The Signs of the Times, vol. 15

The Signs of the Times, Vol. 15

1889

August 19, 1889

“The Relation of the W. C. T. U. to Sunday Laws” The Signs of the Times 15, 32, pp. 504-506.

IN the Union Signal of June 6, 1889, under the head of “Special Difficulties,” is the following:— SITI August 19, 1889, page 504.1

“Query—‘Does the W.C.T.U. favor a Sunday law that will oppress seventh-day believers?’ SITI August 19, 1889, page 504.2

“Answer—“‘The N.W.C.T.U. has repeatedly placed itself on record by resolution as desiring protection for conscientious observers of Saturday as the Sabbath, and the petition to Congress at the National Convention in New York City, expressly asked for this. In the now celebrated “hearing” before the Congressional Committee in December, the national superintendent especially urged this point, as can be seen on page twenty-four of the report. The American Sabbath Union at its Washington convention, did not join this special request, believing that the bill as prepared by Senator Blair already provides for all protection which is possible if we have any Sunday law at all. This is also Senator Blair’s opinion. SITI August 19, 1889, page 504.3

“The clause of the Sunday-rest bill referred to not only excepts work of necessity, mercy or humanity, but forbids only secular work, labor, or business, to the disturbance of others. What shape the bill will finally take before Congress, it is impossible to foresee. SITI August 19, 1889, page 504.4

“Our seventh-day friends make it hard for us to get an exemption clause, because they insist on the same rights for Sunday as for any other day of the week, which would result, wherever there were many of them, in having not two Sabbaths, but no Sabbath at all, as is already the case in many such places, according to the most reliable testimony. The American people have a right to insist that the Sabbath must be maintained, and Dr. A. H. Lewis, representative of the Seventh-day Baptists, says on page forty-three of the “Notes of the Hearing,” in reply to a question of the Chairman: ‘If the pursuing of railroad business upon the first day of the week, by Seventh-day Baptists or any others, were shown to be necessarily inimical to the best interests of the commonwealth, we would agree that it should be restrained.’ In other words, the rights of the few must yield to those of the many, when they necessarily conflict, and this doctrine is fundamental to our form of government. SITI August 19, 1889, page 504.5

“[Signed] MRS. J. C. BATEHAM.

Superintendent Sabbath Observance.” SITI August 19, 1889, page 504.6

It is plain from this that the seventh-day friends, who make it so hard for the Sunday folks to get an exemption clause into their law, are the Seventh-day Adventists and not the Seventh-day Baptists; because Dr. Lewis, who is referred to by Mrs. Bateham in behalf of the Seventh-day Baptists, asked for an exemption clause to be inserted as section seven of the original Blair bill, while I, at that same hearing, absolutely denied the right of any legislation upon the subject, even to the extent of an exemption clause. I here insert that part of my argument before the Committee which deals with this point. This argument is enlarged somewhat, upon what is given in the official hearing, but no change is made from the position there taken. SITI August 19, 1889, page 504.7

Senator Blair—Is there any other point you would wish to present? SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.1

Mr. Jones—There is another point, and that is, that we will be sufferers under such a law when is it passed. They propose to put in an exemption clause. Some of them favor an exemption clause, but it would not in the least degree check our opposition to the law if forty exemption clauses were put in, unless, indeed, they should insert a clause exempting everybody who does not want to keep it. In that case, we might not object so much. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.2

Senator Blair—You care not whether it is put in or not? SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.3

Mr. Jones—There is no right whatever in the legislation; and we will never accept an exemption clause as an equivalent to our opposition to the law. It is not to obtain relief for ourselves that we oppose the law. It is the principle of the whole subject of the legislation to which we object; and an exemption clause would not modify our objection in the least. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.4

Senator Blair—You differ from Dr. Lewis? SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.5

Mr. Jones—Yes, sir; we will never accept an exemption clause, as tending in the least to modify our opposition to the law. We as firmly and as fully deny the right of the State to legislate upon the subject with an exemption clause as without. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.6

Senator Blair—There are three times as many of you as of his denomination? SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.7

Mr. Jones—Yes, sir; There are nearly thirty thousand of us, and we ask for no exemption clause. We stand wholly upon the principle of the question. There should be no exemption from a just law. If the law is right, it is wrong to exempt. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.8

In 1887 Mrs. Bateham herself wrote and printed a “Letter to Seventh-day Believers,” proposing in substance that if we would help them to secure a Sunday law, they would exempt us from is penalties. We replied then as we reply now and always. We will not help you to put upon others what we would not have put upon ourselves. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.9

Senator Blair—You object to it? SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.10

Mr. Jones—We object to the whole principle of the proposed legislation. We go to the root of the matter, and deny the right of Congress to enact it. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.11

Senator Blair—You say that the proposed exemption does not make it any better? SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.12

Mr. Jones—Not a bit; because if the rightfulness of the legislation be admitted, then we admit that it is the right of a majority to say that such and such a day shall be the Sabbath or the Lord’s day, and that it shall be kept. The majorities change in civil government; the majority may change within a few years,—may change, in fact, at any election,—and then the people may say that the day which we believe should be kept must be observed, or they may say that this day shall not be kept. If we admit the propriety of the legislation, we must also admit the propriety of the legislation to the effect that a certain day shall not be kept, and it makes every man’s observance of Sunday, or otherwise, simply the football of majorities. That has been the course of religious legislation from the formation of the Papacy onward, and that is the end of religious legislation of all kinds everywhere. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.13

Senator Blair—Do you not think there is a distinction between a majority in a monarchical government, and a majority in a republican government? In a monarchical government the majority is simply one man who has power. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.14

Mr. Jones—But in a republic, when you throw this subject into civil affairs, it makes a great deal of difference. Why, sir, we would object to the passage of a law enforcing the observance of the day which we keep, and to accept an exemption clause would only be to contradict ourselves. Allow me to illustrate this: There was a time when we did not keep the seventh day as the Sabbath. While we did not keep it, we had the right not to keep it. We became convinced that we ought to keep it; and we are now doing so. We have the right to keep it. More than this, we have the right again not to keep it if we choose not to keep it. But if, while keeping it, we should consent to the State’s assumption of power to compel us to do that which we have the right to omit if we please, we would therein resign our freedom of religious faith and worship. If these people would only think on this question, they would see that they themselves cannot afford to consent to this legislation, much less demand it. No man can ever safely consent to legislation in favor of the form of faith or worship which he himself professes. In so doing he resigns his right to profess some other form of faith if he should become convinced that other form is nearer the truth than his own. He virtually resigns his right to think any further on the subject of religious observances, and must thenceforth accept them ready made from the legislative power; that is, as the majority may dictate. The Sunday observers may thus give away their religious liberty if they choose; but as for us, we do not propose to do it. We are going to assert and maintain our rights. And when these give theirs away, we are going to assert their right to re-assert their rights. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.15

Another thing: An exemption clause is only a toleration clause in disguise. For us to accept it would be but to confess that all religious rights are summed up in the majority, and that we are willing to accept from them whatever religious liberty they think we ought to have. But no such confession, sir, will we ever make. To no such thing will we ever consent or submit. We are Americans, sir, and citizens of the United States, too, and we assert all the rights of American citizens. The vocabulary of American ideas knows no such word as “toleration.” It asserts rights. As was said by the Senate Committee on this very subject sixty years ago, so say we:— SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.16

What other nations call religious toleration, we call religious rights. They are not exercised by virtue of governmental indulgence, but as rights, of which government cannot deprive any portion of citizens, however small. Despotic power may invade those rights, but justice still confirms them.” SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.17

Nor is this all that there is to be said on this point. There is another principle involved. If we should accept the exemption clause, it would not help the thing. It would be exceedingly short. Suppose an exemption clause were given. There are people who would profess to be Seventh-day Adventists for the express purpose of getting a chance to open saloons or houses of business on Sunday. Therefore in outright self-defense, the majority would have to repeal the exemption clause. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.18

Senator Blair—Call Mrs. Bateham’s attention to that. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.19

Mr. Jones—Let me repeat it. If you give an exemption clause—it has been tried—there are reprehensible men, saloon keepers, who know they will get more traffic on Sunday than they can on Saturday, and they will profess to be Seventh-day Adventists, they will profess to be Sabbath keepers. You cannot “go behind the returns,” you cannot look into the heart, you cannot investigate the intention, to see whether they are genuine in their profession or not. They will profess to be Sabbath-keepers, and then they will open their saloons on Sunday. Then in outright self-defense, to make you position effective, you will have to repeal that exemption clause. It will last but a little while. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.20

Senator Blair—I agree with you there. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.21

Mr. Jones—For that reason these people cannot afford to offer an exemption clause; and for the reason that it puts the majority in the power of our conscience, we deny the right to do anything of the kind. I ask the organizations represented here to think of this after this hearing is over. It will bear all the investigation they choose to give it. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.22

Senator Blair—I should like to call everybody’s attention to the point. If you need any legislation of this kind, you would better ask for legislation to carry out your purposes, and be careful that in the effort to get the assistance of the parties against you, you do not throw away the pith and substance of all for which you ask. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.23

Mr. Jones—It has been objected to this, that this supposition is only imaginary; because such characters could not be members of any Seventh-day Baptist or Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is certainly true that, so far, a saloon-keeping Seventh-day Baptist, or Seventh-day Adventist, either, is an unknown thing. But if Sunday laws are enforced with an exemption clause in favor of those who keep the seventh day, this would not be an unknown thing much longer. It is true, also, that such a man could not obtain membership in an Seventh-day Baptist or Seventh-day Adventist Church. But what is to prevent the saloon keepers from organizing Seventh-day Baptist or Seventh-day Adventist churches of their own, and for themselves? What is to prevent them, or any class of business men, from organizing their own churches, electing their own officers, and even ordaining their own pastors, and calling themselves Seventh-day Baptists or Seventh-day Adventists? There is nothing to prevent it; unless, indeed, the State itself shall take charge of all seventh-day churches, and doctrines, and attend to their organization and the admission of members. This is precisely what was done before. In the days of the New England theocracy, Massachusetts enacted a law that,— SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.24

“For the time to come, no man shall be admitted to the freedom of this body politic, but such as are members of some of the churches within the limits of the same.” SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.25

There were considerable numbers of men who were not members of any of the churches, and who could not be, because they were not Christians. These men then took to forming themselves into churches of their own. Then the next step for the authorities to take, and they took it, was to enact a law that,— SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.26

“Forasmuch as it hath bene found by sad experience that much trouble and disturbance hath happened both to the church and civill State by the oflicers and members of some churches, weh have bene gathered ... in an undue manner, ... it is ... order that ... this Court doeth not, nor will hereafter, approue of any such companies of men as shall henceforthe ioyne in any pretended way of church fellowship, without they shall first acquainte the magistrates and elders of the greater pte of the churches in this jurisdicon, with their intencons, and have their approbacon herein.”—Emancipation of Massachusetts, pp. 28-30. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.27

By this it will be seen that the enactment of such a Sunday law, though the first step, would not be by any means the last step, and that in more directions than one. Their offer of an exemption clause is a voluntary confession that the enforcement of the law without one would be unjust; but if that exemption clause be embodied and maintained, the State is inevitably carried beyond its proper jurisdiction; and if the exemption clause is retained and not maintained in its strictness, the whole law is at once nullified. Congress would better learn wisdom from this prospect, and utterly refuse to have anything at all to do with the subject. The whole subject is beyond the jurisdiction of the civil power, and the civil power can do no better than to let it entirely alone. SITI August 19, 1889, page 505.28

Yes, we should think it would be hard for the Sunday-law workers to get an exemption clause for a people who insist on the same rights that they themselves have. SITI August 19, 1889, page 506.1

ALONZO T. JONES.