On Liberty Questions and Answers
by John Stuart Mill

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What does Mill means when he says "Sabbatarian legislation" in "On Liberty"? Explain in detail.

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John Stuart Mill mentions Sabbatarian legislation as an “important example of illegitimate interference with the rightful liberty of the individual.” By Sabbatarian legislation, Mill means laws that keep one day of the week (Sunday, in Christian countries) sacrosanct, forbidding work on that day. Mill admits that it may well be beneficial to keep one day free from work and that a law which simply suspends business and industry for one day a week probably does no harm and may do good. However, he says that such legislation must not “apply to the self-chosen occupations in which a person may think fit to employ his leisure; nor does it hold good, in the smallest degree, for legal restrictions on amusements.”

Of course, Mill continues, it is clear that some people’s amusements furnish the occupations of others. However, only a very small percentage of the working populations needs to work on Sundays to provide these amusements and these people must be free to choose such occupations, which provide extra pay for extra work. If they prefer not to work on Sundays, they can choose alternative employment. The only defense for Sabbatarian legislation against amusements, therefore, is religious, and the demand that one person should obey the conscience of another in religion is the origin of all religious persecution:

Though the feeling which breaks out in the repeated attempts to stop railway traveling on Sunday, in the resistance to the opening of Museums, and the like, has not the cruelty of the old persecutors, the state of mind indicated by it is fundamentally the same. It is a determination not to tolerate others in doing what is permitted by their religion, because it is not permitted by the persecutor's religion.

Sabbatarian legislation, therefore, is any legislation which attempts to keep one day of the week sacrosanct. Mill regards it as justified if it merely suspends most forms of work, since this benefits the workers, but unjustified if it prevents people from amusing themselves as they wish or from assisting others in doing so.

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