Contracts to import labor were forbidden by Federal law, and specifically by
the Alien Contract Labor Law, an Act of Congress passed in 1885 prohibiting
"the importation and migration of
foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor or
service of any kind in the
United States, its territories, and the District of Columbia."
The court held that a minister was not a foreign laborer under the statute
even though he was a
foreigner. There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning. They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons. They are organic utterances. They speak the
voice of the entire people. While because of a general recognition of this truth the question has seldom been presented to the courts, yet we find that in Updegraph v. Com., 11 Serg. & R. 394, 400, it was decided that, Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania.
Supreme Court Decision, 1892 Church of the Holy Trinity Decision v United States
The court used the soft plain meaning rule to interpret the statute in this case. Justice David Josiah Brewer made a principle of statutory construction that "It is a familiar rule, that a thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit, nor within the intention of its makers." Its decision stated that "the circuit court did err when it held that the contract hiring an English rector was within the prohibition of the statute, which disallowed a "...person, company, partnership, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever to prepay the transportation, or in any way assist or encourage the importation or migration, of any alien or aliens, any foreigner or foreigners, into the United States ... under contract or agreement ... to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States..."