LAW OF THE BIBLE-BURNING CASE.
THE result of the trial of the Reverend Vladimir Petcherine is a proof that he ought not to have been indicted at all ; since the prosecution, with its conduct and conclusion, has tended to obscure both law and justice. It must remain matter of grave doubt, be- yond a technicality, whether the accused had any part whatever in the burning of the Bibles ; and the exclusion of his sermon from the evidence offered in defence contributed to strengthen that doubt, as the Law-officers of the Crown thus prevented our seeing the exhortation in connexion with the acts of the missionary's disciples. The probability is, that some ignorant zealot was guilty of excess of orders; although the absence of any testimony to that effect is remarkable. The Irish mob, however, have had an example of Bible-burning attended with impunity; they will still associate the saintly Vladimir Petcherine with Bible-burning, and with the prosecution, under a judge of irrepressible 'Ultra-Pro- testant feeling, which broke down so eompletely that it looked like baffled persecution. The houses in Dublin were illuminated ; but was it for the escape of Vladimir from an unfounded charge, or for the triumph over Protestantism and temporal authority P
The confusion cannot be blamed in Ireland, since in a certain degree it extends to England. We find among intelligent people a doubt whether the Bible-burners had not a "right" to burn a book which they hold it mischievous to circulate indiscriminately; and to deny that the Bible is the basis of the common law of this country, is regarded as an admission that there is no offence at law if the sacred volume be contemptuously destroyed. Laymen copy Judge Crampton's blunder. Christianity and the Bible have be- come essentially incorporated with the common law of England, but they are not the basis of the common law. Probably our common law would indirectly outlaw non-Christians, by not pro- viding them with the means, on various occasions, of obtauung justice through the instrumentality of an oath ; an imperfection which the statute law of later times has imperfectly corrected. But the basis of a common law which includes numberless cases where religion does not come in question is wont and usage. It is therefore an offence against the law to make a direct attempt at inciting rebellion against the authority of the Bible; although the basis of the common law is not in question.
Apart from the high legal view of the subject, the Bible-burners were guilty of a gross offence against common police law. By the custom of the country, the Bible is held in worship, and to treat it with contempt is to outrage the sense of decency. In order to constitute an offence against " bonos mores" it is not necessary that there should be a culpable motive. There are sects of Chris- tians who regard immersion naked as the proper form of baptism ; and they of course strip the body without any indecency of mo- tive. Simple nudity is not in itself offensive ; the common consent of cultivated taste regards pictures of the nude, when executed in the spirit of reverence for beauty, with respect and not revulsion. Yet there can be no question that the ceremony of baptism by immersion without clothing, publicly performed, is a flagrant of- fence against decency ; because in the feelings of the bystanders the act is indecent, and it incites the vulgar to derision and out- rages the feeling of the decorous. The police would neglect their duty if they did not interfere to prevent such an exhibition. So, whatever the motives of the perpetrators, persons who publicly treat the Bible with contempt are guilty of indecency, and violate the police law.
From a consideration of all the circumstances, it appears to us that the case should have been kept within the police courts, and not made the subject of an indictment before the Commission Court. The act was in every way a contemptible escapade, and it should have been corrected summarily. It was of a kind which naturally leads to breach of the peace. It was an insult flaunted by one sect in the face of another, calculated to provoke a return, and to begin a competition of insults ending in actual fighting. But protection, for the peace could have been afforded without solemnly raising important but inopportune questions only to obscure them.