..To ancient SDA's ............ To "What's New?"


Dateline Sunday U. S. A.


Warren L. Johns

Issued with the author's permission


The Sunday-law problem has been with mankind for quite a few centuries now – since Constantine's first civil Sunday code of A.D. 321. The theological dimensions of the Sabbath-Sunday controversy have even more venerable beginnings, dating to pagan sun worshipers who worshiped on the "venerable day of the Sun" half a millennium or more before Christ. For nearly sixteen centuries church councils and civil courts have dispensed decrees and exemptions, and citizens ranging from a Roman peasant to the first President of the United States have run afoul of Sunday laws.

Among the books on Sunday laws and the related theological issues occupying two central shelves of my bookcase are venerable tomes written in Old English, and contemporary treatments more flippant than formidable. Peter Heylyn's History of the Sabbath, in a 1636 edition, leans its tired covers against Dr. Fr. White's A Treatise of the Sabbath-day, containing a defence of the Orthodoxall Doctrine of the Church of England, against against Sabbatarian-Novelty, printed in 1635. Hiley H. Ward's 1960 edition of Space-Age Sunday, a literary astronaut's-eye view of the problem condensed into 160 pages, is supported by Dr. Leo Pfeffer’s definitive Church, State, and Freedom, 675 pages of lucid scholarship. Warren Johns's Dateline Sunday will sit somewhere to the right of center – a popularly written history of Sunday blue laws, with major emphasis upon the rationale behind the United States Supreme Court decisions of 1961 and their subsequent legislative fallout. I found his explanation of how Sunday laws came to be regarded as civil legislation with welfare benefits to the public, and thus capable of being rationalized as within the legitimate police power of the state, particularly lucid.

As a practicing attorney-at-law, and legal director of the Church-State Council, a nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to religious freedom and separation of church and state, Mr. Johns is qualified to treat the legal issues. As a frequent contributor to secular and religious magazines, he adds a popular writing style that makes Dateline Sunday a treat instead of a treatment. What fourth-century Roman emperor authorized the first exemption from a Sunday law? Do automatic coin-operated laundries, with no one employed on the premises, infringe on Canada's Lord's Day Act? Why did Michigan's unique two-day (Saturday-Sunday) law not only tickle the funnybone of that state's reporters but also incur the judicial frown of all eight justices of Michigan's highest tribunal? Johns has the instructive and often entertaining answers.

The defender of Sunday laws will not like this book, for Johns does not masquerade as an objective appraiser. He dislikes laws that make otherwise law-abiding citizens criminals for a day and punctures illusions with the sharp lance of reason and the quick strike of wit. It will take a reader of the Lord's Day Alliance breed to come through the reading with convictions unshaken.

The author does not ignore the laudable social objectives of those who support Sunday laws. He pays his respects to a day of rest from labor, and family and community togetherness. He shows clearly, however, that Sunday laws are designed more to protect and honor the observance of a day than to protect and benefit the individual.

As editor of Liberty, a magazine specializing in church-state affairs, I found Johns's book valuable enough to request permission to reprint a number of its chapters in successive issues of Liberty. Johns does not solve the Sunday-law problem, and he largely evades the theological issues; but he does clarify, interestingly, many of the historical and judicial issues.


Washington, D.C.

January 3, 1967.

On to the next section



To ancient SDA's ............ To "What's New?"