5: Bringing Back the PAST 

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity to ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."—Preamble to the United States Constitution.

It was done! That grandest of all human documents. But then our founders realized that something was missing! Thomas Jefferson, writing from France, declared that the Constitution was incomplete. A "bill of personal rights" must be added, guaranteeing to each citizen certain inalienable rights that the government could never be allowed to take from him! Other leaders agreed. They knew past history well. Indeed, they had only but recently come out of intense personal and religious persecution of the American Colonies. They were the children not only of the persecuted but also of those who had persecuted them.

The first Congress, meeting at its first session (in New York City on September 25, 1789), wrote and submitted to the states several amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Among the most important of these was the first amendment, written, along with the others, by James Madison:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

On November 3, 1791, at Philadelphia, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution became part of the supreme law of the land.

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declares that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state."—Thomas Jefferson, quoted in Reynolds vs. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878).

At last, religious freedom could rule in America! Only two years earlier George Washington had been forbidden to continue his journey by horseback to New York City, to take the oath as the first president of the United States. He had been stopped by a Connecticut highway official because he was traveling on Sunday. Fortunately he had left Mount Vernon early enough to make it in time. A few days later, on April 30, 1789, at Federal Hall, New York City, he was sworn in as the first president of the United States.

Yes, there were Sunday laws back in the colonies. And, because all must obey them, a State church was the result.

The Virginia Sunday law of 1610 mandated that attendance at "diuine seruice was required of all citizens, religious or irreligious, every Sunday morning, and again in the afternoon to diuine seruice, and catechising, vpon paine for the first fault to lose their pronision, and allowance for the whole weeke following, for the second to lose the said allowance, and also to be whipt, and for the third to suffer death."—Peter Force, Tracts Relating to the Colonies in North America, Vol. 3, No. 2, 10-11.

In contrast with this effort to fill church pews with the irreligious and irreverent, Roger Williams is recognized by historians as the first man in modern history to fully recognize that the only way to safeguard the individual conscience—and the church as well—is to separate both from State coercion or control.

"At a time when Germany was the battlefield for all Europe in the implacable wars of religion; when even Holland was bleeding with the anger of vengeful factions; when France was still to go through the fearful struggle with bigotry; when England was grasping under the despotism of intolerance; almost half a century before William Penn became an American . . Roger Williams asserted the great doctrine of intellectual liberty. It became his glory to found a state [Rhode Island] upon that principle . . He was the first person in modern Christendom to assert, in its plenitude, the doctrine of liberty of conscience, the equality of opinions before the law. Williams would permit persecution of no opinion, of no religion, leaving heresy unharmed by law and orthodoxy unprotected by terrors of penal statutes."—George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, Vol, 1, 254-255.

Later, in 1830, when a Federal Sunday Law was urged, the matter was carefully studied by a special committee of the House. The decision of that bipartisan committee deserves our careful thought today:

"Banishment, tortures, and death were inflicted in vain to stop its [the Christian religion’s] progress. But many of its professors, as soon as clothed with political power, lost the meek spirit which their creed inculcated, and began to inflict, on other religions and dissenting sects of their own religion, persecutions more aggravated than those which their own apostles had endured."—Special House Report, U.S. House of Representatives, March 4-5, 1830.

Think about that statement a minute—a long minute. And this one also:

"The ten persecutions of Pagan [Roman] emperors were exceeded in atrocity by the massacres and murders perpetrated by Christian hands; and, in vain, we examine the records of imperial tyranny for an engine of cruelty equal to the holy Inquisition. Every religious sect, however meek its origin, commenced the work of persecution as soon as it acquired political power.

"What did the Protestants, of Germany, or the Huguenots, of France, ask of their Catholic superiors? Toleration. What do the persecuted Catholics of Ireland ask of their [Protestant] oppressors? Toleration. Do not all men in this country [America] enjoy every religious right which martyrs and saints ever asked? Whence, then, the voice of complaint? Who is it that, in the full enjoyment of every principle which human laws can secure, wishes to wrest a portion of these principles from his neighbor?"—Special House Report, March 4-5, 1830.

But in 1848, eighteen years after that Congressional report repudiating efforts to introduce Sunday legislation, the Sunday law issue came up again. This time it was the well-known William Lloyd Garrison that was fighting it. On the state level, "conscientious and upright persons have been thrust into prison for an act no more intrinsically heinous than that of gathering in a crop of hay or selling moral or philanthropic publications." In this, the Garrison-Burleigh document, Garrison also mentioned a new interchurch organization that had just arisen, the American and Foreign Sabbath Union, founded expressly for the purpose of legislating and enforcing a National Sunday Law on all America.

Recalling the eventual results of Sunday laws in earlier times, Garrison, in a later speech, commented on what would result if such attempts succeeded:

"If you do not obey me, I will put my hands into your pocket and take out as much as I please in the shape of a fine; or if I find nothing there, I will put you in prison; or if you resist enough to require it, I will shoot you dead." He also added, "if it [Sunday observance] be of God, it does not need legislation to uphold it."—William Lloyd Garrison, Speech Upon the Foregoing Resolutions, quoted in American State Papers, 212-214.

In violation of the first amendment to the Constitution, a number of states continued to enact local and statewide Sunday laws. The objective was religious, and frequently it was stated to be such:

"Our Puritan ancestors intended that the day should be not merely a day of rest from labor, but also a day devoted to public and private worship and to religious meditation and repose, undisturbed by secular cares or amusements. They saw fit to enforce the observance of the day by penal legislation [imprisonment]."—Massachusetts Supreme Court Decision, 1880, in Davis vs. Somerville, 128 Massachusetts 594 (1880).

An increasing number of arrests, fines, and imprisonments began accruing from the passage of these State Sunday laws. Mr. Judefind, of Rock Hall, Maryland, was arrested on November 20, 1892, for husking corn in his field, The sheriff, who patiently hid in the brush near the road till Judefind began working, later admitted in court that he himself regularly did the same kind of work on Sunday. Judefind was imprisoned for 30 days; and the sheriff, safe from prosecution, set out to find more violators.

Sunday laws were also used to persecute whomever the local authorities wished to put the finger on, since most of the citizenry frequently violated the local Sunday laws. In 1889, Day Conklin, of Bigcreek, Georgia, was arrested and found guilty of chopping wood on Sunday. The family had just finished moving to a different house and a cloudburst had soaked much of their possessions. Then the weather turned bitter cold, and Conklin chopped wood that morning to provide some heat for his suffering family. The fine and court costs amounted to $83. Yet, as soon as the trial was over, some of those testifying and voting against him went home and, immune to arrest by friends, chopped wood for themselves the following Sunday morning.

In Tennessee, in the early 1890s, men were fined and put into chain gangs for Sunday violations. W. B. Capps, of Dresden, served ninety-seven days for doing ordinary farm work at home on Sunday.

If you were living in Arkansas in the 1880s, this could have happened to you:

"[Mr. Swearingen and several others] interfered with the rights of no one. But they were observed and reported to the grand jury—indicted, arrested, tried, convicted, fined; and having no money to pay the fine, these citizens of Arkansas were dragged to the county jail and imprisoned like felons for twenty-five days . . Was this the end of the story? Alas, no sir! They were turned out; and the old man’s only horse, his sole reliance to make bread for his children, was levied on to pay the fine and costs, amounting to thirty-eight dollars. The horse sold at auction for twenty-seven dollars. A few days afterward the sheriff came again, and demanded thirty-six dollars—eleven dollars balance due on the fine and costs and twenty-five dollars balance due for board for himself and son while [caring for the old man] in jail. And when the poor man—a Christian, mind you—told him with tears that he had no money, he promptly levied on his only cow!"—Arkansas State Senator R. W. Crockett (grandson of Davy Crockett), in an appeal to repeal the State Sunday Law, printed in Weekly Arkansas Gasette, February 10, 1887, 8.

But all through those tragic years, and in the years since then, the Sunday laws that have been enacted have all been on the local or state level. The key legislation had not been passed. That legislation would be a clear-cut National Sunday Law.

But such Congressional legislation is on its way. Recent events make that clear. And, when the United States of America, the most influential nation in the world, mandates a common day for rest and worship, the beginning of the end will be upon us.

"Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience."—Writings of George Washington, Vol. 30, 321.