The following is from Liberty, published by General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists Religious Liberty Bureau, National Religious Liberty Association, Religious Liberty Association of America, Published by Review and Herald Pub. Association, 1908. Click here to see the original online.
The Outlook for a Sunday Law in California
J. O. CORLISS
California is the only State in the American Union without a Sunday law. From 1858 to 1883 a Sunday-rest statute in that State was made so annoying to many of its citizens that it became an object of political contention. The supposed dominant party, through church affiliations, inserted a plank in its platform, pledging itself to maintain the Sunday law for the betterment of the laboring class. The other party went to the polls, on a pledge to repeal the existing statute requiring Sunday rest, on the ground of its hostility to religious rights.
The result was a political upheaval in favor of repealing all Sunday laws in the State of California. About the same time the State supreme court handed down a decision in the case of ex parte Newman, declaring a Sunday law unconstitutional. Since then three attempts have been made by the churches to have the legislature re-enact a Sunday-law statute. These advances have been coldly met, on the ground that any such statute could have no force in the face of the constitutional limitation.
In 1906, however, an astute lawyer was employed to draw up a bill providing for a Sunday-rest clause in the constitution itself. The text of this bill was given to the public months before the legislature met in 1907, and therefore was quite carefully considered, both by the people and by the legislature. To carry such a measure would require forty-five of the sixty-six votes of the assembly present, before whom the bill first came up for consideration. But when the tally-sheet was made up, it revealed that forty-six had voted ” no,” and but twenty had voted ” aye “- a most dismal failure.
Of course the church people were not satisfied. So they have determined to approach the- legislature of 1909 with another proposition looking to the enactment of a Sunday-rest law. The exact line of their contemplated action has not yet been made public. But the International Reform Bureau has been operating in the State, through its Pacific Coast superintendent, since early in the year. Sunday-rest leagues have been organized wherever possible, and money pledges, in monthly instalments, have been secured from all who would contribute.
In a letter written by the Pacific Coast superintendent regarding the object of his work, he says: ” Our movement in favor of a Sunday rest for California is not intended in any sense as religious legislation.” Yet in another sentence he says: ” The rights of those who refrain from labor on Saturday, or any other day of the midweek, will be guarded by the framing of the bill.” But if the bill to be is not ” in any sense ” to cover religious points, then why provide exemption from its penalties for those who observe some other day? If these refrain from labor on Saturday, some basis for their action must be apparent. There are no social or civil organizations requiring such rest; therefore the only motive for such an act must be that of conscience.
In this case the bill would have to do with religious convictions; and to provide exemption for these would be positive religious enactment in behalf of a limited number. This would be nothing short of class legislation, and inimical to the bill of rights, which declares that all persons are equal before the law of the State.
This would be nothing short of class legislation, and inimical to the bill of rights, which declares that all persons are equal before the law of the State.
But suppose it were civilly admissible to exempt a small class of people from the penalties to be inflicted upon the general offender of a Sunday law, and public sentiment could be led to indorse such a measure on the ground that the exemption clause relieved everybody from hardship. In that case, might not a reverse sentiment among the people lead to the repeal of the exemption clause, and so bring misfortune to the minority? Having committed itself to such legislation in the first instance, how could a legislature resist huge petitions in after-time, which would demand the repeal of the contested clause? Such a clause being enacted by a body of lawmakers, the same body would have the authority to eliminate it at will. And being of a religious nature, prejudice easily could suggest its rejection, to the detriment of a class of loyal citizens. It were far better to leave well enough alone.
If the rights of the laboring class to one day in seven for rest is all that is sought, why not be satisfied with the statutes already designed to guard these rights? An act approved Feb. 27, 1893, as recorded in Statutes of 1893, page 54, of the State of California, provides that ” every person employed in any occupation of labor shall be entitled to one day’s rest in seven, and it shall be unlawful for any employer of labor to cause his employees, or any of them, to work more than six days in seven; provided, however, that the provisions of this section shall not apply to any case of emergency.”
This is as nearly a civil rest-day enactment as could be framed, and should satisfy those who desire only civil legislation securing to the people the right to one day’s rest in seven. But it does not meet the demands of those who are behind the Sunday-law movement. They not only want a day of rest for all each week, but a definitely named day of each week,- the day they have set apart for religious services. But to go so far is to graft a religious sentiment onto civil legislation, and so unite, to that degree, religion and the state.
All honor to California for having so long resisted advances in this direction. How the Sunday-law element will frame their bill for the coming session of the legislature we are not yet informed. They know well that a common statute Sunday law has been pronounced unconstitutional in California. To reach the required two-thirds majority of votes to carry a constitutional amendment, can hardly be realized at this stage. Whether this will be attempted or not, none but those in the secret know.