Towards the end of the 19th Century there was a religious movement that felt compelled to launch a campaign to formally recognize Sunday as the day of rest in the United States. Their desire was to bring America out of spiritual decline caused by the Civil War. They wanted to unite the country and strengthen the morality of the nation by getting everyone to go back to church on Sunday. Different Protestant churches, reformed groups and temperance movements mobilized together into a political/religious coalition. They found a champion to lead their cause—U.S. Republican Senator from New Hampshire Henry W. Blair. Senator Blair, a staunch prohibitionist and ardent Christian, proposed a National Sunday Rest Bill to Congress, Senate Bill 2983, on May 21, 1888.
The Sunday Law Crisis 1888
The bill was designed “to secure to the people the enjoyment of the first day of the week, commonly known as the Lord’s Day, as a Day of Rest, and to promote its observance as a day of religious worship” (see American State Papers Bearing on Sunday Legislation, pp. 360-363). The proposed Sunday Law was ingenuously “cloaked” under the guise of a “Christian Education” Amendment, Senate Resolution 86. This would have amended the US Constitution and established Sunday as the mandatory day of rest for everyone under the jurisdiction of the United States in the name of “education.” Commercial transactions would have ceased, public amusements would be closed and labor would be restricted to acts of mercy and humanity. Interstate commerce would be suspended, as would all festivities, secular activities, parades and military drills. This bill would have empowered the federal government to preserve the nation’s Christian identity through Sunday rest.
After Senator Blair introduced his legislation, his fellow lawmakers referred the Christian Education Amendment (Sunday rest bill) to the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, which was chaired by Senator Blair himself! How convenient. Testimony was heard by the committee from both sides—from those who supported the bill and those who opposed it. Alonzo T. Jones, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, professor, editor and administrator lodged the strongest protest against this Sunday measure. Jones spoke boldly and clearly before the US Senate Committee for the first time on December 13, 1888 at 1:30 p.m.:
“There is a limit to the lawmaking power. The government has no right to make any law relating to the things that pertain to God, or offenses against God, or religion. It [government] has nothing to do with religion” (see The National Sunday Law, Argument of Alonzo T. Jones, Dec. 13, 1888, p. 32).
Jones said that the basis of his argument was supported by both the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. He said that Sunday laws were religious in nature and violated the separation of church and state as established by Christ: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21. And because the Sabbath was a religious ordinance designed for worshiping God, attempting to legislate the Sabbath was a terrible infringement that both the Bible and the U.S. Constitution strongly prohibited.
Jones also argued that religious liberty was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, Article VI that stipulates that “no religious TEST shall ever be required.” He stressed that even if the government reflected the will of a majority, it had no more authority than has a king or a pope to violate the God given liberty of conscience and freedom to worship. He concluded his testimony by saying that government should leave religion to “every man’s conscience and his God. As long as he is a good citizen, the nation will protect him and leave him perfectly free to worship whom he pleases, when he pleases, as he pleases, or not to worship at all, if he pleases” (see The National Sunday Law, Argument of Alonzo T. Jones, Dec. 13, 1888, p. 43).
The Sunday Law Crisis 1889
These words left a lasting impression upon the U.S. Senators, and as a result the Sunday Law Bill and Christian Education Amendment failed to receive the necessary votes to move on and died in committee. Senator Blair was unfazed by this defeat. He replaced the language and resubmitted variations of the Sunday law bill called the Amended Blair Sunday Rest Bill of December 9, 1889, Senate Bill 946, and the revised Blair Christian Education Amendment of December 9, 1889; but in every instance he was met with the same fate—failure to get the necessary votes in committee.
This was a great victory for God’s people and for religious liberty. Incidentally, just two days before Jones’ historic testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on December 13, 1888, Ellen White gave a very important and timely counsel on what our approach and attitude should be with regards to the Sunday law question on December 11, 1888:
“While men are sleeping, Satan is actively arranging matters so that the Lord’s people may not have mercy or justice. The Sunday movement is now making its way in darkness. The leaders are concealing the true issue, and many who unite in the movement do not themselves see whither the undercurrent is tending. Its professions are mild, and apparently Christian [clearly she was referring to Blair’s “Christian Education bill”]; but when it shall speak, it will reveal the spirit of the dragon. It is our duty to do all in our power to avert the threatened danger. We should endeavor to disarm prejudice by placing ourselves in a proper light before the people. We should bring before them the real question at issue, thus interposing the most effectual protest against measures to restrict liberty of conscience.” Review and Herald, December 11, 1888.
The Sunday Law Crisis 1892 & 1893
In 1892, after suffering previous defeats in 1888 and 1889, Sunday law agitators were able to make up some ground again with regards to a National Sunday Law. This time they found a new champion to push through a Sunday measure. His name was Alfred Hold Colquitt. Colquitt was a US Senator from Georgia who was in office during this time. He was also a preacher and an ardent promoter of establishing Sunday rest in America. Aware of the previous failures of 1888 snf 1889, Senator Colquit introduced his own version of a Sunday Law through Senate Bill 2168 to the Committee on Education and Labor on February 11, 1892. The purpose of this bill was “To prohibit opening on Sunday any exhibition or exposition for which the United States Government makes appropriations.”
This laid the groundwork for what was about to take place. The bill was essentially saying that if the US Government was to fund any major event, fairs or otherwise, Sunday would have to be kept sacred. This was done in anticipation of the largest, most significant commercial event in the history of the United States—The Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World Fair of 1893. Even though this bill failed to pass through the Senate, it inspired another effort to push through a Sunday Law. This second measure was introduced through the House of Representatives called H. R. 7520 and stated: “Sunday Civil Bill, loaning $5 million dollars to the Chicago World’s Fair, conditioned on Sunday closing.” This House Bill was passed and became law on August 5, 1892. Through this appropriation bill to fund a major event, the Sunday agitators finally achieved their objective, through stealth.
The City of Chicago and the planners of the event accepted the money along with the Sunday closing measure. All they cared was about the money. They would have to close the fair on Sundays. But this was not just any fair. This was a fair that would last 6 months and would commemorate the 400 year anniversary, 1492-1892, of Columbus reaching America in 1492. People from around the world would attend to showcase the latest technological advances, building and architectural engineering, foods, entertainment, arts, innovations and inventions.
On May 1, 1893 the fair opened. In just the first 3 months of the 6-month event, more than one-third of the US population visited the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This was truly a historical event, and the Sunday agitators were happy. They had planned their moves and achieved their objectives through “government funding.”
Yet, unknown to everyone, because of the financial success of the fair, the event planners for the Chicago World Fair retracted the condition of staying closed on Sunday. They saw a financial benefit for staying open seven days. So they opened the fair on Sunday and all 65,000 booths and exhibits began to conduct their business and the people came in droves, hundreds of thousands daily. It was a huge financial success.
This caused a volatile response from the angered Sunday Law agitators who demanded that everything be closed immediately. They began to picket and campaign with the strongest denunciations attempting to stop the desecration of the “Lord’s day.” It began a national debate and the Sunday agitators began to lobby Congress to enforce the law. The debate became so engrossed that even the Roman Catholic Church took advantage of all controversy over Sunday closing.
The famous Roman Catholic Cardinal Gibbons from Chicago gave his famous “Rome’s Challenge” during the 1893 Chicago World Fair in the publication called Catholic Mirror. He wrote a series of articles that openly challenged Protestants as to why they keep Sunday holy and why they were fighting for something that belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. The articles were featured in the September 2, 1893, September 9, 1893, September 16, 1893 and the September 23, 1893 issues of the Catholic Mirror. Rome was laughing at all the controversy as they saw the Protestant churches fighting to establish Sunday laws in America. Sounds familiar? This is exactly what we are also seeing today. The whole world was basically put on notice with “Rome’s Challenge.”
Sunday Measures Defeated Again
Again, for the glory of God, Alonzo Jones met that challenge. Praise the Lord he wasn’t afraid to stand up to Rome or the Sunday agitators. This is the kind of leader we need today. He did it in 1888 and 1889. Now, once again, in 1892 and 1893 he took up the challenge to speak in defense of religious liberty and to denounce the oppression by the national churches in using the arm of the state to impose their religion. In 1892 and 1893 Jones stood before the U.S. Congress and spoke to the “House Committee on Columbian Exposition.” Not only did he speak against the breach in both the Bible and the US Constitution, but this time he came with a signed petition of more that 350,000 signatures from US citizens who were opposed to the Sunday Law. Jones “respectfully dedicated” his speech to each of his signers. 
As a result the government held its peace and allowed the fair to stay open on Sunday even though the Sunday agitators managed to convince the people not to attend on Sundays. In the end the Sunday crowds remained small, but God’s people once again obtained a victory in defense of religious liberty. What can we learn from this lesson? Throughout all the ordeal of the 1893 Chicago World Fair (Columbian Exposition) there were two clear voices that stood out from all the conflicting voices, debates, and confusion. (1) Rome’s clear call that Sunday is her “mark” and all those who support this institution is honoring the papacy and not the Lord of the Bible. (2) Alonzo Jones stood out on the side of truth and righteousness. God will always have a people who will step up at every crisis to meet the challenge. Praise God!
“To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason.” (Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 136).
A True Religious Liberty Leader
Alonzo T. Jones did not stop advocating for religious liberty even after these victories. He continued speaking out against the dangers that Sunday laws pose to our freedoms. At the 1893 General Conference Sessions he preached 24 sermons and at the 1895 General Conference Sessions he preached 26 sermons on the subject of the three angels’ message. He spoke about righteousness by faith and exposed with precise accuracy the rise of the papal power and the Sunday movement. He plainly laid out the sins of Babylon and the danger of this nation becoming an image to the beast.
Are the leaders of the so-called “religious liberty” work today really following in the footsteps of Alonzo T. Jones? Are they exposing the fornication of Rome and her engagements with political leaders? Or are they participating in those illicit relationships? Alonzo T. Jones only did that which he felt convicted and authorized to do from the Spirit of Prophecy:
“The sins of Babylon will be laid open. The fearful results of enforcing the observances of the church by civil authority, the inroads of Spiritualism, the stealthy but rapid progress of the papal power,—all will be unmasked. By these solemn warnings the people will be stirred. Thousands upon thousands will listen who have never heard words like these. In amazement they hear the testimony that Babylon is the church, fallen because of her errors and sins, because of her rejection of the truth sent to her from Heaven” (Great Controversy, p. 606).
Unfortunately, our religious liberty leaders are not following this mandate today. To compare what religious liberty leaders are doing today to the noble efforts and intervention of Alonzo T. Jones is almost blasphemy in the eyes of the Lord. Jones preached on the real issues of religious liberty – the third angel’s message without fear or hesitation. When did Jones engage in pantheistic, ecumenical engagements with Rome? When did Jones enroll in Rome’s seminary to be nurtured by her? And what would Jones say today as Sunday is once again being promoted through stealth but this time under the pretext of saving the environment, and our leaders say and do nothing about it?  These are just some of the serious disparities between what is done now compared to what we used to do.
“The banner of truth and religious liberty held aloft by the founders of the gospel church and by God’s witnesses during the centuries that have passed since then, has, in this last conflict, been committed to our hands” (Acts of the Apostles, pp. 68, 69).
We have been given two banners – the banner of truth upon which is inscribed the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus; and the banner of religious liberty, which is to open the way so that we can share the truth of Revelation 14:6-12 to the world. We cannot and must not separate these two banners for they are one and the same work.