Sunday-law forces. The Sunday paper is declared to be the chief enemy of the “Sabbath;” the “principal offender against the Sunday law;” the “foe of Christian morality,” etc. The Sunday papers and their publishers were denounced in unmeasured terms in the New Castle convention, and it is evident there can be no compromise between them and the National Reformers.
The people of New Castle were informed that petitions had been prepared and would be sent to every pastor in the State, and would very shortly be presented to the people for their signatures. Dr. H. H. George said in substance: “Let every man and woman sign these petitions. Sign them every chance you get. Let even the children, who are old enough, sign them.” Doubtless this advice will be followed; the experience gained in the matter of the World’s Fair petitions has prepared the way for all sorts of unscrupulous methods in securing signatures to petitions asking for religious laws. The motto seems to be: “The end justifies the means.”
Another matter that excited much enthusiasm in the convention was a proposition to establish in Washington City a “Bureau of National Reforms,” or in other words, a National Reform lobby, modeled after the Roman Catholic bureau of Indian schools. It was Dr. H. H. George who proposed this, and he explained the work that could be done by the proposed lobby. One object would be to keep the “Christian people” informed in regard to every measure introduced having any bearing upon religion or morality, so that “proper” influence in favor of “good laws and against bad ones” might be brought to bear upon members of Congress by means of petitions, letters, and telegrams. He said that the “Christian people” of the country had but recently learned their power, and how to influence legislation; and declared, “We can secure from Congress anything we ask.” The scheme is to establish a permanent bureau from which information and appeals can be sent out to every church and pastor in the United States, thus securing in favor of any scheme in which the churches are interested the united influence of “orthodox” churches. Congress will be deluged with letters, petitions and telegrams, until members will be made to believe that the demand for religious laws is well nigh universal; in short, the dishonest methods pursued so successfully in intimidating and cajoling Congress in the matter of closing the World’s Fair, are to be made a permanent feature of National Reform tactics. This association, which for a time seemed to be overshadowed by the American Sabbath Union, appears to be destined to exert a far-reaching influence in perfecting the papal image in this country; and the spirit manifested in the New Castle convention, especially by Dr. H. H. George and a few others, shows that the men who would burn bodies to save souls are not all dead. The spirit of the Inquisition still lives; does the spirit of martyrdom likewise survive? Yea, verily; men are not wanting who would die for their faith, even as some have already gone to prison and into the chain-gang “for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”