“Due Process of Law” and The Divine Right of Dissent- Contents
- The Process Of Law
- Christianity and the Common Law
- The belief and Aim of the Founders of Our Government
- Persecution Judicially Justified
- The Individual Right of Religious Belief
- Is Religious Freedom a Civil or Constitutional Right in the United States?
- The Divine Right of Dissent
- Is This the Nineteenth Century, or Is It the First?
- Judge Hammond and the Seventh-day Adventists
- Is This a Prerogative of the United States Courts?
- What has God Enjoined?
- The Rights of the People
- The Logic of the Judge’s Position
- Whence Came It All?
- DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES—OF THE—NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ASSOCIATION
- Weighted Relevancy
- Content Sequence
- Earliest First
- Latest First
The Process Of Law
A statement of the case as it came before the court, will be in order. The Constitution of the State of Tennessee, Article I, under the title of “Bill of Rights,” declares thus:—DPL 4.2
“Sec. 3. That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience; that no man can, of right, be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”DPL 4.3
Under this strong and specific guaranty, some of the people of that State proposed to exercise their indefeasible right to act in religious things according to the dictates of their own conscience. Among these are some of the sect known denominationally as Seventh-day Adventists. Reading the Bible for themselves, and believing it as they read it, as they have the inalienable and constitutional right to do, they believe, as the fourth of the ten commandments says, that “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord.” Holding this as an obligation which they owe to the Lord, they render it to the Lord. Then having rendered to God that which is God’s, they exercise their God-given right to work the other six days of the week.DPL 4.4
But there are also some people in Tennessee who choose to keep Sunday, as they have the right to do. Yet not content with the exercise of their own right to do this, they desire to compel every one else to do it, whether he believes in it or not. Consequently, several of the Seventh-day Adventists were prosecuted for working on Sunday, after having observed the Sabbath. One of these was Mr. R. M. King, of Obion county. For plowing corn in his own field on Sunday, June 23, 1889, he was prosecuted before the justice of the peace, July 6, and fine and costs were assessed at $12.85, which was collected. This, however, did not satisfy the religious zeal of those who would prohibit the observance of any day but Sunday. But as the only statute on the subject in the State provides only for prosecution “before any justice of the peace of the county;” and provides then only that the person convicted “of doing or exercising any of the common avocations of life” “on Sunday” shall “forfeit and pay three dollars,” they resorted to extra-statutory measures by which they might execute their arbitrary will. By these measures, if successful, they could have a fine of any amount above fifty dollars laid upon any one convicted.DPL 5.1
Accordingly, at the July term of the State Circuit Court, Mr. King was indicted by the Grand Jury for Obion county as guilty of the crime of “public nuisance;” “to wit, that he, on the 23rd day of June, 1889, and on divers other Sundays before and after that date, and up to the time of taking this inquisition, in the county of Obion aforesaid, then and there unlawfully and unnecessarily engaged in his secular business, and performed his common avocation of life; to wit, plowing on Sunday, and did various other kinds of work on that day and on Sundays before that day, without regard to said Sabbath days. Said work was not necessary, nor done as a matter of charity, and the doing of said work on said day was and is a disturbance to the community in which done, was offensive to the moral sense of the public, and was and is a common nuisance. So the grand jurors aforesaid present and say that said R. M. King was, in manner and form aforesaid, guilty of a public nuisance by such work on Sunday, etc.”DPL 5.2
March 6, 1890, the case was brought to trial at Troy, Obion county, before Judge Swiggert. King was convicted, and fined $75 and costs. An appeal was taken to the State Supreme Court. There the judgment was confirmed in a verbal decision, citing a former decision in a like case, in which the judgment was confirmed by declaring Christianity to be part of the common law of Tennessee, and that offenses against it were properly indictable and punishable as common-law offenses.DPL 6.1
From this, by writ of habeas corpus, the case was carried before the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Tennessee, upon the plea that the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was violated, in that King was deprived of his liberty “without due process of law.” The Court was composed of District Judge Hammond and Circuit Judge Jackson. The opinion was written solely by Judge Hammond, and was filed in Memphis the afternoon of August 1, 1891. It was printed in full in the Memphis Appeal-Avalanche the next day, Sunday, August 2. In the introduction it said: “Judge Hammond says that while he is not authorized to say that Judge Jackson concurs in his opinion, which he has not seen, he does concur in the result and the ground of the decision.”DPL 6.2
The opinion, as written and printed, is really composed of two parts; namely, the law in the case, and the dictum of the Judge as to certain questions raised and principles involved in the arguments of counsel for the petitioner.DPL 7.1
First, as to the law in the case. The court decided that the proceeding by which King was convicted, was due process of law, because it is exclusively the province of the courts of Tennessee to declare what is the law in that State; and that therefore the only competency possessed by the United States Courts, under such a plea, is to inquire whether the procedure has been regular, and not whether the law itself is lawful.DPL 7.2
This deduction is seriously to be questioned in any case; but in this case it may not only be seriously questioned but flatly contradicted, because it can be plainly disproved. King’s conviction is declared to be in due process of law solely because it is held by the court that it is the prerogative of the Tennessee courts alone to decide what is the law in that State; and when these courts have declared the law, that is the law absolutely, and it can neither be reviewed nor questioned in any other court-this, even though the verdict of the jury and the decision of the courts be actually “erroneous.” In fact, in this decision the Judge plainly says that if it were within his province to decide the question, he would have “no difficulty in thinking that King was wrongfully convicted,” and that there is “not any foundation for the ruling” of the Supreme Court of Tennessee” that it is a common-law nuisance to work in one’s fields on Sunday.” But although he distinctly says that King was wrongfully convicted, and the State Supreme Court “wrongfully decided” when it confirmed his conviction, yet, as it rests exclusively with the State Court to decide what is common law in the State, and as the State Court has decided that such is common law, it does not belong to the United States Court to overrule the State decisions; and therefore he must decide that though the thing was wrongfully done, yet it is “due process of law.”DPL 7.3
According to this doctrine, it is difficult to see how it would be possible ever to bring a case into any United States Court by virtue of that clause of the Constitution demanding due process of law. For if by any State a person can be “wrongfully” deprived of life, liberty, or property, by common-law procedure, and yet it be in “due process of law;” and if the result be beyond question or review by any other court, it is hardly to be supposed that the comfort of knowing whether the procedure by which said result was reached was regular or irregular, would be sufficient to induce such unfortunate victim to go to the expense of bringing his case before the United States Court.DPL 8.1