“The Pennsylvania ‘Sabbath’ Association Against Religious Liberty” American Sentinel 9, 44, pp. 346, 347.

LAMST week, Williamsport, Pa., was the storm center of the Pennsylvania Sabbath Association. A few weeks previous to this time a law and order league was formed through the influence of the secretary of the Pennsylvania Sabbath Association. As a result of the influence of this league the following ordinance was passed:—

SECTION 1. Be it ordained by the select and common councils of the city of Williamsport, That from and after the passage of this ordinance it shall not be lawful for any person to expose for sale within the limits of said city any wares or merchandise on Sunday; nor shall any grocery, shop, store or other place of business be kept open on that day for the sale of any commodity whatever: nor shall any owner or occupant of such store, shop or other place of business permit persons to congregate therein, under a penalty of $10 for each offense, and for each of the foregoing offenses; Provided, That the provisions of this ordinance shall not apply to drug stores kept open for the sale of medicines only, nor shall it apply to the sale of bread or milk.

This law, it will be noticed, is more severe both in prohibition and penalty than the Pennsylvania Sunday law of 1794. This new law forbids the sale of all eatables except “bread or milk,” while the law of 1794 declares that its provisions are not to be construed “to prohibit the delivery of milk or of the necessities of life, before nine of the clock in the forenoon, nor after five of the clock in the afternoon of the same day.” The Williamsport ordinance also forbids shop-keepers to allow their friends to congregate in their places of business though nothing is sold. However, the people of Williamsport are permitted to congregate in the churches on Sunday and drop their coin into the collection-box for the payment of the preacher. The penalty attached to the law of 1794 is four dollars, while the penalty of the new Williamsport ordinance is ten dollars.

Sunday and Monday evenings preceding the opening of the convention of the Pennsylvania Sabbath Association, the writer delivered two addresses in the court house, to what the local papers termed “large” and “good-sized” audiences. The subject of the first address was “The National Reform Association, the American Sabbath Union, the Pennsylvania Sabbath Association and the Constitution of the United States.” It was shown that the first attacks on the religious liberty provisions of the Constitution of the United States came from the “Synod of Pittsburg in Pennsylvania” as early as January 4, 1811, when the Presbyterian element of that section of the State petitioned Congress to prohibit the transportation and distribution of mails on Sunday. The history of the movement to secure congressional recognition was traced from 1811 to the final victory in 1892.

The subject of the second lecture was “Jesus of Nazareth and the Sabbath Association of Jerusalem.” It was shown that at the first advent of Jesus the Jews had lost sight of the true Sabbath and were attempting to save the “sanctity of their Sabbath” and thereby preserve the [347] nation from the judgment of God by methods exactly similar to the methods of the Sabbath Association and law and order leagues of the present day. It was shown that as Jesus, the true Sabbath-keeper, was persecuted for his faithfulness in Sabbath-keeping, by the Sabbath-breakers of Jerusalem, so the true Sabbath-keepers in our time are being persecuted by the Sabbath-breakers (Sunday-keepers) for their faithfulness in keeping the same Sabbath day which Jesus kept.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Williamsport manifested a commendable zeal in circulating religious liberty literature. On the Monday preceding the Sabbath Association meeting they circulated fifty-two thousand pages of this literature, and later one thousand copies of the SENTINEL. Even the mothers and children engaged heartily in this work. The people of this country will not appreciate the herculean struggle in which Seventh-day Adventists are engaged for the preservation of religious freedom until it is too late.

At the first session of the Sabbath observance meeting held in the Pine Street Methodist Church, Tuesday morning at 11:30, the subject, “Sunday Mails” was discussed. The burden of the speeches was the laxity of Christians in the matter of sending and receiving mail on Sunday, and the necessity of a combine of the Christian people to force from Congress,—which was likened to the unjust judge,—a law forbidding the transportation and distribution of mail on Sunday. It was urged that this was a Christian nation on the authority of the Supreme Court of the United States, and therefore the Christian people of the country would be heard and heeded in their demands for the enforcement of Christian institutions and usages. One speaker became so enthused with the prospects of the Sabbath which they hoped to secure by the aid of civil law, that he declared that it would make “devils on horseback holiness unto the Lord.”

The greater part of the afternoon session was devoted to the discussion and adoption of resolutions regarding the maintenance of the Pennsylvania Sunday law of 1794. After much discussion it was decided to demand an increase of the present penalty of four dollars to twenty-five dollars. Some feared that this demand for an increased penalty might furnish the opposition with a weapon they would use to destroy the entire law. But the prevailing sentiment was that the time had come for aggressive work, and if the demand for a $25 penalty invited an attack on the whole law it would be met with the thunders of the combined church. Many advocated, demanding a fine of one hundred dollars, and others imprisonment for the third offense. The atmosphere of this meeting reminded one of historical descriptions of the heresy tribunals of the Dark Ages.

In the evening a Williamsport attorney delivered an address of welcome to the delegates of the convention. Knowing the sentiments that would be most welcome to the ears of the delegates he devoted his entire time to reading decisions of the supreme court of Pennsylvania sustaining the Sunday law of 1794 and arguing that Seventh-day observers could find no shelter in the constitution of the State which says: “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their consciences; and … that no human authority can in any case whatever control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and that no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

The president of the Cumberland Valley Sabbath Association responded by narrating how he had intimidated the last legislature and helped to prevent the repeal of the Sunday law of 1794 by appearing before the committee with the names of 30,000 church members which had been gathered in the Cumberland Valley. All were exhorted to rally for the maintenance of the Pennsylvania Sunday law against the “conspiracy,” and “treason,” and “anarchy” which was looking to its repeal this winter.

The prevailing sentiment of the meeting was that with the fall of the Sunday law would go all civility, morality, and religion, and, in their places, would come anarchy with temporal and eternal ruin. It is evident that these men believe this, and hence their earnestness in its enforcement, even though as one member of the convention said to the writer, “Seventh-day Adventists must be arrested and prosecuted.”

At the forenoon session of the second day’s convention resolutions were passed condemning Sunday newspapers, Sunday street cars, Sunday mails, and calling for the organization of law and order leagues in every city and town in the State, and the boycotting of every candidate for public office favorable to the repeal of the present Sunday law or opposed to increasing the penalty to $25. One resolution asked professed Christians to be consistent and keep the Sabbath (Sunday) themselves. Many pertinent things were said along this line. It was stated that the violation of the Sunday by professed christions [sic.] lay at the very foundation of the present disregard for the day. It was also stated ministers dared not rebuke this disregard of Sunday for fear of losing their hearers. Hence the safest and easiest way out of the dilemma was the strong arm of the State.

Preparations were made for a great struggle this winter, not merely for the preservation of the present law, but for an increased penalty. Petitions will be circulated in every part of the State, and a combined effort be made to force form the legislature the desired legislation.

Throughout the entire convention there was manifest an intense earnestness which bespeaks an honest conviction, but which is ominous of further encroachment on the liberties of the people. [347]

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