HOLY TRINITY CHURCH v. UNITED STATES, 143 U.S. 457 (1892)

In error to the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of New York. Reversed.

Seaman Miller, for plaintiff in error.

Asst. Atty. Gen. Maury, for the United States.

Mr. Justice BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

Plaintiff in error is a corporation duly organized and incorporated as a religious society under the laws of the state of New York.

[The Reverend] E. Walpole Warren was, prior to September, 1887, an alien residing in England. In that month the plaintiff in error made a contract with him, by which he was to remove to the city of New York, and enter into its service as rector and pastor; and, in pursuance of such contract, Warren did so remove and enter upon such service. It is claimed by the United States that this contract on the part of the plaintiff in error was forbidden by chapter 164, 23 St. p. 332; and an action was commenced to recover the penalty prescribed by that act. The circuit court held that the contract was within the prohibition of the statute, and rendered judgment accordingly, (36 Fed. Rep. 303,) and the single question presented for our determination is whether it erred in that conclusion.

The first section describes the act forbidden, and is in these words:

'Be it enacted by the senate and house of representatives of the United States of America, in congress assembled, that from and after the passage of this act it shall be unlawful for any person, company, partnership, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever, to prepay the transportation, or in any way assist or encourage the importation or migration, of any alien or aliens, any foreigner or foreigners, into the United States, its territories, or the District of Columbia, under contract or agreement, parole or special, express or implied, made previous to the importation or migration of such alien or aliens, foreigner or foreigners, to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States, its territories, or the District of Columbia.'

It must be conceded that the act of the corporation is within the letter of this section, for the relation of rector to his church is one of service, and implies labor on the one side with compensation on the other. Not only are the general words 'labor' and 'service' both used, but also, as it were to guard against any narrow interpretation and emphasize a breadth of meaning, to them is added 'of any kind;' and, further, as noticed by the circuit judge in his opinion, the fifth section, which makes specific exceptions, among them professional actors, artists, lecturers, singers, and domestic servants, strengthens the idea that every other kind of labor and service was intended to be reached by the first section.

While there is great force to this reasoning, we cannot think congress intended to denounce with penalties a transaction like that in the present case. It is a familiar rule that a thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit nor within the intention of its makers. This has been often asserted, and the Reports are full of cases illustrating its application.

This is not the substitution of the will of the judge for that of the legislator; for frequently words of general meaning are used in a statute, words broad enough to include an act in question, and yet a consideration of the whole legislation, or of the circumstances surrounding its enactment, or of the absurd results which follow from giving such broad meaning to the words, makes it unreasonable to believe that the legislator intended to include the particular act.

As said in Stradling v. Morgan, Plow. 205: 'From which cases it appears that the sages of the law heretofore have construed statutes quite contrary to the letter in some appearance, and those statutes which comprehend all things in the letter they have expounded to extend to but some things, and those which generally prohibit all people from doing such an act they have interpreted to permit some people to do it, and those which include every person in the letter they have adjudged to reach to some persons only, which expositions have always been founded upon the intent of the legislature, which they have collected sometimes by considering the cause and necessity of making the act, sometimes by comparing one part of the act with another, and sometimes by foreign circumstances.'

In Pier Co. v. Hannam, 3 Barn. & Ald. 266, ABBOTT, C. J., quotes from Lord Coke as follows: 'Acts of parliament are to be so construed as no man that is innocent or free from injury or wrong be, by a literal construction, punished or endangered.' In the case of State v. Clark, 29 N. J. Law, 96, 99, it appeared that an act had been passed, making it a misdemeanor to willfully break down a fence in the possession of another person. Clark was indicted under that statute.

The defense was that the act of breaking down the fence, though willful, was in the exercise of a legal right to go upon his own lands. The trial court rejected the testimony offered to sustain the defense, and the supreme court held that this ruling was error. In its opinion the court used this language: 'The act of 1855, in terms, makes the willful opening, breaking down, or injuring of any fences belonging to or in the possession of any other person a misdemeanor. In what sense is the term 'willful' used? In common parlance, 'willful' is used in the sense of 'intentional,' as distinguished from 'accidental' or 'involuntary.'

Whatever one does intentionally, he does willfully. Is it used in that sense in this act? Did the legislature intend to make the intentional opening of a fence for the purpose of going upon the land of another indictable, if done by permission or for a lawful purpose?

* * * We cannot suppose such to have been the actual intent. To adopt such a construction would put a stop to the ordinary business of life. The language of the act, if construed literally, evidently leads to an absurd result. If a literal construction of the words of a statute be absurd, the act must be so construed as to avoid the absurdity.

The court must restrain the words. The object designed to be reached by the act must limit and control the literal import of the terms and phrases employed.' In U. S. v. Kirby, 7 Wall. 482, 486, the defendants were indicted for the violation of an act of congress providing 'that if any person shall knowingly and willfully obstruct or retard the passage of the mail, or of any driver or carrier, or of any horse or carriage carrying the same, he shall, upon conviction, for every such offense, pay a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars.'

The specific charge was that the defendants knowingly and willfully retarded the passage of one Farris, a carrier of the mail, while engaged in the performance of his duty, and also in like manner retarded the steam-boat Gen. Buell, at that time engaged in carrying the mail.

To this indictment the defendants pleaded specially that Farris had been indicted for murder by a court of competent authority in Kentucky; that a bench-warrant had been issued and placed in the hands of the defendant Kirby, the sheriff of the county, commanding him to arrest Farris, and bring him before the court to answer to the indictment; and that, in obedience to this warrant, he and the other defendants, as his posse, entered upon the steamboat Gen. Buell and arrested Farris, and used only such force as was necessary to accomplish that arrest.

The question as to the sufficiency of this plea was certified to this court, and it was held that the arrest of Farris upon the warrant from the state court was not an obstruction of the mail, or the retarding of the passage of a carrier of the mail, within the meaning of the act. In its opinion the court says: 'All laws should receive a sensible construction. General terms should be so limited in their application as not to lead to injustice, oppression, or an absurd consequence.

It will always, therefore, be presumed that the legislature intended exceptions to its language which would avoid results of this character. The reason of the law in such cases should prevail over its letter. The common sense of man approves the judgment mentioned by Puffendorf, that the Bolognian law which enacted 'that whoever drew blood in the streets should be punished with the utmost severity,' did not extend to the surgeon who opened the vein of a person that fell down in the street in a fit.

The same common sense accepts the ruling, cited by Plowden, that the statute of 1 Edw. II., which enacts that a prisoner who breaks prison shall be guilty of felony, does not extend to a prisoner who breaks out when the prison is on fire, 'for he is not to be hanged because he would not stay to be burnt.' And we think that a like common sense will sanction the ruling we make, that the act of congress which punishes the obstruction or retarding of the passage of the mail, or of its carrier, does not apply to a case of temporary detention of the mail caused by the arrest of the carrier upon an indictment for murder.'

The following cases may also be cited: Henry v. Tilson, 17 Vt. 479; Ryegate v. Wardsboro, 30 Vt. 743; Ex parte Ellis, 11 Cal. 220; Ingraham v. Speed, 30 Miss. 410; Jackson v. Collins, 3 Cow. 89; People v. Insurance Co., 15 Johns. 358; Burch v. Newbury, 10 N. Y. 374; People v. Commissioners, 95 N. Y. 554, 558; People v. Lacombe, 99 N. Y. 43, 49, 1 N. E. Rep. 599; Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Co. v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 4 Gill & J. 152; Osgood v. Breed, 12 Mass. 525, 530; Wilbur v. Crane, 13 Pick. 284; Oates v. Bank, 100 U. S. 239.

Among other things which may be considered in determining the intent of the legislature is the title of the act. We do not mean that it may be used to add to or take from the body of the statute, (Hadden v. Collector, 5 Wall. 107,) but it may help to interpret its meaning.



In the case of U. S. v. Fisher, 2 Cranch, 358, 386, Chief Justice MARSHALL said: 'On the influence which the title ought to have in construing the enacting clauses, much has been said, and yet it is not easy to discern the point of difference between the opposing counsel in this respect. Neither party contends that the title of an act can control plain words in the body of the statute; and neither denies that, taken with other parts, it may assist in removing ambiguities. Where the intent is plain, nothing is left to construction.

Where the mind labors to discover the design of the legislature, it seizes everything from which aid can be derived; and in such case the title claims a degree of notice, and will have its due share of consideration.' And in the case of U. S. v. Palmer, 3 Wheat. 610, 631, the same judge applied the doctrine in this way: 'The words of the section are in terms of unlimited extent. The words 'any person or persons' are broad enough to comprehend every human being.

But general words must not only be limited to cases within the jurisdiction of the state, but also to those objects to which the legislature intended to apply them. Did the legislature intend to apply these words to the subjects of a foreign power, who in a foreign ship may commit murder or robbery on the high seas? The title of an act cannot control its words, but may furnish some aid in showing what was in the mind of the legislature. The title of this act is, 'An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States.' It would seem that offenses against the United States, not offenses against the human race, were the crimes which the legislature intended by this law to punish.'

It will be seen that words as general as those used in the first section of this act were by that decision limited, and the intent of congress with respect to the act was gathered partially, at least, from its title. Now, the title of this act is, 'An act to prohibit the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States, its territories, and the District of Columbia. Obviously the thought expressed in this reaches only to the work of the manual laborer, as distinguished from that of the professional man.

No one reading such a title would suppose that congress had in its mind any purpose of staying the coming into this country of ministers of the gospel, or, indeed, of any class whose toil is that of the brain. The common understanding of the terms 'labor' and 'laborers' does not include preaching and preachers, and it is to be assumed that words and phrases are used in their ordinary meaning. So whatever of light is thrown upon the statute by the language of the title indicates an exclusion from its penal provisions of all contracts for the employment of ministers, rectors, and pastors.

Again, another guide to the meaning of a statute is found in the evil which it is designed to remedy; and for this the court properly looks at contemporaneous events, the situation as it existed, and as it was pressed upon the attention of the legislative body. U. S. v. Railroad Co., 91 U. S. 72, 79. The situation which called for this statute was briefly but fully stated by Mr. Justice BROWN when, as district judge, he decided the case of U. S. v. Craig, 28 Fed. Rep. 795, 798: 'The motives and history of the act are matters of common knowledge. It had become the practice for large capitalists in this country to contract with their agents abroad for the shipment of great numbers of an ignorant and servile class of foreign laborers, under contracts by which the employer agreed, upon the one hand, to prepay their passage, while, upon the other hand, the laborers agreed to work after their arrival for a certain time at a low rate of wages. The effect of this was to break down the labor market, and to reduce other laborers engaged in like occupations to the level of the assisted immigrant. The evil finally became so flagrant that an appeal was made to congress for relief by the passage of the act in question, the design of which was to raise the standard of foreign immigrants, and to discountenance the migration of those who had not sufficient means in their own hands, or those of their friends, to pay their passage.'

It appears, also, from the petitions, and in the testimony presented before the committees of congress, that it was this cheap, unskilled labor which was making the trouble, and the influx of which congress sought to prevent. It was never suggested that we had in this country a surplus of brain toilers, and, least of all, that the market for the services of Christian ministers was depressed by foreign competition. Those were matters to which the attention of congress, or of the people, was not directed. So far, then, as the evil which was sought to be remedied interprets the statute, it also guides to an exclusion of this contract from the penalties of the act.

A singular circumstance, throwing light upon the intent of congress, is found in this extract from the report of the senate committee on education and labor, recommending the passage of the bill:

'The general facts and considerations which induce the committee to recommend the passage of this bill are set forth in the report of the committee of the house. The committee report the bill back without amendment, although there are certain features thereof which might well be changed or modified, in the hope that the bill may not fail of passage during the present session.

Especially would the committee have otherwise recommended amendments, substituting for the expression, 'labor and service,' whenever it occurs in the body of the bill, the words 'manual labor' or 'manual service,' as sufficiently broad to accomplish the purposes of the bill, and that such amendments would remove objections which a sharp and perhaps unfriendly criticism may urge to the proposed legislation. The committee, however, believing that the bill in its present form will be construed as including only those whose labor or service is manual in character, and being very desirous that the bill become a law before the adjournment, have reported the bill without change.'

Page 6059, Congressional Record, 48th Cong. And, referring back to the report of the committee of the house, there appears this language: 'It seeks to restrain and prohibit the immigration or importation of laborers who would have never seen our shores but for the inducements and allurements of men whose only object is to obtain labor at the lowest possible rate, regardless of the social and material well-being of our own citizens, and regardless of the evil consequences which result to American laborers from such immigration.

This class of immigrants care nothing about our institutions, and in many instances never even heard of them. They are men whose passage is paid by the importers. They come here under contract to labor for a certain number of years. They are ignorant of our social condition, and, that they may remain so, they are isolated and prevented from coming into contact with Americans.

They are generally from the lowest social stratum, and live upon the coarsest food, and in hovels of a character before unknown to American workmen. They, as a rule, do not become citizens, and are certainly not a desirable acquisition to the body politic. The inevitable tendency of their presence among us is to degrade American labor, and to reduce it to the level of the imported pauper labor.'

[SOURCE: Page 5359, Congressional Record, 48th Cong.];



We find, therefore, that the title of the act, the evil which was intended to be remedied, the circumstances surrounding the appeal to congress, the reports of the committee of each house, all concur in affirming that the intent of congress was simply to stay the influx of this cheap, unskilled labor.

MASSIVELY BROAD AMERICAN PRINCIPLE:

But, beyond all these matters, no purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people.

This is historically true.

From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation. The commission to Christopher Columbus, prior to his sail westward, is from 'Ferdinand and Isabella, by the grace of God, king and queen of Castile,' etc., and recites that 'it is hoped that by God's assistance some of the continents and islands in the ocean will be discovered,' etc.

The first colonial grant, that made to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, was from 'Elizabeth, by the grace of God, of England, Fraunce and Ireland, queene, defender of the faith,' etc.; and the grant authorizing him to enact statutes of the government of the proposed colony provided that 'they be not against the true Christian faith nowe professed in the Church of England.'

The first charter of Virginia, granted by King James I. in 1606, after reciting the application of certain parties for a charter, commenced the grant in these words:

    'We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God,

    hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God,

    and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government;

    DO, by these our Letters-Patents, graciously accept of, and agree to, their humble and well-intended Desires.'


Language of similar import may be found in the subsequent charters of that colony, from the same king, in 1609 and 1611; and the same is true of the various charters granted to the other colonies.

In language more or less emphatic is the establishment of the Christian religion declared to be one of the purposes of the grant. '

The celebrated compact made by the pilgrims in the Mayflower, 1620, recites: 'Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia;

Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid.'

The fundamental orders of Connecticut, under which a provisional government was instituted in 1638-39, commence with this declaration:

    'Forasmuch as it hath pleased the Allmighty God by the wise disposition of his diuyne [divine] pruidence [providence]

    so to Order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and vppon [upon] the River of Conectecotte and the Lands thereunto adioyneing [adjoining];

    And well knowing where a people are gathered togather

    the word of God requires that to mayntayne [maintain] the peace and vnion [union] of such a people

    there should be an orderly and decent Gouerment [Government] established according to God,

    to order and dispose of the affayres [affaris] of the people at all seasons as occation [occasion] shall require; doe [do] therefore assotiate [associate] and conioyne [cojoin] our selues [selves] to be as one Publike [Pubic] State or Comonwelth [Commonwealth];

    and doe, for our selues and our Successors and such as shall be adioyned [adjoined] to vs [us] att [at] any tyme [time] hereafter,

    [PURPOSE]

    enter into Combination and Confederation togather,

    to mayntayne and presearue [preserve] the liberty and purity of the gospell of our Lord Jesus wch [which] we now prfesse [profess],

    as also the disciplyne [disciline] of the Churches, wch according to the truth of the said gospell is now practised amongst vs.'

In the charter of privileges granted by William Penn to the province of Pennsylvania, in 1701, it is recited: 'Because no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship; And Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; and the Author as well as Object of all divine Knowledge, Faith, and Worship, who only doth enlighten the Minds, and persuade and convince the Understandings of People, I do hereby grant and declare,' etc.

Coming nearer to the present time, the declaration of independence recognizes the presence of the Divine in human affairs in these words: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.' 'We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare,' etc.; 'And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.'

If we examine the constitutions of the various states, we find in them a constant recognition of religious obligations. Every constitution of every one of the 44 states contains language which, either directly or by clear implication, recognizes a profound reverence for religion, and an assumption that its influence in all human affairs is essential to the well-being of the community. This recognition may be in the preamble, such as is found in the constitution of Illinois, 1870: 'We, the people of the state of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations,' etc.

It may be only in the familiar requisition that all officers shall take an oath closing with the declaration, 'so help me God.' It may be in clauses like that of the constitution of Indiana, 1816, art. 11, s 4: 'The manner of administering an oath or affirmation shall be such as is most consistent with the conscience of the deponent, and shall be esteemed the most solemn appeal to God.' Or in provisions such as are found in articles 36 and 37 of the declaration of rights of the constitution of Maryland, (1867:) 'That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty: wherefore, no person ought, by any law, to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace, or safety of the state, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil, or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent or maintain or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain any place of worship or any ministry; nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness or juror on account of his religious belief: provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that, under his dispensation, such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor, either in this world or the world to come. That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this state, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this constitution.' Or like that in articles 2 and 3 of part 1 of the constitution of Massachusetts, (1780:) 'It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. * * * As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness, and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.' Or, as in sections 5 and 14 of article 7 of the constitution of Mississippi, (1832:) 'No person who denies the being of a God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil de partment of this state. * * * Religion morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty, and the happiness of mankind, schools, and the means of education, shall forever be encouraged in this state.' Or by article 22 of the constitution of Delaware, (1776,) which required all officers, besides an oath of allegiance, to make and subscribe the following declaration: 'I, A. B., do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.'

Even the constitution of the United States, which is supposed to have little touch upon the private life of the individual, contains in the first amendment a declaration common to the constitutions of all the states, as follows: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' etc.,--and also provides in article 1, s 7, (a provision common to many constitutions,) that the executive shall have 10 days (Sundays excepted) within which to determine whether he will approve or veto a bill.

There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning. They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons. They are organic utterances. They speak the voice of the entire people. While because of a general recognition of this truth the question has seldom been presented to the courts, yet we find that in Updegraph v. Com., 11 Serg. & R. 394, 400, it was decided that, 'Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; * * * not Christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts, but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.' And in People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns. 290, 294, 295, Chancellor KENT, the great commentator on American law, speaking as chief justice of the supreme court of New York, said: 'The people of this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity as the rule of their faith and practice; and to scandalize the author of these doctrines is not only, in a religious point of view, extremely impious, but, even in respect to the obligations due to society, is a gross violation of decency and good order. * * * The free, equal, and undisturbed enjoyment of religious opinion, whatever it may be, and free and decent discussions on any religious subject, is granted and secured; but to revile, with malicious and blasphemous contempt, the religion professed by almost the whole community is an abuse of that right. Nor are we bound by any expressions in the constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the Grand Lama; and for this plain reason, that the case assumes that we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply ingrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors.' And in the famous case of Vidal v. Girard's Ex'rs, 2 How. 127, 198, this court, while sustaining the will of Mr. Girard, with its provision for the creation of a college into which no minister should be permitted to enter, observed: 'It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law of Pennsylvania.'

If we pass beyond these matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find every where a clear recognition of the same truth. Among other matters note the following: The form of oath universally prevailing, concluding with an appeal to the Almighty; the custom of opening sessions of all deliberative bodies and most conventions with prayer; the prefatory words of all wills, 'In the name of God, amen;' the laws respecting the observance of the Sabbath, with the general cessation of all secular business, and the closing of courts, legislatures, and other similar public assemblies on that day; the churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing every where under Christian auspices; the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe. These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. In the face of all these, shall it be believed that a congress of the United States intended to make it a misdemeanor for a church of this country to contract for the services of a Christian minister residing in another nation?

Suppose, in the congress that passed this act, some member had offered a bill which in terms declared that, if any Roman Catholic church in this country should contract with Cardinal Manning to come to this country, and enter into its service as pastor and priest, or any Episcopal church should enter into a like contract with Canon Farrar, or any Baptist church should make similar arrangements with Rev. Mr. Spurgeon, or any Jewish synagogue with some eminent rabbi, such contract should be adjudged unlawful and void, and the church making it be subject to prosecution and punishment. Can it be believed that it would have received a minute of approving thought or a single vote? Yet it is contended that such was, in effect, the meaning of this statute. The construction invoked cannot be accepted as correct. It is a case where there was presented a definite evil, in view of which the legislature used general terms with the purpose of reaching all phases of that evil; and thereafter, unexpectedly, it is developed that the general language thus employed is broad enough to reach cases and acts which the whole history and life of the country affirm could not have been intentionally legislated against. It is the duty of the courts, under those circumstances, to say that, however broad the language of the statute may be, the act, although within the letter, is not within the intention of the legislature, and therefore cannot be within the statute.

The judgment will be reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

David Barton on US v Holy trinity 1892

This case provides a good starting point [he lists this case first in his chapter on earlier court cases], for it cites several of the earlier cases. This case centered on an 1885 federal law concerning immigration which declared:

It shall be unlawful for any person, company, partnership, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever ... to in any way assist or encourage the importation .. . of any alien or . ..foreigners, into the United States . . . under contract or agreement . . . to perform labor or service of any kind. '

Two years later, in 1887, the Church of the Holy Trinity in New York employed a clergyman from England as its pastor. That employment was challenged by the United States Attorney General's office as a violation of the law. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court.

The first half of the Court's decision dealt with what it termed "absurd" application of laws. The Court was not saying that the legislation was absurd, for in the early years the Court rarely criticized the legislature since it was the voice of the people. "Absurd" referred to cases where an interpretation by the letter of the law and not by the spirit or intent of its framers would lead to absurd results.

The Court examined the Congressional records of the hearings surrounding this legislation and established, from the legislators' own testimony, that the law was enacted solely to preclude an influx of cheap and unskilled labor for work on the railroads. Although the church's alleged violation was certainly within the letter of the law, it was not within its spirit. The Court concluded that only an "absurd" application of the Constitution would allow a restriction on Christianity:

No purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people. . . . This is a Christian nation.

The Court resolved the legal question within the first half of its written ruling and devoted the remainder to establishing that this nation is indeed Christian and why it would be constitutionally "absurd" and legally impossible to legislate any restrictions on Christianity. Despite the Court's use of only brief historical quotations, its references comprised eight of the sixteen pages in the decision. Justice Brewer, who delivered the opinion of the Court, gave the basis for the Court's conclusion:

This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation. The commission to Christopher Columbus ... [recited] that "it is hoped that by God's assistance some of the continents and islands in the ocean will be discovered . . . ." The first colonial grant made to Sir Waiter Raleigh in 1584... and the grant authorizing him to enact statutes for the government of the proposed colony provided that "they be not against the true Christian faith . . . ." The first charter of Virginia, granted by King James I in 1606 . . . commenced the grant in these words: " . . . in propagating of Christian Religion to such People as yet live in Darkness . . . . Language of similar import may be found in the subsequent charters of that colony . . . in 1609 and 1611; and the same is true of the various charters granted to the other colonies. In language more or less emphatic is the establishment of the Christian religion declared to be one of the purposes of the grant. The celebrated compact made by the Pilgrims in the Mayflower, 1620, recites: "Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith . . . a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia . . . . The fundamental orders of Connecticut, under which a provisional government was instituted in 1638-1639, commence with this declaration: " ... And well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union . . . there should be an orderly and decent government established according to God . . . to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess . . . of the said gospel [which] is now practiced amongst us." In the charter of privileges granted by William Penn to the province of Pennsylvania, in 1701, it is recited: " ... no people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyment of civil liberties, if abridged of. . . their religious profession and worship . . . . Coming nearer to the present time, the Declaration of Independence recognizes the presence of the Divine in human affairs in these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions . . . "; "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

The Court continued with example after example, citing portions from the forty-four state constitutions (the number of states in 1892), using many of the same excerpts given in this book in earlier chapters. The Court's historical discourse continued for several pages until finally summarizing its findings:

There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning; they affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons: they are organic utterances; they speak the voice of the entire people. While because of a general recognition of this truth the question has seldom been presented to the courts, yet we find that in Updegraph v. The Commonwealth, it was decided that, "Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law . . . not Christianity with an established church . . . but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men." And in The People v. Ruggles, Chancellor Kent, the great commentator on American law, speaking as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New York, said: "The people of this State, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice. . . . We are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors [other religions]. "And in the famous case of Vidal v. Girard's Executors, this Court . . . observed: "It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law ...." These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.

This stands as quite a convincing and broad-based argument! The Court quoted directly from eighteen sources, alluded to over forty others, and acknowledged "many other" and "a volume" more from which selections could have been made.

The Court cited People v. Ruggles, Updegraph v. Commonwealth, and Vidal v. Girard's Executors in establishing its conclusion. The Ruggles case was decided by the Supreme Court of New York in 1811, Updegraph by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1826, and Vidal by the United States Supreme Court in 1844. Before reviewing these three cases, an observation needs to be made about cases stemming from state supreme courts.

Currently, the federal Supreme Court is very high profile and affects national and private life through its far-reaching decisions. Consequently, a state's supreme court is now perceived as a less credible source than the federal Supreme Court. However, this was not the attitude of earlier years. For 150 years after the ratification of the Constitution, the states were considered the highest source of authority. Most disputes went no higher than state courts, and only unusual circumstances would cause a case to go to the federal Supreme Court (i.e., disputes between states, cases involving federal territories not yet states, cases not involving a jury decision, etc.).

Therefore, on items concerning religion and Christianity, the federal courts were considered less of an authority than the state courts. As the Court itself had noted in the Holy Trinity case, it had few occasions in which to decide on issues affecting Christianity: While because of a general recognition of this truth [that we are a Christian nation], the question has seldom been presented to the courts.

When the federal Court did render a decision touching Christianity, it frequently cited the decisions of the state supreme courts, as it did in Holy Trinity. It is helpful to keep this background information in mind when examining the following cases. [ Updegraph, Ruggles, Kneeland, Vidal, M'Creery, Runkel, Sharpless]

Is the United States a Christian Nation? By Susan Batte, Esq.

Getting to Know Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer: Author of the Holy Trinity (Christian Nation) Opinion. Researched by Susan Batte and James Allison. Written by James Allison

Robert Boston in his book, Why the Religious Right is Wrong About Separation of Church & State, Prometheus Books, Buffalo N.Y., (1993) p 84, says

The U.S. Supreme Court even fell victim to the "Christian nation" mentality from time to time. Religious Right activists frequently cite 1892's Holy Trinity Church v. United Slates decision as proof that the high court considered the United States a "Christian nation." But as usual, they don't tell the whole story.

In the ruling, Justice David Brewer flatly declared, "This is a Christian nation." To this day, historians debate what Brewer meant by the term. It is unclear whether he meant to say the country's laws should reflect Christianity or was simply acknowledging the fact that most Americans are Christians.

A strong case can be made for the latter proposition by examining a case that came along five years after the Holy Trinity ruling. The dispute centered on legalized prostitution in New Orleans. A Methodist church challenged a city ordinance allowing prostitution in one area of the city. The church argued that prostitution should be illegal everywhere in New Orleans, and said the activity was inconsistent with Christianity which the Supreme Court of the United States says is the foundation of our government.

Writing for a unanimous court, Brewer completely ignored the church's argument and upheld the New Orleans policy. Brewer's bypass in this case suggests that he did not mean to imply in Holy Trinity that the United States should enforce the dictates of Christianity by law. Had that been Brewer's intention, he surely would have upheld the Methodists' claim.

Below is the case referred to by Rob Boston

Legal research, analysis and writing by Susan Batte, Esq.

L'Hote and the Methodist Episcopal Church v. City of New Orleans

Facts: The City of New Orleans decided to establish by ordinance the places in its fair city where prostitutes could not live, inhabit, own houses, be lewd, etc. Plaintiff George L'Hote was a property owner in an area of the City of New Orleans that had fallen in an area protected by the ordinance, but when the City Council decided to amend its ordinance, Mr. L'Hote's property fell outside that protected area. He filed suit arguing, among other things, that the City of New Orleans through its amended ordinance had deprived him of the equal protection of the law, and that the City had no power to enact such an ordinance.

The Methodist Episcopal Church joined in the suit alleging that the ordinance had caused a number of their congregation to quit the church.

The plaintiffs' counsel argued that the plaintiffs were deprived of their property or the use of it without due process, that enacting an ordinance concerning prostitution was beyond the scope of the City Council's power, that the City Council's ordinance denied the plaintiff the equal protection of the law, and lastly, that the ordinance created an "asylum for abandoned women" in violation of the principles of the Christian religion, which the Supreme Court of the U.S. says is the foundation of our government."

The Defendant's counsel simply argued that the police power is reserved to the states, that the ordinance was the result of the City Council's exercise of its police power, and that any owner of property so injured by the ordinance was deemed to be compensated by the overall public benefit "the regulation is designed to subserve."

Issue: Does the City of New Orleans violate the U. S. Constitution when it enacts an ordinance prescribing limits where prostitutes may not dwell or carry on in a lewd manner violates the Constitution of the United States.

Holding: No.

Reason: Police power is beyond the reach of the judiciary. If the City can establish that its regulation is designed to protect the health, safety and morals of its citizenry, then such regulation will be constitutionally valid. Any injury on the part of one of its citizens is compensated by the overall public benefit. Brewer does not even address the Christian Nation argument of the plaintiffs.

1892 Decllared US Institution National Canon

January 19, 2009

St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-0142

Abstract: This Article explores an under-appreciated legacy of the Supreme Court's (in)famous decision in Holy Trinity Church v. United States. While Holy Trinity has been much-discussed in the academic literature and in judicial opinions, the discussion thus far has focused almost exclusively on the first half of the Court's opinion, which declares that the "spirit" of a statute should trump its "letter" and relies on legislative history to help divine that spirit. Scholars and jurists have paid little, if any, attention to the opinion's second half. In that lengthy second half, the Court tells a detailed narrative about the country's historically Christian roots and explains that, other interpretive rules aside, the statute simply cannot be construed against the church-because the United States "is a Christian nation."

This Article maps the methodology of the Holy Trinity Court's "Christian nation" argument and contends that that methodology constitutes an interpretive canon in its own right-one which perhaps aptly can be called the "unique national institution" canon. The Article goes on to demonstrate that this interpretative canon has reared its head in a number of statutory interpretation cases decided since Holy Trinity. In Flood v. Kuhn, for example, the Court, in determining whether the antitrust laws govern baseball's reserve system, paid lengthy tribute to the historical and national significance of baseball in a manner (methodologically) reminiscent of the Holy Trinity Court's Christian nation argument. Likewise, in Leo Sheep v. United States, the Court waxed eloquent about the critical role of railroads in settling the American West in the course of determining the extent of property rights conveyed to the railroads by the United States government.

And in FDA v. Brown & Williamson and Morton v. Mancari the Court similarly relied on tobacco's privileged place in the American economy and on the unique status of Native American tribes, respectively, to construe the statutes at issue in those cases. The Article draws a number of parallels between these cases, noting, for example, that the Court always has used the unique national institution canon as a guide to congressional intent and to carve out a statutory exception for one privileged national entity. The Article concludes by evaluating the newly-identified, but long extant, unique national institution canon as an interpretive tool and by exploring the canon's implications for different theories of statutory interpretation.

Working Paper Series THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT HOLY TRINITY CHURCH v. U.S. 143 U.S. 457, 12 S.Ct. 511, 36 L.Ed. 226 Feb. 29, 1892

"These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation."

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SYNOPSIS

In error to the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of New York. Reversed.

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HEAD NOTES

ALIENS 50

The word "labor" as used in the alien labor contract law, 23 Stat. 332, prohibiting the importation of foreigners under contract to perform labor, etc., means manual labor as distinguished from that of a professional man, as a clergyman.

ALIENS 50

Although the alien contract labor law, 23 Stat. 332, prohibits the importation of "any" foreigners under contract to perform "labor or service of any kind," yet it does not apply to one who comes to this country under contract to enter the service of a church as its rector.

STATUTES 183

It is within the power of courts to declare that a thing which is within the letter of a statute is not governed by the statute, because not within its spirit or the intention of its makers.

STATUTES 210

In the construction of a statute, both the title and preamble may be considered in doubtful cases.

STATUTES 211

Where doubt exists as to meaning of a statute, the title may be looked to for aid in its construction.

STATUTES 212

It being historically true that the American people are a religious people, as shown by the religious objects expressed by the original grants and charters of the colonies, and the recognition of religion in the most solemn acts of their history, as well as in the constitutions of the states and the nation, the courts, in construing statutes should not impute to any legislature a purpose of action against religion.

STATUTES 215

In construing a doubtful statute the court will consider the evil which it was designed to remedy, and for this purpose will look into contemporaneous events, including the situation as it existed, and as it was pressed upon the attention of the legislative body, while the act was under consideration.

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COUNSEL

[*511] [143 U.S. 457, 457] Seaman Miller, for plaintiff in error.

Asst. Atty. Gen. Maury, for the United States.

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OPINION

Mr. Justice BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

Plaintiff in error is a corporation duly organized and incorporated as a religious society under the laws of the state of New York. E. Walpole Warren was, prior to September, [143 U.S. 457, 458] 1887, an alien residing in England. In that month the plaintiff in error made a contract with him, by which he was to remove to the city of New York, and enter into its service as rector and pastor; and, in pursuance of such contract, Warren did so remove and enter upon such service. It is claimed by the United States that this contract on the part of the plaintiff in error was forbidden by chapter 164, 23 St. p. 332; and an action was commenced to recover the penalty prescribed by that act. The circuit court held that the contract was within the prohibition of the statute, and rendered judgment accordingly, (36 Fed. Rep. 303,) and the single question presented for our determination is whether it erred in that conclusion.

The first section describes the act forbidden, and is in these words:

'Be it enacted by the senate and house of representatives of the United States of America, in congress assembled, that from and after the passage of this act it shall be unlawful for any person, company, partnership, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever, to prepay the transportation, or in any way assist or encourage the importation or migration, of any alien or aliens, any foreigner or foreigners, into the United States, its territories, or the District of Columbia, under contract or agreement, parole or special, express or implied, made previous to the importation or migration of such alien or aliens, foreigner or foreigners, to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States, its territories, or the District of Columbia.'

It must be conceded that the act of the corporation is within the letter of this section, for the relation of rector to his church is one of service, and implies labor on the one side with compensation on the other.

Not only are the general words 'labor' and 'service' both used, but also, as it [*512] were to guard against any narrow interpretation and emphasize a breadth of meaning, to them is added 'of any kind;' and, further, as noticed by the circuit judge in his opinion, the fifth section, which makes specific exceptions, among them professional actors, artists, lecturers, singers, and domestic [143 U.S. 457, 459] servants, strengthens the idea that every other kind of labor and service was intended to be reached by the first section.

While there is great force to this reasoning, we cannot think congress intended to denounce with penalties a transaction like that in the present case. It is a familiar rule that a thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit nor within the intention of its makers. This has been often asserted, and the Reports are full of cases illustrating its application. This is not the substitution of the will of the judge for that of the legislator; for frequently words of general meaning are used in a statute, words broad enough to include an act in question, and yet a consideration of the whole legislation, or of the circumstances surrounding its enactment, or of the absurd results which follow from giving such broad meaning to the words, makes it unreasonable to believe that the legislator intended to include the particular act.

As said in Stradling v. Morgan, Plow. 205: 'From which cases it appears that the sages of the law heretofore have construed statutes quite contrary to the letter in some appearance, and those statutes which comprehend all things in the letter they have expounded to extend to but some things, and those which generally prohibit all people from doing such an act they have interpreted to permit some people to do it, and those which include every person in the letter they have adjudged to reach to some persons only, which expositions have always been founded upon the intent of the legislature, which they have collected sometimes by considering the cause and necessity of making the act, sometimes by comparing one part of the act with another, and sometimes by foreign circumstances.'

In Pier Co. v. Hannam, 3 Barn. & Ald. 266, ABBOTT, C. J., quotes from Lord Coke as follows: 'Acts of parliament are to be so construed as no man that is innocent or free from injury or wrong be, by a literal construction, punished or endangered.' In the case of State v. Clark, 29 N. J. Law, 96, 99, it appeared that an act had been passed, making it a misdemeanor to willfully break down a fence in the possession of another person. Clark was indicted [143 U.S. 457, 460] under that statute. The defense was that the act of breaking down the fence, though willful, was in the exercise of a legal right to go upon his own lands.

The trial court rejected the testimony offered to sustain the defense, and the supreme court held that this ruling was error. In its opinion the court used this language: 'The act of 1855, in terms, makes the willful opening, breaking down, or injuring of any fences belonging to or in the possession of any other person a misdemeanor. In what sense is the term 'willful' used? In common parlance, 'willful' is used in the sense of 'intentional,' as distinguished from 'accidental' or 'involuntary.' Whatever one does intentionally, he does willfully. Is it used in that sense in this act? Did the legislature intend to make the intentional opening of a fence for the purpose of going upon the land of another indictable, if done by permission or for a lawful purpose?

We cannot suppose such to have been the actual intent. To adopt such a construction would put a stop to the ordinary business of life. The language of the act, if construed literally, evidently leads to an absurd result. If a literal construction of the words of a statute be absurd, the act must be so construed as to avoid the absurdity. The court must restrain the words. The object designed to be reached by the act must limit and control the literal import of the terms and phrases employed.' In U. S. v. Kirby, 7 Wall. 482, 486, the defendants were indicted for the violation of an act of congress providing 'that if any person shall knowingly and willfully obstruct or retard the passage of the mail, or of any driver or carrier, or of any horse or carriage carrying the same, he shall, upon conviction, for every such offense, pay a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars.'

The specific charge was that the defendants knowingly and willfully retarded the passage of one Farris, a carrier of the mail, while engaged in the performance of his duty, and also in like manner retarded the steam-boat Gen. Buell, at that time engaged in carrying the mail. To this indictment the defendants pleaded specially that Farris had been indicted for murder by a court of competent authority in Kentucky; that a bench-warrant had been issued and [143 U.S. 457, 461] placed in the hands of the defendant Kirby, the sheriff of the county, commanding him to arrest Farris, and bring him before the court to answer to the indictment; and that, in obedience to this warrant, he and the other defendants, as his posse, entered upon the steamboat Gen. Buell and arrested Farris, and used only such force as was necessary to accomplish that arrest.

The question as to the sufficiency of this plea was certified to this court, and it was held that the arrest of Farris upon the warrant from the state court was not an obstruction of the mail, or the retarding of the passage of a carrier of the mail, within the meaning of the act. In its opinion the court says: 'All laws should receive a sensible construction. General terms should be so limited in their application as not to lead to injustice, oppression, or an absurd consequence. It will always, therefore, be presumed that the legislature intended exceptions to its language which would avoid results of this character.

The reason of the law in such cases should prevail over its letter. The common sense of man approves the judgment mentioned by Puffendorf, that the Bolognian law which enacted 'that whoever drew blood in the streets should be punished with the utmost severity,' did not extend to the surgeon who opened the vein of a person that fell down in the street in a fit. The same [*513] common sense accepts the ruling, cited by Plowden, that the statute of 1 Edw. II., which enacts that a prisoner who breaks prison shall be guilty of felony, does not extend to a prisoner who breaks out when the prison is on fire, 'for he is not to be hanged because he would not stay to be burnt.' And we think that a like common sense will sanction the ruling we make, that the act of congress which punishes the obstruction or retarding of the passage of the mail, or of its carrier, does not apply to a case of temporary detention of the mail caused by the arrest of the carrier upon an indictment for murder.'

The following cases may also be cited: Henry v. Tilson, 17 Vt. 479; Ryegate v. Wardsboro, 30 Vt. 743; Ex parte Ellis, 11 Cal. 220; Ingraham v. Speed, 30 Miss. 410; Jackson v. Collins, 3 Cow. 89; People v. Insurance Co., 15 Johns. 358; Burch v. Newbury, 10 N. Y. 374; People v. [143 U.S. 457, 462] Commissioners, 95 N. Y. 554, 558; People v. Lacombe, 99 N. Y. 43, 49, 1 N. E. Rep. 599; Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Co. v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 4 Gill & J. 152; Osgood v. Breed, 12 Mass. 525, 530; Wilbur v. Crane, 13 Pick. 284; Oates v. Bank, 100 U. S. 239.

Among other things which may be considered in determining the intent of the legislature is the title of the act. We do not mean that it may be used to add to or take from the body of the statute, (Hadden v. Collector, 5 Wall. 107,) but it may help to interpret its meaning. In the case of U. S. v. Fisher, 2 Cranch, 358, 386, Chief Justice MARSHALL said: 'On the influence which the title ought to have in construing the enacting clauses, much has been said, and yet it is not easy to discern the point of difference between the opposing counsel in this respect. Neither party contends that the title of an act can control plain words in the body of the statute; and neither denies that, taken with other parts, it may assist in removing ambiguities.

Where the intent is plain, nothing is left to construction. Where the mind labors to discover the design of the legislature, it seizes everything from which aid can be derived; and in such case the title claims a degree of notice, and will have its due share of consideration.' And in the case of U. S. v. Palmer, 3 Wheat. 610, 631, the same judge applied the doctrine in this way: 'The words of the section are in terms of unlimited extent. The words 'any person or persons' are broad enough to comprehend every human being.

But general words must not only be limited to cases within the jurisdiction of the state, but also to those objects to which the legislature intended to apply them. Did the legislature intend to apply these words to the subjects of a foreign power, who in a foreign ship may commit murder or robbery on the high seas? The title of an act cannot control its words, but may furnish some aid in showing what was in the mind of the legislature. The title of this act is, 'An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States.' It would seem that offenses against the United States, not offenses against the human race, were the crimes which the legislature intended by this law to punish.'

[143 U.S. 457, 463] It will be seen that words as general as those used in the first section of this act were by that decision limited, and the intent of congress with respect to the act was gathered partially, at least, from its title. Now, the title of this act is, 'An act to prohibit the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States, its territories, and the District of Columbia. Obviously the thought expressed in this reaches only to the work of the manual laborer, as distinguished from that of the professional man.

No one reading such a title would suppose that congress had in its mind any purpose of staying the coming into this country of ministers of the gospel, or, indeed, of any class whose toil is that of the brain. The common understanding of the terms 'labor' and 'laborers' does not include preaching and preachers, and it is to be assumed that words and phrases are used in their ordinary meaning. So whatever of light is thrown upon the statute by the language of the title indicates an exclusion from its penal provisions of all contracts for the employment of ministers, rectors, and pastors.

Again, another guide to the meaning of a statute is found in the evil which it is designed to remedy; and for this the court properly looks at contemporaneous events, the situation as it existed, and as it was pressed upon the attention of the legislative body. U. S. v. Railroad Co., 91 U. S. 72, 79. The situation which called for this statute was briefly but fully stated by Mr. Justice BROWN when, as district judge, he decided the case of U. S. v. Craig, 28 Fed. Rep. 795, 798: 'The motives and history of the act are matters of common knowledge.

It had become the practice for large capitalists in this country to contract with their agents abroad for the shipment of great numbers of an ignorant and servile class of foreign laborers, under contracts by which the employer agreed, upon the one hand, to prepay their passage, while, upon the other hand, the laborers agreed to work after their arrival for a certain time at a low rate of wages. The effect of this was to break down the labor market, and to reduce other laborers engaged in like occupations to the level [143 U.S. 457, 464] of the assisted immigrant. The evil finally became so flagrant that an appeal was made to congress for relief by the passage of the act in question, the design of which was to raise the standard of foreign immigrants, and to discountenance the migration of those who had not sufficient means in their own hands, or those of their friends, to pay their passage.'

It appears, also, from the petitions, and in the testimony presented before the committees of congress, that it was this cheap, unskilled labor which was making the trouble, and the influx of which congress sought to prevent. It was never suggested that we had in this country a surplus of brain toilers, and, least of all, that the market for the services of Christian ministers was depressed by foreign competition. Those were matters to which the attention of congress, or of the people, was not directed. So far, then, as the evil which [*514] was sought to be remedied interprets the statute, it also guides to an exclusion of this contract from the penalties of the act.

A singular circumstance, throwing light upon the intent of congress, is found in this extract from the report of the senate committee on education and labor, recommending the passage of the bill: 'The general facts and considerations which induce the committee to recommend the passage of this bill are set forth in the report of the committee of the house. The committee report the bill back without amendment, although there are certain features thereof which might well be changed or modified, in the hope that the bill may not fail of passage during the present session.

Especially would the committee have otherwise recommended amendments, substituting for the expression, 'labor and service,' whenever it occurs in the body of the bill, the words 'manual labor' or 'manual service,' as sufficiently broad to accomplish the purposes of the bill, and that such amendments would remove objections which a sharp and perhaps unfriendly criticism may urge to the proposed legislation.

The committee, however, believing that the bill in its present form will be construed as including only those whose labor or service is manual in character, and being very desirous that the bill become a law before the adjournment, have reported the bill without [143 U.S. 457, 465] change.' Page 6059, Congressional Record, 48th Cong. And, referring back to the report of the committee of the house, there appears this language: 'It seeks to restrain and prohibit the immigration or importation of laborers who would have never seen our shores but for the inducements and allurements of men whose only object is to obtain labor at the lowest possible rate, regardless of the social and material well-being of our own citizens, and regardless of the evil consequences which result to American laborers from such immigration.

This class of immigrants care nothing about our institutions, and in many instances never even heard of them. They are men whose passage is paid by the importers. They come here under contract to labor for a certain number of years. They are ignorant of our social condition, and, that they may remain so, they are isolated and prevented from coming into contact with Americans. They are generally from the lowest social stratum, and live upon the coarsest food, and in hovels of a character before unknown to American workmen. They, as a rule, do not become citizens, and are certainly not a desirable acquisition to the body politic. The inevitable tendency of their presence among us is to degrade American labor, and to reduce it to the level of the imported pauper labor.' Page 5359, Congressional Record, 48th Cong.

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We find, therefore, that the title of the act, the evil which was intended to be remedied, the circumstances surrounding the appeal to congress, the reports of the committee of each house, all concur in affirming that the intent of congress was simply to stay the influx of this cheap, unskilled labor.

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But, beyond all these matters, no purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation. The commission to Christopher Columbus, prior to his sail westward, is from "Ferdinand and Isabella, by the grace of God, king and queen of Castile," etc., and recites that "it is hoped that by God's assistance some of the continents and islands in the [496] ocean will be discovered," etc. The first colonial grant, that made to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, was from "Elizabeth, by the grace of God, of England, France, and Ireland, queen, defender of the faith," etc.; and the grant authorizing him to enact statutes of the government of the proposed colony provided that "they be not against the true Christian faith now professed in the Church of England."

The first charter of Virginia, granted by King James I. in 1606, after reciting the application of certain parties for a charter, commenced the grant in these words: "We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government; DO, by these our Letters-Patents, graciously accept of, and agree to, their humble and well-intentioned Desires."

Language of similar import may be found in the subsequent charters of that colony from the same king, in 1609 and 1611; and the same is true of the various charters granted to the other colonies. In language more or less emphatic is the establishment of the Christian religion declared to be one of the purposes of the grant. The celebrated compact made by the pilgrims in the Mayflower, 1620, recites: "Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honor of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid."

The fundamental orders of Connecticut, under which a provisional government was instituted in 1638-39, commence with this declaration: "Forasmuch as it hath pleased the Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine prudence [143 U.S. 457, 467] so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connecticut and the Lands thereunto adjoining; And well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of {515} God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; doe therefore associate and conjoin our selves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and doe, for our selves and our Successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus who we now profess, as also the discipline of the Churches, who according to the truth of the said gospel is now practiced amongst vs."

In the charter of privileges granted by William Penn to the province of Pennsylvania, in 1701, it is recited: "Because no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship; And Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; and the Author as well as Object of all divine Knowledge, Faith, and Worship, who only doth enlighten the Minds, and persuade and convince the Understandings of People, I do hereby grant and declare," etc.

Coming nearer to the present time, the declaration of independence recognizes the presence of the Divine in human affairs in these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." "We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare," etc.; "And for the [143 U.S. 457, 468] support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

If we examine the constitutions of the various states, we find in them a constant recognition of religious obligations. Every constitution of every one of the 44 states contains language which, either directly or by clear implication, recognizes a profound reverence for religion, and an assumption that its influence in all human affairs is essential to the well-being of the community. This recognition may be in the preamble, such as is found in the constitution of Illinois, 1870: "We, the people of the state of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations," etc.

It may be only in the familiar requisition that all officers shall take an oath closing with the declaration, "so help me God." It may be in clauses like that of the constitution of Indiana, 1816, art. 11, §4: "The manner of administering an oath or affirmation shall be such as is most consistent with the conscience of the deponent, and shall be esteemed the most solemn appeal to God." Or in provisions such as are found in articles 36 and 37 of the declaration of the rights of the constitution of Maryland, (1867):

"That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty: wherefore, no person ought, by any law, to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace, or safety of the state, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil, or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent or maintain or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain any place of worship or any ministry; nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness or juror on account of his religious belief: provided, he [143 U.S. 457, 469] believes in the existence of God, and that, under his dispensation, such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor, either in this world or the world to come.

That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office or profit or trust in this state, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this constitution." Or like that in articles 2 and 3 of part 1 of the constitution of Massachusetts, (1780:) "It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the Great Creator and Preserver of the universe.

As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness, and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provisions shall not be made voluntarily."

Or, as in sections 5 and 14 of article 7 of the constitution of Mississippi, (1832:) "No person who denies the being of a God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state. ... Religion {516} morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty, and the happiness of mankind, schools, and the means of education, shall forever be encouraged in this state." Or by article 22 of the constitution of Delaware, (1776,) which required all officers, besides an oath of allegiance, to make and subscribe the following declaration: "I, A.B., do profess [143 U.S. 457, 470] faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration."

Even the constitution of the United States, which is supposed to have little touch upon the private life of the individual, contains in the first amendment a declaration common to the constitutions of all the states, as follows: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," etc., - and also provides in article 1, § 7, (a provision common to many constitutions,) that the executive shall have 10 days (Sundays excepted) within which to determine whether he will approve or veto a bill.

There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning. They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons. They are organic utterances. They speak the voice of the entire people. While because of a general recognition of this truth the question has seldom been presented to the courts, yet we find that in Updegraph v. Comm., 11 Serg. & R. 394, 400, it was decided that, "Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; ... not Christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts, but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men."

And in People v. Ruggles, 8 Johns. 290, 294, 295, Chancellor KENT, the great commentator on American law, speaking as chief justice of the supreme court of New York, said: "The people of this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity as the rule of their faith and practice; and to scandalize the author of those doctrines in not only, in a religious point of view, extremely impious, but, even in respect to the obligations due to society, is a gross violation of decency and good order. ... The free, equal, and undisturbed enjoyment of religious opinion, whatever it may be, and free and decent discussions on any religious [143 U.S. 457, 471] subject, is granted and secured; but to revile, with malicious and blasphemous contempt, the religion professed by almost the whole community is an abuse of that right.

Nor are we bound by any expressions in the constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the Grand Lama; and for this plain reason that the case assumes that we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply ingrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors."

And in the famous case of Vidal v. Girard's Ex'rs, 2 How. 127, 198, this court, while sustaining the will of Mr. Girard, with its provisions for the creation of a college into which no minister should be permitted to enter, observed: "it is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law of Pennsylvania."

If we pass beyond these matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth. Among other matters note the following: The form of oath universally prevailing, concluding with an appeal to the Almighty; the custom of opening sessions of all deliberative bodies and most conventions with prayer; the prefatory words of all wills, "In the name of God, amen;" the laws respecting the observance of the Sabbath, with the general cessation of all secular business, and the closing of courts, legislatures, and other similar public assemblies on that day; the churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing everywhere under Christian auspices; the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe.

These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. In the face of all these, shall it be believed that a congress of the United States intended to make it a misdemeanor for a church of this country to contract for the services of a Christian minister residing in another nation?

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[143 U.S. 457, 472] Suppose, in the congress that passed this act, some member had offered a bill which in terms declared that, if any Roman Catholic church in this country should contract with Cardinal Manning to come to this country, and enter into its service as pastor and priest, or any Episcopal church should enter into a like contract with Canon Farrar, or any Baptist church should make similar arrangements with Rev. Mr. Spurgeon, or any Jewish synagogue with some eminent rabbi, such contract should be adjudged unlawful and void, and the church making it be subject to prosecution and punishment. Can it be believed that it would have received a minute of approving thought or a single vote? Yet it is contended that such was, in effect, the meaning of this statute. The construction invoked cannot be accepted as correct. It is a case where there was presented a definite evil, in view of which the legislature used general terms with the purpose of reaching all phases of that evil; and thereafter, unexpectedly, it is developed that the general language thus employed is broad enough to reach cases and acts which the whole history and life of the country affirm could not have been intentionally legislated against. It is the duty of the courts, under those circumstances, to say that, however {517} broad the language of the statute may be, the act, although within the letter, is not with the intention of the legislature, and therefore cannot be within the statute.

The judgment will be reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings in accordance with the opinion.

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Home Page Site M Modern U. S. Supreme Court Repudiates Itself!

Part 5

Jim Bramlett

We would like to think of the U.S. Supreme Court as a fountainhead of truth, where wise men and women deliberate (hopefully prayerfully) and flawlessly rule on the intent of the Constitution.

If that were true, there would be an ongoing consistency in their decisions. Unfortunately, that has been far from reality.

For example, for most of our nation’s history, the Justices recognized that they were subject to a higher law found in God’s Word. The Court viewed law as

President Calvin Coolidge did when he declared, "Men do not make laws, they do but discover them. Laws must be justified by something more than the will of the majority. They must rest upon the eternal foundations of righteousness."

Here are a few of the historic cases that reaffirmed biblical principles:

U.S. SUPREME COURT: Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844):

The Court produced a ruling which said, "Christianity is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against, to the annoyance of believers or the injury of the public."

The Court’s decision asked the question, "Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?"

U.S. SUPREME COURT: Holy Trinity v. United States (1892): The Supreme Court cited document after document from American history and concluded, "There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning; they affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation." The ruling states bluntly, "This is a Christian nation."

U.S. SUPREME COURT: United States v. Macintosh (1931): The Supreme Court declared, "We are a Christian people...according to one another the equal right of religious freedom, and acknowledging with the reverence the duty of obedience to God."

U.S. SUPREME COURT: But in early 1947, an entirely new agenda gripped the Court. In Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment erected a "wall of separation" between church and state which must be kept "high and impregnable."

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, author of the decision, stated, "We could not approve the slightest breach" of that separation.

The Court cited no precedent from previous rulings.

The case was an official betrayal of America’s Christian heritage.

The Everson case put forth a radically new idea: "separation between church and state" -- a removal of religious principles from government.

Our Founding Fathers placed the First Amendment in the Constitution specifically to prevent such erroneous rulings. The fact that we are a nation based on the Word of God has been restated throughout our history.

From the time of Everson until today, decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have helped to bring about the greatest decline in American civilization. It was as if the Supreme Court had declared a bloodless revolution in America -- a revolution more subtle than yet just as destructive as the Russian revolution under Lenin. Over the next three decades, we witnessed a stream of liberal court rulings that gradually reshaped who we are as a nation.

Engel v. Vitale, Murray v. Curlett, and Abington v. Schempp (1962–1963): Within two years, three separate cases effectively removed prayer, religious instruction, and Bible reading from America’s public schools.

At about the same time, students began to be taught that there is no God, no absolute truth, that the universe is a cosmic accident, and that they evolved by the chance collision of sea-slime molecules and are the same status as apes. Since then, God, the Bible and prayer have been replaced in our schools by drugs, handguns and condoms. How can anyone deny the correlation?

Florey v. Sioux Falls School District (1979): The Court ruled it unconstitutional for a student to ask at a school assembly, "Whose birthday is celebrated on Christmas?"

Grove v. Mead School District (1985): The Supreme Court refused to remove from the required curriculum of a class a book that referred to Jesus as "a poor white trash God."

Other Supreme Court rulings in the past thirty years have stated:

* It is unconstitutional for a war memorial or any public monument to be designed in the shape of a cross.

* It is unconstitutional for public schools to teach biblical doctrine or principles; however, the Bible may be used in a course on history or comparative religions.

* It is unconstitutional to post the Ten Commandments in public schools.

The Supreme Court gave this reasoning: "If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey the Commandments. This...is not a permissible...objective."

Founding Father Benjamin Rush foresaw the danger of these court decisions. Two hundred years ago, he warned:

"The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating [removing] Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools."

Since 1947, our tradition of faith and our rich history of allegiance to Almighty God have been systematically stripped away, while most of the church has been slumbering.

By officially declaring that America has turned its back on God, the Supreme Court and the majority of our public institutions invited evil into our midst. Thus the battle for America’s soul, which began just a few decades ago and has continued to this day, has changed our fortunes forever.

When fabric unravels it follows a pattern. First a stitch becomes loose. At that point, it is easy to repair the fabric to make it as strong as ever. But if left untended, the loose stitch affects the one next to it. Now the hole is twice as large. From there, many loose threads cause the fabric to completely unravel and fall apart.

We have seen how essential moral stitches in our national fabric have been pulled loose. We did not attend properly to those holes in our moral character. Suddenly, today it seems as if our entire society is unraveling -- from the government to the family.

We desperately need moral and spiritual leadership in this nation, from Washington, D.C to every town and village. But first it must begin in the pulpits.

In the 1830's, French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville toured America. When his tour had been completed, he made this observation:

"I sought for the key to the greatness of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

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