Sabbath "Blue Laws" and the assumption of a Christian Society in America

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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
A thought on the Sabbath and religious liberty:

Currently Russell Moore and the ERLC of the Southern Baptist Convention are making efforts to defend the religious liberties of mosques, and thus, there are many baptists stating that Christianity was never the law of the land nor was America ever conceived as a Christian nation and that our country's ideals demand total religious pluralism and not merely non-preference for any of the Protestant sects through taxation. I believe, on the other hand, that this religious liberty and "separation of church and state"had to do with no state preference for any religion and that by "religion" was meant competing Christian sects (thus, Missouri could not be officially Methodist, etc, nor have taxpayer monies build Methodist churches).

Sabbath laws ("blue laws") were in effect until about 1970, and most states required most businesses to close on Sunday. Why were Sabbath laws seen as never violating the 1st Amendment? Were these Sabbath laws appropriate? Don't they assume a Christian basis for civil society?

Was this an oversight or a Christian prejudice that we did not give equal weight to the same "sacred" time of Friday mosque prayers? Was it oppressive to infidels that the laws would require them, in a civil fashion, to keep the Sabbath somewhat against their will?

What of Muslims who pray on Friday afternoons?

Was it assumed that Christianity (though not State-Sponsored forms of such) and Christian principles would rule our land? Or were they just ignorant that other religions had other holy days but that these would not be upheld through the force of the law?


I think i know what theonomists might say. But for any non-theonomists or baptists out there, what do you think? Can baptists hold to Sabbath laws?
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
I posted this in the other thread, but since I see you've reposted it as a new thread, I'll paste my comments here as well.

That's a good question, and it illustrates the tension in a pluralistic society that has no official religion, even though the society was strongly influenced by a particular religion for a long time. BTW in Louisiana those laws persisted until the early 80s. When I was a boy, about the only stores that were open on Sunday were pharmacies and convenience stores, most if not all of which sold gasoline. In some areas, you still can't do things like buy alcohol on Sunday.

Even though there are generally no blue laws anymore, government offices and many others are closed on Sunday and Christmas. The calendar we use is a Christian calendar and so on. It is a reminder of what Francis Schaeffer called a "Christian base" in the sense that American culture was significantly influenced by Christianity even if it was never really "Christian" at any time in an official sense and even though many of the founders were not orthodox Christians. But there was never any mechanism in American law (especially on the national level) to ban false religions. There is no standard by which the state can adjudicate the question. Among conservative evangelicals today, including "Calvinistic" ones, broadly speaking, there is sharp disagreement over basic issues like justification, sanctification, and apparently the Trinity, with respected churchmen saying that others are either guilty of heresy or are far down the slippery slope toward it. If Christians themselves can't agree on these issues, what role could the government have?

That being said, a generic Protestantism was basically the unofficial official religion of the US until about the 1950s or early 1960s. (One reason why the Catholic school system was set up was because the public schools were considered to be Protestant.) This started breaking down with the court decisions banning school prayer and similar things. (Now if you had school prayer, it would include prosperity gospel heretics coming in and offering "Christian prayer". The apostasy is much too far along to go back to that kind of generic "Christianity.")

JFK's candidacy was controversial partly out of prejudice and partly due to the fact that up to that time (pre-Vatican II) Rome had not affirmed religious liberty. But by that time, the idea that even a Protestant was a Christian first and an American second probably would have been widely viewed as anti-American. The controversy was largely over once it became clear that JFK was an American first.

Prohibition and its failure surely played a role too, since it was a cause that most Protestants of the day, liberal and conservative, promoted enthusiastically. (Sure, there was Machen et al, but that was a very small percentage of Protestants.) One reason why the KKK was so popular in the 20s, even in the North and West, was because it promised to maintain Protestant supremacy and curb Catholic influence.

Christians and other cultural conservatives have drawn one line in the sand after another and have pretty much lost every time. Basically, religious freedom is the last refuge, the last defense against the sexual revolution. If the ERLC and similar organizations are seen to really only be out for the freedom of certain types of Christians, it will be seen as a sham. For various reasons, probably a significant majority of liberals, moderates and the indifferent view the pleas for religious liberty as a sham anyway, but the conservative evangelicals, Catholics and others are hoping for some favorable court decisions lest religious organizations be forced to perform SSM, hire homosexuals, drop all standards on sexual behavior of employees and students and so on.

Going back to the Baptist leader John Leland in American history, if not before, there is long established precedent for Baptists favoring religious freedom for all to worship, no matter their religion. (My understanding is that Isaac Backus thought religious liberty should only be for Protestants, but his view was widely rejected among Baptists. I think the thinking would have been that a government with that kind of power has the power to flog the likes of Obadiah Holmes, throw John Bunyan in jail and so on. That's why they joined with secularists to get the First Amendment passed.) We may not like it, but that's the way it is. It seems to me that the alternative is some kind of theonomy or a theocracy as envisioned in the original WCF with an official state church. Countries that have maintained an established church are worse off than the USA, with empty churches in most of them. In the UK, the crown is the "Defender of the Faith." How is that working out?

As an aside, regarding Sunday, almost all of the kinds of Southern Baptists that we've been referring to here, even the "Reformed" ones from places like SBTS, do not agree with the Puritan view of the Sabbath. (Neither do most Presbyterians today, For what it's worth. The PB is hardly representative of the average church member or elder, at least in the PCA.) They think the 4th Commandment was ceremonial. In Presbytery meetings you will commonly hear the old refrain "Calvin bowled on the Sabbath" and so on when a "TR" has the temerity to press a ministerial candidate on his views of the Sabbath. At most many think it means that we are obligated to worship on Sunday if they think it has reference to any specific day at all. After the service you can watch the Super Bowl, work, shop or do whatever you want. So in some sense some of them might indeed say that it was wrong, that it led to hypocrisy, a mere outward conformity and so on, and that it was hardly any more justified than was Prohibition. Those evangelical and conservative Christians that patronize restaurants and go shopping right after church (i.e. the people who have kept the USA from resembling Europe, however much we might disagree with many of their views and practices) sure don't see it as a problem. So a "Christian society" today (in the sense of one dominated by conservative evangelicalism or conservative Protestantism as it is today) wouldn't enact those laws even if they made up 80% of the population and there was no legal bar against it.

With regard to Baptists or others, just about everyone but Covenanters (and some Congregationalists in MA, evidently) jumped on board the pluralism train by 1789. (Even if it didn't quite resemble what we have today, the seeds were there.) I'm no expert on this specific issue, but I understand some Presbyterians of the type that amended the WCF supported the First Amendment as well, in part because they were for disestablishment of the Congregational and Anglican churches.
 
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raydixon9

Puritan Board Freshman
Each state was it's own sovereign nation. Each state could decide what they wanted. Most states had an overwhelming religious perspective. No oversight at all, just eventual takeover from the federal government to override state's rights.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
There's nothing oppressive about Sabbath laws, any more than laws against murder or homosexuality. No-one is being asked to worship a different God/god, or to worship in a different way. The same goes for laws on the Third Commandment on gross public blasphemy against Christ or Christianity.

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Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
The Scriptures teach that Christ is King over both the church and civil realm. There should be no division. Therefore all commandments, including the 4th, should be upheld by magistrates worldwide. In fact, the Scriptures also teach magistrates have a duty to do such - 2 Sam 23:3 says "‘He who rules over men must be just,
Ruling in the fear of God." To hear more on this, here is an excellent sermon on 2 Sam 23, "Five Essentials for Leadership".
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
There's nothing oppressive about Sabbath laws, any more than laws against murder or homosexuality. No-one is being asked to worship a different God/god, or to worship in a different way. The same goes for laws on the Third Commandment on gross public blasphemy against Christ or Christianity.

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What if, as more Muslims immigrated into a country, Sunday was replaced by Friday to facilitate Friday afternoon mosque prayers?
 

JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is God's world, he is the Lawgiver and King, he declares what is right and wrong. How could it ever be wrong for any nation to set laws in agreement with God's Law? Those who oppose applying God's Law to the state are surely saying that it is wrong to try and get people to do the right thing.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
Blue laws were considered constitutional because they had a secular interest in providing for a uniform day of rest. See McGowan v. Maryland and Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Market. Regarding only protecting Christian sects, at least one of the founders, I think Washington, explicitly states freedom of religion also protects Jews.

If America was a Christian country, why were the Covenanters so opposed to our Constitution? Why does the Treaty of Tripoli say that America was not founded on Christianity?
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
There's nothing oppressive about Sabbath laws, any more than laws against murder or homosexuality. No-one is being asked to worship a different God/god, or to worship in a different way. The same goes for laws on the Third Commandment on gross public blasphemy against Christ or Christianity.

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What if, as more Muslims immigrated into a country, Sunday was replaced by Friday to facilitate Friday afternoon mosque prayers?

I don't see it as religious oppression. Religious oppression is where the state is stepping in to "convert" people by force or make their lives impossible.

The state is trying to carry out the function of the grace of God.

In a Christian country people should expect the shops to close on a Sunday.

E.g. Jewish shopkeepers lived for centuries in Christian Britain with this situation, that didn't mean that they had to choose between Judaism and living in Britain, it just meant they had to work a wee bit harder for the five days when they could work.

What if, as more Muslims immigrated into a country

In a Christian country there would also be Christian considerations given to the question of immigration. I'm not saying that would necessarily mean a ban on all Muslims (First Commandment violators) or e.g. Roman Catholics (Second Commandment violators) coming in.
 
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C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
But for any non-theonomists or baptists out there, what do you think? Can baptists hold to Sabbath laws?

I believe it is the responsibility of the state, under God, to administer law and justice in accordance with the divine will respecting those things that belong to its sphere of responsibility. It is not the province of the government to do those things belonging to the Church or the family. But neither does that mean it must tolerate or accommodate any and all religious beliefs and practices. Especially when those beliefs and practices are harmful to the well-being of a nation. But in short, yes, I believe Sabbath laws (among other things) are a good and godly thing.
 
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