THE W. C. T. U. has put itself on record, by resolution regularly adopted, as in favor of “the amendment of all State Sunday laws which do not contain the usual exemption for those who keep the Sabbath day.”
It is certainly of interest to all “those who keep the Sabbath day” to know what “the usual exemption” is, or is likely to be. And there is sufficient history on this subject to give considerable information—history, too, of which the N. W. C. T. U. is a part. For the benefit of all, we shall here sketch this history of “the usual exemption.”
In 1888, at the request of the N. W. C. T. U. and allied organizations, Senator Blair introduced into the United States Senate, “a bill to secure to the people the enjoyment of the first day of the week, commonly known as the Lord’s day, as a day of rest, and to promote its observance as a day religious worship.” The bill met with considerable opposition throughout the country; and of this opposition “those who observe the Sabbath day” were a part.
To check this opposition, an amendment to the bill was suggested by the N. W. C. T. U., at the great hearing that was held in the Senate Committee room, at Washington, D. C., Dec. 13, 1888. This proposed exemption, which was added to the Blair bill, reads as follows:—
“Nor shall the provisions of this act be construed to prohibit or to sanction labour on Sunday by individuals who conscientiously believe in and observe any other day than Sunday as the Sabbath or a day of religious worship, provided such labor be not done to the disturbance of others.”
In January, 1890, again at the request of the N. W. C. T. U. and allied organizations, what is known as the Breckinridge bill—“a bill to prevent persons from being forced to labor on Sunday”—was introduced into the House of Representatives, in Congress, together with one of like nature in the Senate. The blank petitions, which were circulated all over this land for signatures, and which, when signed, were presented in Congress, and in response to which the Breckinridge bill was introduced, read thus:—
“To the House of Representatives of the United States:
“The undersigned organizations and adult residents (twenty-one years of age or more) of the United States hereby earnestly petition your honorable body to pass a bill forbidding in the United States mail and military service, and in interstate commerce, and in the District of Columbia and the Territories, all Sunday traffic and work, except works of religion, and works of real necessity and mercy, and such private work by those who religiously and regularly observe another day of the week by abstaining from labor and business, as will neither interfere with the general rest are with public worship.”
In response to this petition, the Breckinridge bill, as originally introduced, bore this exemption,—
“Provided, however, that this provision of this act shall not be construed to apply to any person or persons who conscientiously believe in and observe any other day of the week than Sunday as a day of rest.”
And this exemption was especially claimed by the W. C. T. U. as that which they had “given.”
Another item in this connection is the fact that the same Dr. W. F. Crafts who helped the N. W. C. T. U. at Seattle in framing and adopting this substitute resolution, was also the chief aid of the N. W. C. T. U. in framing, introducing, and working for the adoption of the Blair Sunday bill and the Breckinridge bill; and he was their chief aid in circulating, securing signatures to, and presenting, the petitions that brought forth the Breckinridge bill; and it was he who was also the chief instrument in framing all these proposed exemptions.
These examples, therefore, give a very fair idea of what is meant by the phrase “the usual exemption,” in the resolution adopted by the late N. W. C. T. U. convention. This is so because the persons concerned with the framing of this resolution are, and measure at least, the identical persons who framed all these exemption clauses.
Now, let any one examine carefully every one of these exemption clauses, and see how much real exemption “the usual exemption” “gives” to “those who keep the Sabbath day.” The first one requires that whoever shall be exempted must “conscientiously believe in and observe” another day than Sunday as the Sabbath. And even then it is distinctly declared that this law shall not be construed “to sanction labor on Sunday by individuals who conscientiously believe in and observe any other day than Sunday as the Sabbath as a day of religious worship.” And, further, that when this labor is done without the “sanction” of the law, it must “be not done to the disturbance of others.”
The actual reading of the exemption clause in the Breckinridge bill is that the law “shall not be construed to apply to any person or persons who conscientiously believe in and observe any other day of the week than Sunday as a day of rest.” But the petition, in response to which that bill, with its exemption, was framed, shows the intent of the clause in the minds of those who originated it; and “the intention of the lawmaker is the law.”
Now notice how all-embracing that exemption is, in the petitions that were present, which called forth the exemption: nothing is excepted “except works of religion, and works of real necessity and mercy, and such private work by those who religiously and regularly observe another day of the week by abstaining from labor and business, as will neither interfere with the general rest NOR with public worship.” Nobody can have the benefit of the exemption from the requirements of the Sunday laws unless he meets all the strict requirements, both public and private. In short, the exemption clauses which they have framed deliberately propose to take cognizance and jurisdiction of the whole religious and conscientious life, public and private, of those who observe any other day than Sunday. And such is the nature of “the usual exemption for those who keep the Sabbath day.”
Nor is that all. It is found in actual practise that this “usual exemption” is not exempt; as indeed it was never intended that it should, and as its very nature prohibits its doing. In the late convention at Seattle, when this was before the N. W. C. T. U. for discussion, Mrs. Tomlinson, national superintendent of parlor meetings, told a convention that:—
“New Jersey has a law which makes an exception of those keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath; and yet in my own State this last winter the seventh-day people who had observed the day strictly, and who opened their stores or places of business in a quiet manner upon the first day the week, were visited by the chief of police, and told that if they did not close their places of business upon the first day, they would be arrested, … Therefore in those States where there is an exemption the people are not always protected.”
And this in itself is in exact accord with statements made on this subject in former times. In July, 1887, there was a joint convention of the National Reform Association and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (not a national convention), held at Lakeside, Ohio. Upon this subject of exemption, in that convention David McAllister of the National Reform Association, who then, and for years, worked hand in hand with the W. C. T. U. everywhere, in national and other conventions (and who no doubt, is doing so yet), said:—
“Let a man be what he may,—Jew, seventh-day observer of some other denomination, or those who do not believe in the Christian Sabbath,—let the law apply to every one, that there shall be no public desecration of the first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath, the day of rest for the nation. They may hold any other day of the week as sacred, and observe it; but that day, which is the one day in seven for the nation at large, let that not be publicly desecrated by any one, by officer in the government, or by private citizen, high or low, rich or poor.”
This is sufficient to give to the N. W. C. T. U., and to the public, a good understanding of the nature and operation of “the usual exemption for these who keep the Sabbath day,” which, by resolution, the N. W. C. T. U. has voted to “favor.” Need it seem strange to the N. W. C. T. U. that “those who keep the Sabbath day” will probably not be very enthusiastic helpers in obtaining such exemption? Should it seem to them strange that our co-operation might be found lacking?
But while, and the nature of things, we can not co-operate in the endeavor to secure such exemption, we will constantly do our best, in a perfectly plain but altogether respectful way, to make plain to the W. C. T. U. just what is involved in Sunday laws, whether with or without exemptions. That is why we write this. We gladly do the women of the W. C. T. U. the justice to say that we believe they do not in any degree realize the true character of Sunday laws whether with or without exemption; and that they do not discern the true issue that is before the N. W. C. T. U. We believe that if they did discern this, they would be far from doing what they have done, and are doing, in that connection. We hope that they will candidly consider the whole mighty question that is now before them.