The New International Encyclopædia/Sunday

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SUNDAY (AS. sunnandæg, OHG. sunnuntag, Ger. Sonntag, Sunday, from AS. sunnan, OHG. sunnun, gen. sg. of AS. sunna, OHG. sunno, Ger. Sonne, sun + AS. dæg, Ger. Tag, day). The first day of the week, observed by Christians almost universally as a holy day in honor of the resurrection of Christ. For some time after the foundation of the Christian Church, the converts from Judaism still observed the Jewish Sabbath to a greater or less extent, at first, it would seem, concurrently with the celebration of the first day; but before the end of the apostolic period, Sunday, known as ‘the Lord's day,’ had thoroughly established itself as the special day to be sanctified by rest from secular labor and by public worship. The hallowing of Sunday appears incontestably as a definite law of the Church by the beginning of the fourth century; and the Emperor Constantine confirmed the custom by a law of the State. Throughout the mediæval period the authority of the Church was so universally recognized that secular legislation in this regard was almost unneccssary. The Catholic Church then required, and still requires, abstinence from servile work on that day, and the assistance at mass of all who are not lawfully hindered. While the devout have attempted to make it in all respects a holy day, yet the mass of the people in Roman Catholic countries see no harm in spending a part of the day in social intercourse and amusements of various kinds. The tendency of Protestantism, however, has been to recur to the stricter Jewish observance, and to forbid any practice of the ordinary occupations of other days.

In the mediæval period the courts were presided over or dominated by the clergy, and Sunday early became in the legal sense a dies non (q.v.), on which legal proceedings could not be conducted. By the common law, however, all other business might lawfully be transacted on Sunday. The first substantial limitation of this right was imposed by the statute 5 and 6 Edw. V., ch. 3, which provided that all secular labor should be unlawful on Sunday, except in cases of necessity. This was supplemented by the sweeping act of 29 Car. II., ch. 7, which prohibited all ‘worldly business’ on the ‘Lord's day,’ except where absolutely necessary, or for charity. These statutes have been substantially followed in practically all of the United States. The New England States were the first to regulate the observance of Sunday by a series of statutes. The Constitution of the United States prohibits the restriction of religious liberty or the enforcement of religious observances, and therefore, in law, Sunday is regarded merely as a civil day, which is a convenient one for the suspension of business, because of its observance as a holy day by a great majority of the people. These statutes are constitutional as a valid exercise of the police power. Works of necessity and great public convenience are usually excepted. Thus, a physician may carry on his practice, making lawful charges for his services; drug stores may keep open; transportation lines may handle freight and passenger traffic; milk dealers are usually permitted to deliver their product; and all persons whose business conduces to the public health are permitted to continue their activities. Where a cessation of operations would cause great financial loss, an exception is commonly made.

Where a person is traveling on Sunday in violation of law, and is injured, he is not precluded from recovering damages if he is otherwise entitled thereto. Although contracts entered into on Sunday were valid at common law, the courts of many States have interpreted their Sunday statutes as including this kind of a business transaction. A payment of a debt on Sunday is generally held to discharge the obligation. Wills executed on Sunday may be probated in most jurisdictions. In most States the legal Sunday begins at midnight on Saturday night, and continues twenty-four hours. In a few New England States Sunday ends at sunset. Many States exempt Hebrews and others who observe Saturday or some day other than Sunday as a holy day from the operation of the Sunday laws, but if such persons do not keep sacred any other day, they must suspend business on Sunday.

The need of one day in seven for rest from labor has long been recognized from an economic standpoint also. Not only has it been found that man produces more and better work by resting one day in seven, but also that he is a better physical and social being for observing such a rule. Sunday labor in the United States is, however, increasing. It has been estimated that in Massachusetts alone 50,000 persons work on Sunday. That the increase is general is shown by the growing opposition of the labor unions, and their frequent demands for shorter hours throughout the week, on the ground that they have no assurance of the Sunday respite.