Ex parte Neet, 157 Mo. 527, 57 S.W. 1025 (Mo.1900)
What were the issues?
Is it unlawful to play baseball on Sunday in Missouri? Is habeas corpus available to someone convicted of playing baseball on Sunday?
John Neet was convicted of a crime for playing baseball on June 4, 1899, a Sunday, and sought to appeal his conviction. At that time, Missouri statute §2242 proscribed several activities on Sundays as follows: “Every person who shall be convicted of horse racing, cock fighting or playing at cards or games of any kind, on the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and fined not exceeding fifty dollars.”
The Kansas City court of appeals in State v. Williams, 35 Mo. App. 541, had previously interpreted the statute to specifically prohibit the playing of baseball on Sundays even though baseball was not mentioned explicitly in the section. This was because the “games of any kind” was construed to include baseball and the statute was “evidently intended to prevent the desecration of the Sabbath, by restraining the doing of those things which are offensive to a Christian community by being done on that day.”
Meanwhile, the St. Louiscourt of appeals in Association v. Delano, 37 Mo. App. 284, took the position that the “games of any kind” was intended to limit games of chance or of an “immoral tendency.” The court found that athletic games and sports “which tend to the physical development of the youth” are to be encouraged.
John Neet. The court found that he was imprisoned for an activity that was not unlawful and the writ of habeas corpus was granted, giving Mr. Neet his release from custody.
The court traced the origins of the statue under which Mr. Neet had been convicted and found that it was originally enacted in 1835, before baseball had been invented. Further, baseball was found to be a “game of science, of physical skill, of trained endurance, and of natural adaptability to athletic skill.” The court also, in an interestingly shortsighted passage, declared that baseball “is not a gambling game, nor productive of immorality.”
Ultimately, the court held that if the “games of any kind” provision of the statue was to be liberally construed, as in Williams, it might cover every game that had been or might be invented. They felt it was the legislature’s job to expressly limit the playing of baseball on Sundays, if they were so inclined.