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The Rights of the People

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    THE NATURAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT

    This is also the natural right of every man. On this read again paragraph 1 of the “Memorial and Remonstrance of the People of Virginia,” page 95; the “Act Establishing Freedom of Religion in Virginia,” page 90; and the points on pages 52-55.ROP 253.2

    This is also the constitutional right of every man in the United States. This has been demonstrated in chapter 5.ROP 253.3

    Here, however, is where the issue is joined. Here is where the crisis is reached. Because the Supreme Courts of all the States that have such laws have declared them to be constitutional; 51The Supreme Court of California first decided all such laws unconstitutional. Judge Stephen J. Field, now of the United States Supreme Court, was a member of the court and dissented. Afterward changes came in the court, Judge Field became chief justice, the question was brought up again, and such laws were declared to be constitutional. Then the people of California afterwards took up the question and annulled all such decisions by a majority of over 17,000. a Circuit Court of the United States has declared that “persecution” in the States accordingly is “due process of law;” and the United States Supreme Court has declared that “the establishment of the Christian religion,” is the meaning of the national Constitution, and that, accordingly, “this is a Christian nation.” So far, therefore, as Supreme Courts are concerned-State and national-this constitutional right has been swept away.ROP 253.4

    As for the inferior courts in the States-the judges, justices, prosecuting attorneys, etc.-instead of reading the Constitution for themselves and supporting it, as they have taken a solemn oath to do, they take somebody else’s reading of it and support somebody else’s interpretation of it, while their own conscience, their own sober judgment, and the plain word of the Constitution, all tell them that such interpretation is clearly wrong. 52There are noble exceptions to this course, though they are very, very few. One of these, such as every one ought to be, in a private letter dated December 22, 1891, writes as follows:-
    “When I was from-1878 to 1887-the Attorney General of—I absolutely refused to make me office the medium through which to indict and punish men who toiled six days and then asserted their right to worship God under their own vine and fig tree, according to the diabetes of conscience.
    “The very moment the Legislatures of American States declare (and that declaration is carried into effect) that men shall (without reference to their creed) have one Sunday, and that the Sunday of modern Christianity, commonly known as the sabbath shall be alike kept holy by every man under a penalty for its violation, you sound the death knell of American republicanism and open the way for a religious inquisition as infamous, devilish, and ungodly as was that of Italy. Our forefathers with prophetic vision saw the danger of commingling the affairs of Church and State, and, with a wisdom as consummate as it was politic, they laid the very foundation of this government upon that idea that religion should never have any part or identity with the civic machinery....
    “Ten or twelve years ago, when I was the owner and editor of the daily—here (being Attorney General at the same time), the preachers howled from their pulpits on the duty of the Attorney General to rigidly enforce the Sunday law. I replied to their criticisms, and I think I got the best of the argument-at all events I did not yield my principles, and defied them to carry out the threat to impeach me. They did not do so; and from that day to this, the men of—worship God in their own way, and each creed selects its own day. The churches are protected in their right to worship as they may deem proper; but the man who does not feel like going to church on Sunday, but prefers to do as seems best for himself, is allowed to go his way rejoicing, with none to make him afraid. All Sunday laws ought to be wiped from the statute books, and every man left free to pursue the line of worship dictated by his conscience.
    “Oh, if it were possible to rebuild the public sentiment of this country, and model it after the plan of [Richard M.] Johnson, Jefferson, Washington, and the men of their day and generation!”
    They argue that as “the Supreme Court has decided that the law is constitutional, it is not for us to decide differently, whatever our own views of the case may be,” etc.
    ROP 254.1

    General Jackson, when President of the United States, recognized no such doctrine. The Supreme Court declared to be constitutional a law which, as such, fell to him for enforcement. Stern Old Hickory refused to enforce it. He argued, and rightly, that he had taken no oath to support Supreme Court decisions, or other people’s interpretation of the Constitution, but the Constitution itself, and declared the American fundamental principle that-ROP 254.2

    “Each public officer who takes an oath to support the Constitution, swears that he will support it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others.”ROP 255.1

    The nation stood by General Jackson in this, and completely killed that decision, and the law which it pronounced constitutional. Again, the soundness of this principle, and the unsoundness of this position taken by the inferior courts, is seen from the following:-ROP 255.2

    “To whom does it belong to interpret the Constitution?-Any question arising in a legal proceeding as to the meaning and application of this fundamental law will evidently be settled by the courts of law. Every court is equally bound to pronounce, and competent to pronounce, on such questions, a State court no less than a Federal court; but as all the more important questions are carried by appeal to the Supreme Federal Court, it is practically that court whose opinion finally determines them.” 53Final only as the particular case on trial, of course. See pp. 145, 146, 147.ROP 255.3

    “The so-called ‘power of annulling an unconstitutional statute’ is a duty rather than a power, and a duty incumbent on the humblest State court when a case raising the point comes before it, no less than on the Supreme Federal Court at Washington. When, therefore, people talk, as they sometimes do, even in the United States, of the Supreme Court as ‘the guardian of the Constitution,’ they mean nothing more than that it is the final court of appeal, before which suits involving constitutional questions may be brought up by the parties for decision. In so far the phrase is legitimate. But the functions of the Supreme Court are the same in kind as those of all other courts, State as well as Federal. Its duty and theirs is simply to declare and apply the law; and when any court, be it a State court of first instance, or the Federal court of last instance, finds a law of lower authority [the legislature] clashing with a law of higher authority [the Constitution], it must reject the former as being really no law, and enforce the latter.”-Bryce, American Commonwealth, Vol. I, pp. 374, 252.ROP 255.4

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