Page images

stitute an indecent use of language, annoying to the sensibilities of good citizens, and tending to corrupt the public morals; and because this is the fact, law interposes its penal and preventive power, on precisely the same theory that it punishes public drunkenness, or abates a nuisance that is offensive to our physical senses, or prejudicial to health. In doing so it deals with the acts purely in their relation to man, and not at all in their relation to God. There is no Church and State, and no legalization of Christianity, or of any other religion, and no alliance of the civil power with religion, involved in the purposes of law with respect to blasphemy and profanity.

It is quite true that the prevalence of Christianity, as the religion generally accepted by the people, is at the basis of that public sentiment which makes blasphemy offensive, and that it fixes the type of the blasphemy which is thus offensive. The same result in kind would ensue if Judaism or Mohammedanism were the religion equally prevalent. The fact of the legal blasphemy does not depend upon the truth of the religion, but upon its general acceptance. And what and all that the law says is that religion, being thus accepted, shall not be maliciously and indecently reviled to the annoyance of its receivers, and that its sacred titles shall not be profanely used in the hearing of others. It demands, as a matter of good manners and good neighborhood, that this respect shall be paid to the

sensibilities of the great body of the people; and in doing so it simply applies to this specific case a principle upon which it acts in a great variety of particulars. It will not allow one to appear in the streets in the state of nudity, or publicly do anything which outrages the general sense of the community. The underlying principle in all these cases is one of the most familiar principles of municipal law.

It, hence, follows that any argument built upon the law against blasphemy and profanity, if designed to show that the State may and should establish a system of religious instruction or worship in its public school, has no validity except by a mis-statement of the premise. The premise has no religious character whatever. It would be just as reasonable to make the law against murder or theft a premise for the same inference. God forbids both of these crimes, and the law of man punishes both, not because God forbids them, but because they are offenses against those rights which it is the province and duty of civil society to protect. So God forbids blasphemy and profanity, and law in this country punishes both, not because they are infractions of the divine law, but because they are offenses against the decency and good order of society.

Whether the law punishes murder or blasphemy, it deals with the offender as a member of the State and under its authority, and not at all as a subject of the divine moral government. With the offenses

as sins against God it has nothing to do. Hence, any religious inference relating to the school question, or to any other question, based upon the action of law with reference to blasphemy and profanity, assigns to it a character which it does not possess, and which, moreover, it carefully disclaims. The inference, logically considered, has no basis what




The custom of public annual thanksgiving has long existed in this country. It antedates the Revolution. Its birth-place was in Massachusetts. It is certainly an appropriate custom. All persons, whether Christians or not, who have any realizing sense of the existence, attributes, government, and providential goodness of God, must heartily approve of the practice.


Society is made up of individuals; and, when the latter jointly share the bounties of Providence they may well unite in a common service of gratitude to the Divine Source of these bounties. order that they may thus unite in a concurrent service, and as a community render thanks to God, it is necessary that a specific time should be publicly designated for this purpose. This end is secured by what are termed Thanksgiving Proclamations.

George Washington, the first President of the United States, acting in conformity with what he knew to be the custom of the people, issued such a proclamation in 1795; and since that time, until within a comparatively recent period, these proclamations have proceeded only from governors of particular States or mayors of cities. The custom has been thus perpetuated as one of the characteristics of the American people.

What are these proclamations? It is quite true that by established usage they proceed from a civil and not an ecclesiastical source; yet they are merely recommendations in which a day is designated for thanksgiving, and the people advised by the President, or by the governor, or by the mayor, or by all three, to observe the day in this manner. They are not issued in the discharge of any official duty known to the constitutions or laws of the land, and are not enforced by any penalty. Whether the people shall respect the recommendation or not is a matter to be decided by each individual for himself, subject to no other constraint than that which may be imposed by his own sense of duty. He violates no human law in disregarding the proclamation, as he obeys none in observing it. It does not touch a solitary right which belongs to him as a citizen. creates no civil duty. It makes no discrimination in respect to the religious beliefs or practices of the people, and appoints no special form of religious service. It does not pronounce any judgment as


to what is the true religion, or what is the proper mode of rendering a tribute of thanksgiving to God. All such questions it leaves to the people in the fullest and freest exercise of their religious liberty.

Substantially the same remarks apply with equal truth to the appointment of Fast-days, as periods for public humiliation and confession, and the invocation of the divine favor. Such appointments, especially by the civil magistrate, are far less common than those that relate to thanksgiving: yet, like the latter, they are nothing but advice, which may be accepted or rejected according to the pleasure of the people. They are enforced by no authority, and really have no official character whatever. Whether the public designation of a fastday, either by the civil authority or by an ecclesiastical body, establishes any religious obligation in the court of conscience is a question for each conscience to settle. Be this as it may, the designation is nothing but human counsel, and, hence, has not a single attribute which distinctively characterizes a legal statute.

Those who object to the appointment of thanksgiving and fast-days by the civil officer, because, as they allege, such appointments are a species of quasireligious legislation, proceed upon a false assumption as to their nature. What they allege is not true; and hence the objection is not well taken. They might with more plausibility say that it is in bad taste for the officer of a government that exists

« PreviousContinue »