Ye observe days. – – – – – – – I am afraid of you.
Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind.
If Christian legislatures have a right to regulate the religion of individuals, Mahomedan and Pagan legislatures have the same. The Pagans have their appointed days to worship Jupiter, or Juggernaut. The Mahomedans have their weekly day (Friday) to adore their great prophet. Among the many sects of Protestants there exists a variety of opinions respecting days of rest and worship. The Quakers meet for worship two day sin a week, without attaching much sanctity to one day above another. Many keep the seventh day, like the Jews, from a belief that the observance of that day is of moral, unchangeable and universal obligation. Some believe that half the time (the night) is enough for rest, and that one day is as good as another for worship. A very considerable number keep the first day of each week as a Christian Sabbath, being of the opinion that God appointed one day in seven, by a moral precept to be observed by all men – that the seventh day was designated from creation until the resurrection of Christ – that Christ changed the day from the seventh unto the first day of the week – altered the exercises of the day – and remitted the punishment for profaning the day from certain death to a small fine. Part of this last sect are not petitioning Congress to gratify their wishes, and stop the transportation of mail on Sunday. Why do they petition? Are they interrupted at their meeting-houses by the mail stages? This is not likely, for many of themselves drive their carriages to their places of worship. If they are abused by the stage drivers, existing laws are sufficient to punish the rioters. If they enjoy all the liberty and protection that they need, why are they restless? Do they wish Congress to decide the controversy in their favor, and legally declare that the first day of the each week is too holy for men to labor and travel thereon? Should that be the case, what would the Jews and Sevendarian Christians say? Would they not, with equal justice, petition Congress to stop the mail on the seventh day? And by the same rule, any of them might petition that their days of Associations, Synods, etc., might be exempted in the same way. There are many thousands in the United States, who have formed into societies to destroy intemperance: (and who does not believe that drunkenness is as great an evil as driving a stage on Sunday?) should they petition Congress to stop all distilleries, would not the petitioners say that it was interfering with private right? They act more wisely! they labor to direct public opinion, and leave individuals at their liberty. Let the petitioners learn of them and do likewise. Not one of them is compelled to contract drive, or ride on Sunday, why, then complain? Conscience is a court of judicature, erected in every breast, to take cognizance of every action in the home department, but has nothing to do with another man’s conduct. My best judgment tells me that my neighbor does wrong, but my conscience has nothing to say of it. Were I to do as he does, my conscience would arrest and condemn me, but guilt is not transferable. Every one must give an account of himself. When a parent properly admonishes his child to beware of vice, if the child commits an overt act, the parent feels no guilt, he only mourns the misfortune: if the parent has been remiss in giving advice, he feels guilty for the neglect, (which is his own crime,) but not for the crime of the child. The error of confounding opinion and conscience together has effected a world of mischief. For individuals, or for a legislature to make their own consciences (opinions) the standard to try the conduct of others by, is tyrannical usurpation. “Why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?” Transporting the mail on Sunday is contrary to the opinions of the memorialists, but can never pinch their consciences. The Quakers have the philanthropic opinion that war should never be waged: let them call it pure conscience, and petition Congress to never declare war, would the present petitioners wish that the prayer of the Quakers might be granted? Let them answer the question.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If any improvement has been made on this subject, from the days Constantine, until the present time, it consists in the discovery, found out by long experience, “that the only way to prevent religion from being an engine of cruelty, is to exclude religious opinions from the civil code.” Let every man be known and equally protected as a citizen, and leave his religious opinions to be settled between the individual and his God: keeping this in view, that he who does not worship God in the way he chooses, does not worship him at all. Roger Williams, William Penn, and the early settlers of New York, embraced this principle,which has been interwoven in the constitution of government for the United States.
The powers given to Congress are specific – guarded by a “hitherto shalt thou come and no further.” Among all the enumerated powers given to Congress, is there one that authorizes them to declare which day of the week, month or year, is more holy than the rest – too holy to travel upon? If there is none, Congress must overleap their bounds, by an unpardonable construction, to establish the prohibition prayed for. Let the petitioners ask themselves the question. If Congress should assume an ecclesiastico-political power, and stop the mail on the seventh day, and let it be transported on the first, would that satisfy them? If not, are they doing as they would be done by? * * * * If Congress pass the prohibitory law prayed for, it is hoped that they will fix the boundaries of the day, to prevent contention.
Elder John Leland
First Published in 1830
The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland
Pages 564 – 566