ANOTHER year has passed, and THE AMERICAN SENTINEL enters upon the seventh year of its publication. The evil work, to which it is THE SENTINEL’S business to call attention, has gone steadily and rapidly onward during the whole year. Although the year 1891 has not been one of so much legislative activity as have some of the years before it, yet the progress of the movement to join religion and the State, has been none the less rapid. In fact, as to real material progress, it is safe to say that the movement has gained almost as much in the past year as in any two years before.
In addition to its general strength the movement has made several important accessions. At the beginning of the year the allied organizations stood: The National Reform Association: the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union; the Third-Party Prohibition Party; the American Sabbath Union; and the Catholic Church. There have been gained during the year, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle; and the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. The latter numbering more than eight millions of members, though a large number of them may be, just now, too young to count in a political way, will in a very few years be able and ready to bear a full part in the grand scheme to make the religious element superior to the civil power in this Government. As for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, its platform, throughout the whole United States, has furnished the freest channel and the widest open door for the propagation of the National Reform principles that has been found since the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union joined the movement in 1886. And the Young Men’s Christian Association, which has all along kept itself well aloof from the movement, is now becoming more and more a part of it.
In years past influential members of the legislative department of the national Government have proved themselves anxious to perform a prominent part in the scheme to make religion an essential branch of politics, and in the past year a large number of members have shown themselves willing to do the same. The Independent, of this city, attempted a sort of census of the Sunday standing of members of the Fifty-first Congress. There was not a majority of the members who made answer, but a large majority of those who did reply, freely expressed themselves in favor of the governmental recognition of the sacredness of Sunday, by declaring their readiness to vote for congressional legislation to close the World’s Fair on Sunday. The Fifty-second Congress is largely a new body and its attitude is yet to be manifested.
Until the past year the legislative was the only department of the Government that had been called upon, or had had an opportunity, to express itself upon this subject. During 1891, however, the judicial department of the national  Government was called upon to view the question. And so far as the question has yet been discussed, by this department, the very least that can be said of it is that the question has been dealt with in a manner that should thrill with joy the very hearts of the most rabid National Reformers and would-be-persecutors in all the land. If the Supreme Court of the United States should adopt the views and confirm the opinions of the decision referred, then Heaven pity the individual who should ever venture to think or act for himself religiously in this country. As the victim of this particular piece of persecution is now dead, it is hardly likely that the Supreme Court will be called upon to notice the question as soon as was expected. And in view of the result, so far as the case did go, the people may count themselves fortunate that there is this prospective delay.
Of the three departments of the national Government the executive only remains untouched by this specific movement for securing governmental sanction to religion by direct and positive legislation enforcing religious observances. But in view of the record made by the present chief Executive it would seem that even there the way is fully open to the National Reformers as soon as they can succeed in carrying any of their measures that far. For President Harrison, not only, like several of his predecessors, went beyond the Constitution and issued a religious proclamation appoints a day of religious thanksgiving, but went even beyond them, so far as our knowledge goes, and actually assumed the prerogative of deciding what were the “appropriate observances of the day,” one of which he declared to be “worship in the public congregation.”
So far as our recollection goes, previous proclamation of this character only appointed the day and left the people free to decide for themselves what were the appropriate observances of the day. But President Harrison, not only appoints the day but, actually presumes to decide for the people what observances are “appropriate” and distinctly names “worship” as one of those things which are “appropriate.” This is all logical enough it is true; for if it be the prerogative of the President of the United States to appoint a day for religious exercises, it is only proper enough that he should define the religious exercises that are appropriate to the occasion. He who decides that a day should be observed, is, as a matter of course, best qualified to decide how it should be observed. And it is but natural, and proper too, that those who would respect the appointment of a day of religious exercise should look to the same source for directions as to how it should be observed. But how much further will President Harrison or any other President ever have to go in principle, to assume entire control of the religious exercises and worship of the people and proclaim himself Pontifex Maximus at once in full feather?
No, no, such was not the view of the makers of the national Government. Madison, the chief worker in the cause, declared that “executive proclamations of fasts and festivals” are a “deviation from the strict principle of the immunity of religion from civil jurisdiction.” And Jefferson, Madison’s predecessor in the presidential chair, and his admirable colleague in the battle for religious freedom in Virginia, and in that for the Nation, declared that “No power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general Government.” This ought to be apparent to every person who can read these words of the United States Constitution. “The powers not delegated to the United States by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Yet for more than a quarter of a century this plain provision has been habitually disregarded in this respect; and not only has the precedent distinctly supplanted the Constitution, but it grows more bold and advanced as time goes on. And the people, religious as well as otherwise, love to have it so. If not they would remember these weighty words of President Jefferson:—
I do not believe that it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies, that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them.Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them, an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.
But instead of respecting the Constitution, which both in its provisions and its intent, has left to the individual this whole matter of religion to be exercised or not as to him seems proper, the chief executives of the Nation, in disregard of their oath to maintain the Constitution, have taken from the people this inalienable right. And the people, instead of jealously guarding this right and being grateful that the Constitution recognizes and guarantees its free exercise, dully submit to it all, and rather caress the hand that is steadily filching from them this inalienable right and inestimable privilege, which have been bought with such torrents of blood and such untold suffering.
In addition to all these things there has been in the past year a more rapid growth than ever before in the country, of the nefarious doctrine that the safety of the State and of Society as a whole is dependent upon the public and official recognition of religion, and that to deny it, is to commit a treason against the State and to strike at the very foundation of organized society. And, as THE SENTINEL has always pointed out, this point is made to turn entirely upon the Sunday institution. It is religion as signified by Sunday that is essential to the preservation of society and the State. It is the religion represented by Sunday that must be publicly recognized and established in order to preserve the State and save society. It is therefore held that to speak against Sunday, and above all to disregard it, is to commit treason against society and the State. Thus the disregard of Sunday is coming more and more to be recognized and declared to be the supreme offense against society and the State.
Upon this point too, during 1891, the Pope has come to the support of this doctrine, with the renewed proclamation that “It is we who are the chief guardian of religion;” and therefore enjoins “the obligation of the cessation of work and labor on Sundays and certain festivals;” declares that this “should be rest from labor consecrated by religion;” and that the Church “acts upon the decided view that … recourse should be had, in due measure and degree, to the help of the law and of the State authority.”
And now even now as we enter upon the New Year everything possible is being done throughout the whole Nation, to secure the official recognition of Sunday and all that is involved in it, by congressional action. One of the very earliest bills introduced in the Fifty-second Congress, now in session, was one by Senator Paddock of Nebraska, to close the World’s Fair on Sunday.
In view of all these things THE AMERICAN SENINEL enters upon its seventh year with its original and abiding convictions deepened that the Government of the United States, as founded by our fathers will be subverted, and will be made subject to a religious power; and that there will be here a union of religion and the State, with all its attendant evils, and the perfect likeness of the Papacy. The accomplishment of this is as certain as that time shall continue. The thing is only a question of time; and the time is short; for all things are now ready. Will the people ever awake?
A. T. J.