8: The Enlightened TWENTIETH

Enter the twentieth century. Would it bring reprieve from the religious intolerance of the Dark Ages? Or, before it is done, will a Pandora’s Box of persecution be opened upon Christian and non-Christians alike?

News Item, Philadelphia, 1931: A policeman arrested a boy for kicking a football on Sunday. When the father protested, the policeman shot and killed the father.

News Item, New Jersey, 1924: A New Jersey court invoked a 1798 blue law and found it illegal to play a phonograph or listen to the radio on Sunday because this was "music for the sake of merriment."

News Item, Georgia, 1930: The police of Clayton County protected and helped a traveling circus to land in town and put on a show; they also cooperated with airplanes which took people for rides and made much money; yet they arrested a Bible colporteur for delivering a book explaining the Bible, on Sunday, since the person who ordered the book requested that the book be delivered then because it was the only day he was home.

News Item, Alabama, 1940: In Alabama in the 1940s, it was a misdemeanor to play baseball "in any public place,"—though there was an exemption for cities with more than 15,000 population.

News Item, Virginia, 1932: A deputy sheriff, of Washington County, arrested two Seventh-day Adventists for Sunday work, one—a crippled mother who walks on crutches—for washing clothes on her own premises and the other a man who donated and hauled a load of wood to a church to heat it for religious services.

In all the above cases—and more like them,—it was state and local Sunday laws that brought the trouble. But the prosecution could only be sporadic—because only state and local laws were involved. It could be only a major commitment by the federal government in this area—that a State church could arise out of legislated Sunday enforcement. This would involve the setting aside—or ignoring—our amendment freedoms.

The end of the Civil War, in 1865, brought with it a weakening of state’s rights and a strengthening of federal or individual rights. On July 28, 1868, the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution was enacted. It had the effect of strengthening the first amendment:

"No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

In 1875, a still further strengthening of the first amendment narrowly missed enactment by Congress. James G. Blaine urged the passage of an amendment that would have removed the favor or control of religion by state governments, just as certainly as the first amendment had created a wall of separation between church and state for the federal government. If it had cleared Congress and been adopted by the states, it is conceivable that state Sunday laws could have been eliminated within a decade. Here is the wording of that proposed amendment:

"No state shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any state, for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefore, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised, or lands so devoted, be divided between religious sects or denominations."—The proposed Blaine amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In 1925, the Supreme Court decreed that first amendment guarantees were applicable to state and local governments through the provisions of the fourteenth amendment (Gitlow vs. New York, 268 U.S. 652 [1925]). And, in 1943, the high court confirmed that the freedom of religion guarantees of the first amendment applied to the states through the fourteenth amendment (Thornhill vs. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88 [1940]; Cantwell vs. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 [1940]; Douglas vs. Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157 [1943]; Murdock vs. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 [1943]).

But, in spite of whatever progress might have been made in the decades since the Supreme Court cases of 1892, 1896, and 1900 (the Soon Hing, Hennington, and Petit cases),—a COMPLETE RETURN to the 1890s "police powers" thinking of Justices Brewer, Field, and Harlan took place in four cases brought before the United States Supreme Court in 1961!

The First Sunday Law in force in America (Virginia, 1610):

"Every man and woman shall repair in the morning to the divine service, and sermons preached upon the Sabbath day, and in the afternoon to divine service, and catechizing; upon pain for the first fault to lose their provision and the allowance for the whole week following; for the second to lose the said allowance and also be whipped; and for the third to suffer death."—"For the Colony in Virginea Britannia, Lavves, Morall and Martiall, & c," in Peter Force, Tracts Relating to the Colonies in North America, 1844, Vol. 3, No. 2, 10.

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