10: The CHANGE Agents

In the twentieth century, there are two groups especially leading out in the urging of a National Sunday Law. Both are church organizations. The first of these is a Protestant interfaith association.

The National Reform Movement, so active in the nineteenth-century politics, disintegrated in the twentieth. The Lord’s Day Alliance, founded in 1888, was the organization that took its place. This vigorous interchurch religious group, working closely with representatives of many leading Protestant denominations, has, as its primary objective, the enactment of an ironclad, heavily enforced, National Sunday Law here in America. The other major organization is one which, as we shall see, has a special claim on Sunday: the Roman Catholic Church.

About four months before the four Supreme Court Sunday-law rulings were made, an unusual statement of boasting was made. Hinting at an important advance that was soon to be made, strong assurance was given of the power of the Roman Catholic Church to accomplish its objectives on a national level in America. Apparently, the Catholic hierarchy in our country felt confident that it had access to someone important in Washington, D.C. Here is part of the statement by the "new champion" of Sunday laws in America:

"For three centuries, Protestantism was the sole guardian in America of the Christian Sabbath. To police enforcement of Sunday statutes and to resist efforts to liberalize the laws, the Lord’s Day Alliance was founded . . In recent years, however, organized Protestantism seems to have yielded primary responsibility for guarding the Christian Sabbath to the Roman Catholic Church . . The Lord’s Day Alliance has become something of a stepchild of American Protestantism. The Catholic Church has become the new champion of the Sabbath [Sunday]!"—Richard Cohen, "Blue Sunday," in The Christian Century, January 4, 1961, 11.

A brief four months later, the decision on four major Sunday law cases was written by Earl Warren, a faithful Roman Catholic and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. In order to avoid more unfavorable public reaction than necessary to those four decisions, they were all handed down—publicly on the same day: May 29, 1961, rather than being spread out over a period of time. Nevertheless, they hit like a bombshell.

Of course, Cohen’s statement, that only the Roman Catholic was still active in Sunday legislation, was not accurate. The Lord’s Day alliance and other Protestant groups were still very much involved, especially on state and local levels. But Cohen’s message, published in a major interfaith religious journal just prior to the four May Sunday law decisions—appeared to be a signal that something important was forthcoming, and that it would be Catholic influence that brought it about.

At that time, Paul Blanshard was one of the leading Protestant investigators into the inner workings of the Roman Catholic Church in America. He added his testimony to the fact that it is the ambassadors of Rome that are among the most urgent of the Sunday-law promoters in the United States:

"One of the oddities of the situation is that the Catholic Church . . has now become one of the chief defenders of Sunday laws in the commercial sphere . . Today, while the Protestant-dominated Lord’s Day Alliance has declined in power, Catholicism has begun to place new emphasis on a non-commercial Sunday."—Paul Blanshard, God and Man in Washington, 1960, 71.

Blanshard, the author of the well-known book, American Freedom and Catholic Power, then went on to mention the strong opposition that the Catholic hierarchy mounted, when the Massachusetts Federal district court earlier ruled in favor of Crown Kosher Supermarket. That adverse ruling was destined to set powerful church machinery in motion, and it did not stop until it had effectively reached judicial ears in Washington, D.C.

"Both Cardinal Spellman and Cardinal Stritch issued special statements in the 1956 championing Sunday laws. Cardinal Cushing, in 1959, severely criticized a three-judge federal court in Massachusetts for declaring the Sunday law of that state unconstitutional in a kosher market case. He said: ‘Let us ourselves eliminate from Sunday the unrestrained commercialism which the courts, deference to what they interpret to be our own wishes, are attempting to legalize."—Ibid.

We said that the four May 29, 1961, rulings hit like a bombshell. And they did.

Two days after the landmark Supreme Court decision was handed down, the Detroit Free Press expressed utter amazement at the court’s statement that "the laws against doing business on Sunday have nothing to do with religion." And the editorial added:

"The machinations of great minds are frequently fascinating, and not easily understood by those who rely on common sense instead of technicalities . . How, when the words are written into the law, the justice can pretend they aren’t [religious rulings] is beyond our comprehension . . The clear wording and all past experiences indicate that blue laws are intended to enforce religious concepts. Even when providing exceptions such as Michigan’s, they can interfere with the right of a minority to a different belief. As of this week, they may be considered Constitutional, but that does not mean they are reasonable! The court has ruled for the majority and totally ignored the religious rights of minorities."—Detroit Free Press, June 1, 1961.

Time Magazine condemned it even more sharply:

"Seldom has an issue of liberty been argued on flabbier grounds . . U.S. blue laws are riddled with erratic contradictions. In Pennsylvania, it is legal to sell a bicycle on Sunday but not a tricycle; in Massachusetts, it is against the law to dredge for oysters but not to dig for clams; in Connecticut, genuine antiques may lawfully be sold but not reproductions. The New York blue law code is particularly messy. Bars may open at 1 p.m., but baseball games may not begin until 2 p.m. It is legal to sell fruits but not vegetables, an automobile tire but not a tire jack, tobacco but not a pipe. It is unlawful to sell butter or cooked meat after 10 a.m. except that delicatessens may sell these foods between 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m."—Time Magazine, October 25, 1963, page 56.

The Washington Post, recognizing that additional efforts by state and local governments to strengthen Sunday laws might follow soon, commented: "If, as we fear, the decision spawns a spate of such blue laws, the religious motivation will become so clear that the court will no longer be able to ignore it (Washington Post, June 18, 1961). The religious journal, Christian Century, predicted the same zealous results (Christian Century, July 19, 1961, 867-868). And this is exactly what happened. For example, the following Tuesday, in Michigan, the Detroit Council of Churches declared war on Sunday commerce, and tried hard to get rid of it all. Similar efforts occurred in many other places in America.

Throughout the months of behind-the-scenes work to legalize Sunday closing in Massachusetts, Northeastern dioceses worked closely with the Lord’s Day League of New England in achieving their objectives. The Lord’s Day League of New England later revealed the secret lobbying, by many northeastern church groups, to gain the victory in the Massachusetts Crown Kosher Supermarket case.

"After many months of cooperative effort between the office of the Massachusetts attorney general and other concerned groups, the Sunday laws have been held Constitutional.

"This decision, announced by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 29, culminated much dedicated work of numerous legislators, church groups of many beliefs, and the Lord’s Day League. The preservation of Sunday as a day of rest and relaxation from secular business is a welcome assurance to the entire community."—Lord’s Day League, quoted in "Love Blue Laws," in Springfield, Massachusetts, Free Press, June 3, 1963.

"Much dedicated work . . by church groups," to preserve Sunday ‘from secular business,’ had paid off. As was expected, soon afterward another case was sent up to the Supreme Court with even more religious overtones. But they wisely refused to hear it. The damage had been done. The precedent had been set. They could now afford to wait for the local, state, and Congressional legislation that would strengthen the foundation they had firmly laid on May 29, 1961.

Protestant and Catholic leaders all over America responded with praise for the May decision. But the most impressive approval came from the pope himself in September.

Appearing before delegates at a union convention, the pontiff pleaded "for the proper observance everywhere of Sunday as a day of rest . . This presupposes a change of mind in society and intervention of the powers of the state. Sunday will really be the ‘day of God’ when this comes about. It will be recognized as a social right to be enjoyed by all classes of society for the exercise of their religious duties and the practicing of works of charity. The church will be happy when this takes place."—Pope John XXIII, quoted by Religious News Service, September 21, 1961.

It has been obvious, throughout this chapter, that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has an especially strong concern to see enactment and enforcement of Sunday laws. But why is this?

The truth of the matter, as we shall learn in the next chapter,—is that Sunday is actually their day! They are the ones that brought Sunday sacredness into the church!

"Government is never the gainer in the execution of a law that is manifestly unjust . . Conscientious men are not the enemies, but the friends, of any government but a tyranny. They are its strength, and not its weakness. Daniel, in Babylon, praying, contrary to the law, was the true friend and supporter of the government; while those who, in their pretended zeal for the law and the constitution, would strike down the good man, were its real enemies. It is only when government transcends its spheres that it comes in conflict with the consciences of men."—James H. Fairchild, Moral Philosophy, 184-186.