“The Sunday Law of Tennessee against Natural Right” American Sentinel 10, 14, pp. 106, 107.

THE position of the courts in Tennessee in their relation to the Sunday law of that State, especially as affects observers of the seventh day, is certainly not a desirable one.

In pronouncing judgment upon the Seventh-day Adventists convicted in Rhea County in the recent term of court, Judge Parks said in effect, as published in these columns two weeks ago, that his sympathies were with the defendants, but that he was compelled by his official oath to enforce the law as he found it, and not as he might wish to have it.

In this connection his honor said: “If there were only one of them, he would be entitled not only to his belief, but to the exercise of that belief so long as in so doing he did not interfere with any natural right of his neighbor. A man cannot kill another and excuse himself by claiming that he believed he was carrying out God’s will in so doing, because this would deprive his victim of a natural right, viz., the enjoyment of life. Do the defendants, in keeping the seventh day and working on the first, thereby interfere with any natural right of their neighbors, or is it an artificial right created by statute?

This question admits of but one answer. The exclusive right claimed by Sunday-keepers is not a natural, but an artificial right, created by statute. It does not interfere with one man’s right to rest on Sunday because another man does not so rest. The “annoyance” and the “nuisance” is simply mental; it is of the same kind that might be experienced by the Protestant in seeing the Catholic make the sign of the cross, using holy water, or going to mass or confession. The “annoyance” is of the same kind as that felt by the Baptist seeing the pedo-Baptist practicing sprinkling, or vice versa. This was virtually conceded by Judge Parks in his summing up of the cases, when he said: “Sunday is, and for a long time has been, recognized by all Christian denominations as the Sabbath, and it is for this reason, no doubt, that the laws which protect that day have always been acquiesced in as constitutional.”

In his dictum in the King case, Judge Hammond admitted the same fact in the following language: “Sunday observance is so essentially a part of the same [the Christian] religion that it is impossible to rid our laws of it.”

This is equivalent to saying that notwithstanding the constitutional guarantee contained in the Tennessee Bill of Rights, the State of Tennessee and its courts have sustained laws giving preference to one form of religious worship over another. The language of Article 1 of the Bill of Rights is: “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 establishment or mode of worship.” That the Tennessee Sunday law is in violation of this provision, so far at least as observers of the seventh day are concerned, seems clear, and yet the court of last resort has not so held. The reason for this seems to be that individuals have not been considered, but that only organizations have been taken into consideration. In other words, that an individual to have any conscience which the law is bound to respect, must [107] belong to some organization, and that before the law can show any preference for any form of worship, it must recognize some religious denomination and some denominational creed. This idea is certainly foreign to the spirit of American institutions, as it is also to the spirit of the gospel.

Another very pertinent question raised by Judge Parks is as follows: “Has any power but the divine will the right to establish any one day as Sabbath? If the day has been set apart by divine edict, but two or more persons honestly differ as to what day was appointed, can the dispute be settled by legislative enactment?”

His honor did not answer his own question in words, but it admits of but one answer. The question as to which day is the Sabbath is certainly a religious question, and clearly only the Divine Being has any right to say which day he himself appointed, and this he has said in no uncertain language; and it is because of obedience to this command that Seventh-day Adventists are to-day suffering imprisonment in Tennessee.

While perhaps not so designed, Judge Parks’ remarks are a fearful arraignment of the Sunday law of the State of Tennessee. In his official capacity and under his oath of office, the judge felt that he could not do otherwise than enforce the law, or that which the Supreme Court has said is the law; but his honor has placed himself upon record, unmistakably, as opposed to such law; and in this he is not alone. There is a strong sentiment in the State against such law, and against religious persecution under color of the law. The question is, Will the lawmakers of the State of Tennessee vindicate the honor of the State by repealing this iniquitous statute, or will they maintain the law as it stands and thus make it possible for irresponsible parties to oppress honest citizens and drive them from the State by enforcing such unjust law? [107]

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