20 DECEMBER 1930, Page 4

Sunday Amusements

THE question of the proper observance of Sunday, having been raised in a rather wide form, will have to be answered ; and if the answer is to be satisfactory it must be in accord with general feeling, for no observance worthy of the name can be ensured except by consent. Those who wish to perpetuate the Sabbath Day Observance Act of 1781 (in order, presumably, that people may fill the churches because they will be deprived of anywhere else to go) are, though fanatically mistaken, not more mistaken than those who think that Englishmen would tolerate the transformation of Sunday into something indistinguishable from the other days of the week—except, of course, that there would be no work.

The present controversy began a fortnight ago when a Judge of the High Court decided that as the Sabbath Day Observance Act of 1781 was still On the Statute Book the London County Council had no right to license cinema performances on Sunday. Shortly afterwards a grotesque point was given to this verdict by a young lady of Hackney who appeared as " public informer " and claimed from various places of entertainment and newspapers large forfeits for violations of the Act. She explained that she was acting spontaneously, not under the inspiration of any religious society. Her precise motive is undeclared. She may be a Savonarola rebuking the sins of her day. According to the law, however, a public informer may claim for himself, or herself, any fines granted by the Court.

It has been said that our latest public informer has claimed from the cinema theatres no less than £195,000. The amounts for which the newspapers would be liable on the ground that they have published advertisements of Sunday performances have not been estimated, but the Daily Mail has humorously reckoned that if each copy of a newspaper was held to contain a separately published advertisement the total sum to be paid to the public informer would appreciably exceed the National Debt. Then there is the case of the B.B.C. which is not comparable with the cinema theatres, but which Undoubtedly provides Sunday amusements. And, yet again, there is the recent growth of dog-racing on Sundays. No doubt the list of those liable could be much further expanded. Fortunately, it seems that under the Remission of Penalties Act of 1875 the Crown could remit penalties incurred under the Act of 1781.

No law ought to be kept on the Statute Book when it is violated by everybody and when the authorities sympathise with the violators and are' violators them- selves. Rules which exist only to be broken make the law ridiculous. Of course, it will be said that there are several obsolete Acts in the Statute Book. But the fact is that they do not cause ridicule because nobody remembers them. The Act of 1781 might have been left harmlessly in its obscurity if an action in the High Court and a public informer had not restored it to everybody's memory.

It is a very encouraging reflection that Englishmen seem to have an unlimited capacity for changing the letter but keeping alive the spirit. Great Britain has more institutions bearing old names and forms but totally changed in purpose than any country in the world. What is needed' is that Sunday should remain not only a day of rest from labour, but a day distinguished by its customs and character from other days. More than ever in our rushing and clattering world men and women need a " breather," a " let-up," when they will be dissociated from a large part of their customary surroundings. Nice distinctions cannot be

enforced by law, but though we see no objection what- ever to golf, cricket, and football on Sunday, we should like to see them always played under conditions different from those of the week-day. On Sunday games ought not to be public spectacles with gate-money charged.

As actors and actresses also require a weekly rest, we do not see how regular theatrical companies could possibly play on Sundays. Films are obviously different from plays. Most of the cinema performances on Sunday are conducted, we believe, on only a partly commercial basis. A share of the profits is given to

charities. In some areas the local authorities insist— we do not know by what exact process—on a standard of seemliness in films displayed on Sunday, and they also require that nobody employed in a cinema theatre on Sunday shall thereby work seven days a week.

The operation of such rules, apparently without too much difficulty in enforcing them, proves that they are practicable. Very few people even pretend nowadays that all people can stop working on the same day. If it were otherwise much hardship would be inflicted ; doctors would not be able to travel far to the succour of sick persons ; relations could not visit relations on the only day when they are free ; and such places of instruction and improvement as museums could not be opened, for no better reason than that their opening requires the presence of a staff.

After all, any careful reading of the New Testament shows that the Founder of Christianity never imposed statutory obligations. He carefully confined Himself to asserting magnificent principles which were capable of universal application. " The Sabbath was made for

man, not man for the Sabbath." The " English Sunday " which was strictly observed by our grandfathers did not, of course, always exist. It was a Puritan creation.

Laud was accustomed not merely to consent to amuse- ments on Sunday but positively to encourage them— after people had been to church !

The News Chronicle of Tuesday published some inter- esting proposals by the Rev. Henry Carter—based on such experience as we have described for the regulation

of places of entertainment on Sunday. He suggests, first, that there should be no performance on Sunday

for commercial profit. Accounts would be audited, and after " legitimate expenses " had been paid the balance would go to charity. Secondly, entertainments should

be " outside church hours." Thirdly, no employee should work seven days a week. Lastly, a Cinema Films Committee, appointed by the local authority, should secure that the films shown should " not conflict with the moral sense of the community." We see several difficulties there. It would be almost impossible to prove what were " legitimate expenses." And although local censorship on Sunday may have worked well enough when there was no heat of controversy, the position of a Films Committee under a brand new scheme would probably be uneasy and possibly untenable. Any capable spokesmen for film enterprises would, no doubt, be able to break down a definition and make out a strong case for the principle that all art is inspiring and there- fore appropriate to the best of days. And goodness knows what " art " might contain.

These and many other difficulties, however, will be by no means unsurmountable if there is common sense. The common sense of the matter is that the vast majority wish Sunday to be still Sunday in essence. Compromises do not fail when there is an almost universal wish to maintain them.