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American Jewish Committee Proposes Plan for Sabbath Observance Law

The American Jewish Committee came out today with a statement, issued by its president Irving M. Engel, favoring the enactment of “fair Sabbath law” which would make it legal for observant Jews to keep their business enterprises open on Sundays, if they are closed on Saturdays for religious reasons.

The American Jewish Committee president also suggested that an Interfaith Advisory Commission be formed of representatives of the major religions to “explore, investigate and consult jointly and constructively” on the possible methods of Sabbath observance legislation.” A report by such a commission, which would take into consideration the diverse needs of the various groups, could then serve as a basis for reasoned and effective legislation,” Mr. Engel pointed out.

Predicting that the Sabbath observance legislation is likely to be an issue in a number of states across the country in the future, Mr. Engel warned of the danger of community conflict wherever this issue will arise. He expressed the belief that the creation of an Interfaith Advisory Commission can bring into harmony differences between contesting groups and make conflicts unnecessary.

CITES U.S. SUPREME COURT DECISION TO SUPPORT ITS VIEW

Mr. Engel referred to the recent more stringent Sunday closing law adopted by the New Jersey Legislature and the defeat of a bill for fair Sabbath law in New York. He emphasized that the present statue provisions as to Sunday observance could not be based on religious considerations. He argued that since under the American Constitution there is no state religion, no state can legislate a religious Sabbath.

The AJC leader cited an 1896 U. S. Supreme Court decision which described the fundamental theory behind Sunday observance laws as follows: “Opinions may differ, and they really do differ, as to whether abstaining from labor on Sunday is a religious duty; but whether it is or not, it is certain that the legislature has prescribed it as a civil duty.”

It follows therefore, Mr. Engel argued, that present Sabbath laws are designed to insure at least one day of rest and recreation and to further the physical, moral and mental well-being of the population. This, rather than a religious consideration, is the essential basis upon which Sunday observance legislation rests, he pointed out.

“In the selection of Sunday as the chosen day of rest we can assume that the states have not violated the constitutional restriction against religious preference but have merely acted to accommodate the majority–who observe Sunday as the Sabbath. Therefore, as a matter of simple justice and fair play–and to avoid any suggestion of religious preference–should not a similar accommodation be extended to those who in good conscience believe the Sabbath ought to be observed on a day other than Sunday and actually do keep their businesses closed on that day?” Mr. Engel asked.

“Denied such equal consideration by the laws of New York and New Jersey, an appreciable segment of the population of these states is compelled to refrain from business

on two days–Sunday and their own Sabbath, he continues. He goes on to point out that many states, to avoid discriminating against any religious group, have adopted what has come to be termed a “fair Sabbath law.” Such laws exempt from the Sunday closing requirement those places of business which are closed for religious reasons on another day of the week–provided that public worship on Sunday is not disturbed.

Thus, the intention of the Legislature to provide a day of rest is served without requiring greater sacrifices of one religious group than is required of others, Mr. Engel states. The American Jewish Committee favors the enactment of this type of legislation wherever Sunday closing laws already exist or are adopted in the future, he declared.

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