Men in Black Robes: Then and Now
In this year of 2015, it would be very interesting to know if any reader ever heard the name of David Josiah Brewer, an Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, 1889-1910. Or has any modern law student studied Brewer’s decisions on the Court? The most important case is The Church of The Holy Spirit v. United States, decided February 29, 1892. This was on the Eve of the 20th Century.
If the case has been so buried in the past century, why is it important for us to study this particular case, and its unanimous decision, written by Justice David Josiah Brewer? Believe me. It has tremendous meaning in both the political and spiritual life of our nation, in 1892 and today. The understanding of the significance of this case may well predict the very existence of Religious Liberty for your children and grandchildren.
Seven years before this case came to trial, a law had been passed in Congress, Feb. 26, 1885. Its intent was “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.”
The Church of the Holy Spirit had employed a minister from England, E. Walpole Warren, to come to the United States to serve as their pastor. The United States Government charged the Church with violating the 1885 law by making contract with the minister, “importing an immigrant to do labor.”
At trial, the church did not plead the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, but pled the argument that the law should not apply to the church and its foreign pastor. The defense was rejected and the lower court ruled against the church.
The case went to the Supreme Court.
Justice Brewer demonstrated that the lower court was in error in its decision because it was based on the Letter of the Law and not on the Intent of the Law. For the lower court to rule that the church’s contract with the minister was illegal would be absurd in the eyes of the court.
It is interesting to note that the justices had no problem with the law in question. In fact, they noted that “large capitalists in this country” made contracts with “an ignorant and servile class of foreign laborers… at a low rate of wages,”… and thereby broke down “the labor market and reduced other laborers engaged in like occupations to the level of the assisted immigrant….”
Justice Brewer used the opportunity in this case to show how damaging it would be for the government to inject itself and appear to be “against religion.”
In the decision, which was unanimous, Justice Brewer documented the evidence that America’s earliest colonists, and continuing through the Founding as a nation, “came pursuant to the Great Commission.”
Secondly, he documented the organic evidence that the Providential Purpose of America had never changed over 300 years. Declaring America, A Christian Nation, was based on solid evidence.
Justice Brewer rendered 700 decisions in his career which spanned 46 years in numerous judicial positions, including the Supreme Court of Kansas, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U. S. Supreme Court (1889-1910).
Another remarkable trait of this man was his availability to give lectures on the subject of our Christian Heritage and its relationship both to Religious Liberty and to the Political sphere. He saw the role of religion in American life as the cause of her prosperity, but much more….
“Churches and church organizations… abound in every city, town, and hamlet… a multitude of charitable organizations exist… everywhere under Christian auspices… gigantic missionary associations, with general support… aim… to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe.”
Supporting the influence of the Christian faith, Justice Brewer observed that the American people had established the civil orders based on the laws of God. It was evident that the nation’s “founding purpose was to advance the Christian faith.” This great Truth, as the source of Liberty, was his passion.
Born of missionary parents in Smyrna, Asia Minor in1837, the family, during his childhood, returned to New England and he entered Wesleyan College at age 15.
Moving to Yale, he graduated at age 19, and attended Albany Law School. Admitted to the Bar in New York, he ventured West in a gold mining expedition.
He settled in Kansas and held numerous judicial positions with great acclaim. A noted scholar and devout Christian, his understanding of this nation’s Providential Founding and mission was observed consistently in his personal and public life.
His decisions stated that no government action could be legally taken to harm the Christian religion by state or national government, because this is a religious people. In reviewing the evidence, Justice Brewer cited the commission to Columbus by Ferdinand and Isabella, “by the Grace of God, continents and islands will be discovered.”
The First Charter of Virginia stated its purpose… “by the Providence of Almighty God… in propagating the Christian religion to such people that live in darkness and in miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.” He quoted the Colonial charters, one by one, citing Divine Providence and the establishment of the Christian religion foremost in every new territory.
The importance of these documents has been lost to modern history and to the American classrooms. William Penn, in his charter of Pennsylvania, 1701, wrote, “Because no people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyment of civil liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Conscience…Faith and worship doth enlighten the Minds and persuade and convince the understanding of people.”
Justice Brewer cites the rich Christian wording in the Declaration of Independence, and in support of that Declaration, our Founders pledged to each other, “our lives, our fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”
Every Constitution of every State recognized religious obligations of the people. In many it was spelled out that belief in the existence of God was necessary to hold office in government. There is a universal language, the Justices declared, that this is a religious nation, and that “the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines of worship of those imposters.”
American Vision has republished the court record and a review of the case, along with additional material on Justice Brewer’s lectures, etc. A large portion of the book is a republication of a publication by John C. Winston Co. in 1905.
It contains an introduction by Gary DeMar, President of American Vision, and a review of the case by Dr. Herb Titus, prominent attorney who has served at numerous universities with great distinction, and now resides at Chesapeake, Va. The book is available from American Vision, and titled, The United States: A Christian Nation.
For all the recent generations who did not study America’s true History in school, this book documents that this nation’s legacy of Liberty comes from Biblical Christianity in faith and practice. Without the profession of faith in the One True God, there will not be liberty and the Blessings of Providence.
With the great heritage of the Protestant Reformation, can we say with Martin Luther, “my conscience is captive to the Word of God?”
Can we agree with George Washington, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are the indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.”
The clergy served in general assemblies, conceived of the first common schools, often penned the charters and constitutions, and preached the Principles of Liberty without Compromise. This discipled the Nation.
John Witherspoon, President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), trained 1 Vice President, 3 Supreme Court Justices, 10 Cabinet members, 12 governors, 60 congressmen and many state leaders, too numerous to list.
Pastors in those black robes brought us the Great Awakenings with the Reformation messages. The men in black robes on the courts of America were Biblically literate and the majority committed to the Christian Faith. This was displayed in the wordings of their decisions, upholding the Law of God and our Constitution.
Today, what picture prevails in our minds when we see “men in black robes.?” Certainly, here in Alabama, we are thankful that our Supreme Court displays faithfulness to the cause of Christian Liberty. Sadly, this is not true nationwide on the courts of the land. We see the destruction of our religious and civil liberty at every turn, and we sometimes cry aloud with the Psalmist, “If the Foundations be destroyed, what shall the Righteous do?” Psalm 11:3
Obviously, our mandate is found in Scripture as well: “Proclaim Liberty throughout All the Land.” Lev. 25:10. This scripture is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Ames is a lifelong educator and advocate for the faith of Jesus Christ and liberty under law. In 1965, with her husband’s help, she co-founded what would eventually become Emerald Mountain Christian School in Montgomery, Alabama. The associated Hoffman Educational Center and Emerald Mountain School continue to serve the community and nation.
© 2015 Used by Permission