|Vol. VII, No. 9
Kislev 5610, December 1849
Sunday Laws in Virginia
At length we see daylight; reason and true liberty have triumphed in Virginia over the narrow-sighted bigotry which can only see right on its own side of the question; and it is with no common satisfaction that <<468>>we are enabled to present the readers of the Occident with the subjoined proceedings of the Legislature of the Ancient Dominion, lately assembled at the Fauquier Sulphur Springs, to revise the code of Virginia.
In so doing, it was to be expected that Sunday labour would come in for a share of attention; and we must offer best thanks to Mr. Joseph Mayo, of the House of Delegates for the city of Richmond, a gentleman with whom we have some personal acquaintance and whom our readers will recognise as the one mainly instrumental in repealing the obnoxious ordinance of that city, which increased the State penalty for violating Sunday, (see Occident vol. iv. pp. 299-302, and ibid. 615, 616,) and to other gentlemen unknown to us, who seconded his motion to amend, which was successful both in the House and the Senate.
The result of the whole is, that those who conscientiously keep the seventh, shall not be coerced to rest on the first day, but shall not have the right to compel those subject to them, and not having the same faith, to labour on the general day of rest—a restriction which we ourself admitted as proper when complaining of the decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. (Occ. vol. vi. p. 272.)
We rejoice at this enlightened legislation, not that we wish the Jews to open their shops in large Christian communities, and invite persons to come and deal with them in violation of their principles; but wish them to be at liberty to act at their pleasure, to open or close their places of business as they may see fit; and not to have their respecting public opinion be made a question for criminal inquiry; it is one thing to abstain from complaisance to public opinion, but quite another to act in this way from compulsion. We should never complain were all the Jews to resolve never to work on Sunday or any other day of the week; but we shall always object to its being demanded of them by the legislature or the courts; we will resist tyranny in any shape, even that of opinion, for this is the manner in which all obnoxious measures are forced upon the public in republican countries, wherefore it behooves every one to see that his ideas or particular views are not exposed to public censure, through which means he will be more injured, if he has any self-respect, than by the imposition of a fine, or even a temporary imprisonment.
Now, as Jews, and being in a large minority, it is our especial business to keep public opinion in our favour, and to see at the same time that it becomes not our tyrant, before whom we have to pray with bended knees. We therefore repeat that we rejoice at this first success of an appeal for justice to one State Legislature, and hope to be able to announce a similar result in all other parts of the Union; and sure we are that agitation will be carried forward, nay, there too where Jews have no influence as yet, even in New England, till such a <<469>>thing as a compulsory Sunday law shall not exist in the whole country.
But for the present we must stop, and merely give the sketch of the law and the amendment as carried, together with the abstract of the remarks of Mr. Barbee, one of the advocates of equal rights in the Senate. We were in hopes of being favoured with the speeches of Mr. Mayo and others, but up to this moment they have not come to hand.
THE BILL OF THE REVISED STATUTES OP VIRGINIA, CONCERNING PROFANE SWEARING, SABBATH BREAKING, ETC.
SEC. 15. “If a white person, arrived at the age of discretion, profanely curse or swear, or get drunk, he shall be fined by a justice one dollar for each offence.
SEC. 16. “If a free person, on a Sabbath day be found labouring at any trade or calling, or employ his apprentices, servants, or slaves, in labour or other business, except in household or other work of necessity or charity, he shall forfeit two dollars for each offence; every day any servant, apprentice, or slave is so employed, constituting a distinct offence.
SEC 17. “If a free person wilfully interrupt or disturb any assembly met for the worship of God, he shall be confined in jail, not more than six months, and fined not exceeding one hundred dollars, and a justice may put him under restraint during religious worship; and bind him for not more than one year to be of good behaviour.
“No forfeiture shall be incurred under the preceding section; for the transportation on Sunday of the mail, or of passengers and their baggage.
[“And the said forfeiture shall not be incurred by any person who conscientiously believes that the seventh day of the week ought to be observed as a Sabbath, and actually refrains from all secular business and labour on that day, provided he does not compel a slave, apprentice, or servant not of his belief to do secular work or business on Sunday, and does not on that day disturb any other person.”]
The words in brackets constitute an amendment to the seventeenth section, which was introduced in the House of Delegates and adopted. It was advocated by Mr. Mayo and others.
The amendment, (the same words in brackets,) when the bill came up for action in the Senate, Mr. Thompson, (of Amherst,) moved to strike out. This motion was advocated by Messrs. Thompson, and Witcher, and opposed by Messrs. Stanard, Barbee, and Carlyle.
Mr. Barbee expressed his surprise that the proposition to strike out should emanate from the senator from Amherst, who had on all occasions manifested so much regard for the institutions of our holy religion. Mr. B. did not represent Israelites or Seven Day Baptists. He did not know of one in his district; but as an individual, and as a senator, he would enter his solemn protest against this mode of legal proscription—denying to individuals or sects the enjoyment of their religion. The <<470>>same Bible which taught Christians to observe the Christian Sabbath, also taught Jews to observe the seventh day.
Religious sects, divines, and commentators, differed in giving interpretations to the language of the Holy Book; the benign laws of our country tolerated those differences, and he could not see any propriety in denying to those who rest from their labour on the seventh day, the right to recognise that day as of divine authenticity. He had witnessed with pleasure and astonishment the great sacrifice of pecuniary interest on the part of Jews residing in our cities, in the observance of that day. In doing so they were compelled, either from choice or from the force of public opinion, to observe also the Christian Sabbath. He thought they could not be induced to submit, with such calm resignation, to this sacrifice of worldly interest, if it was not the result of an overwhelming sense of moral and religious obligation.