Mr. Wharton to Mr. MacNutt .

No. 249.]

Sir: I have received your No. 344, of the 10th ultimo, upon the subject of the alleged conversion of private dwellings into places of religious worship or teaching, and inclosing a note verbale from the Turkish minister for foreign affairs respecting the matter, together with draft of your proposed answer conjointly with the British ambassador.

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While approving the general sense of your proposed note, the Department is inclined to modify the terms of it somewhat, with the purpose of presenting a broader or more liberal appreciation of the attitude of the Porte towards the practice as complained of in the note to you from the foreign office.

A private dwelling is no more to be regarded as “converted” into a church or school by household worship or teaching therein than as converted into a public ballroom or hotel by reason of a dancing party or a dinner party given by the householder to friends and acquaintances, provided the reasonable conditions of privacy are observed. On the other hand, for the virtual conversion of such a dwelling into a church or public place of worship outward and visible signs and public advertisement are not wholly essential. A meeting gathered together in a private residence by means of a general although oral invitation or notice to the neighborhood might, under certain circumstances, be justly described as a public meeting; and the continued repetition of such a meeting at such a house might result in a reasonable description of the house as a place of public worship.

The line between public participation in such meetings and their private limitation to the members of the household and their personal guests should be, if not already, sharply and consistently drawn and scrupulously observed by everybody concerned.

It is not difficult to see that the attendance of natives of the place at the private assemblies of foreign householders for prayer and religious instruction may be so numerous and constant as to pass the commonly understood bounds of private hospitality, and it is very desirable that the missionaries, for their part, should keep strictly within the rights of alien domicile.

The Department approves your purpose, with this instruction in mind, to answer the Porte’s note in concert with the British ambassador. Should your note, as modified by this instruction, and his note not prove identical, he will probably not object to acquainting you with the text of his communication.

I am, etc.,

William F. Wharton,
Acting Secretary.