A Little Child Will Lead Them: Advent & Overtime

by Reverend Sarah Smoot

During the Christian season of Advent (Nov. 27 – Dec. 24, 2016) the church will hear messages from the prophet Isaiah. We remember a season in which the world waited for God’s promised Messiah, and we recognize that in many ways we stand in their shoes. The world is not as God desires it to be, or as we would like it to be. While we anticipate the Christmas celebration of Jesus Christ’s coming, we acknowledge that we now deeply need the teachings and ministries of Christ for the fulfillment of justice and holiness.

With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth… and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:4a, 6c)

Advent is a season of remembrance and of anticipation.

About a week ago our country’s anticipation of more just, expansive federal overtime protections was put on hold. As I lament the delay of President Obama and the Department of Labor’s ruling, I remember that our country has been through similar times before. I remember injustice; I acknowledge it in our present, and I anticipate a future of justice.

One hundred years ago, the United States Congress issued the Keating-Owen Act, which sought to end child labor by prohibiting interstate commerce of goods produced by companies who used child workers. Issued in 1916 and effective on September 1, 1917, the Act was struck down by the Supreme Court within a few months. The ruling of the Act as unconstitutional was the result of a lawsuit by a cotton miller. The Supreme Court’s decision ruled that Congress did not have authority to regulate products manufactured by children. Congress already had a similar regulatory power prohibiting the interstate commerce of liquor, prostitution, and lottery schemes. The Court maintained that Congress had authority over those products because the products themselves were immoral. Cotton as a product was good, and the law regulating commerce based on the means of production (child labor) was ruled unconstitutional. Although there was a dissenting minority report from the Supreme Court, the ruling stood for 24 years. *

Today this story sounds ridiculous. Our society agrees with the 1917 dissenter who said that the life of a child is certainly worthy of constitutional and congressional protection, and the means of production have moral significance equal to the products that we use and regulate. It was 1941 when our Court came to that agreement.

Although we have left child labor behind (legally), we stand today in the shoes of the children who had to wait for the protection of their lives. Moral injustices remain in our means of production. That some workers can be “salaried” and take home less than the minimum hourly wage is one of those injustices. One day we will look on this circuit court delay of the 2016 federal overtime ruling as ridiculous. I pray that day is coming sooner, rather than later. Let us be the people who speak up for the dignity and worth of all workers, to herald in that day’s coming.

Rev. Sarah Smoot is the pastor of Druid Hills and Holt United Methodist Churches in Tuscaloosa, AL. She worked as ICWJ’s organizer from 2014-2016.

* Keating-Owen Act info found on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammer_v._Dagenhart

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