19. American Jews long opposed mandatory closing on Sundays
Blue laws which required the closing of businesses on Sundays were particularly hard on American Jews who observed the Sabbath on Saturdays, closing their businesses and suspending work. Blue laws, in nearly all cases, forced them to comply with the mandated Sunday closure as well. By the 1950s, 46 of the 48 states had blue laws which controlled commerce on Sunday, and only a few allowed some businesses to choose between closing on Saturday or Sunday. Christian-owned businesses generally opposed the choice, since they could permanently lose customers by closing on Sunday when Jewish-owned businesses were opened.
California twice passed Sunday closing laws, in 1858 and in 1861. The first was found unconstitutional just five months after it was enacted. It was used to convict and imprison a Jewish clothing merchant who closed his business on Saturday, and opened it on Sunday. The case was argued before the California Supreme Court (Ex Parte Newman), which overturned the sentence of the merchant and the law. The second law remained in effect until 1883. California’s blue laws gradually faded from disuse, as did the corresponding laws in many states, while others moved to enforce them more stringently.
20. North Dakota’s blue laws remained in effect until 2019
North Dakota became a state in 1889, and when it did nearly all businesses were required by law to remain closed on Sunday. Eventually, it changed to require retailers to remain closed until noon on Sunday, and then restricted what items could be sold. The requirement to remain closed until noon was based on the desire to prevent commerce from competing with church attendance. Twice the North Dakota law was challenged in the state’s Supreme Court, and twice the law was upheld. In 1985 groceries were allowed to open on Sunday, but not until noon. A few years later most businesses could open on the Sabbath, again not before noon.
The law was finally rescinded in the 21st century, allowing stores to be open all day Sunday (including some 24-hour stores) throughout the state, at the discretion of the business owner. Unless that business was a car dealership or dispenser of alcohol. The ban on Sunday automobile sales was continued, and alcohol sales were not allowed before noon on Sunday (though they could continue until 2.00 AM). The law also continued the ban on the sale of alcohol on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, as well as established 6 PM as the latest hour alcohol could be sold on Christmas Eve.
21. Blue laws restricted the sale of all sorts of items on Sunday
The blue laws across the country created a hodge-podge of what could or could not be bought by consumers on Sunday. In several states electronics such as computers, calculators, radios, and televisions were banned. Some items of clothing could be purchased while others could not. States and in some cases counties banned the sale of housewares, appliances, decorations, tools, linens, and many other items. In several states, one could purchase eggs, but not a pan in which to cook them. Most communities required merchants to rope off, barricade with signage, or otherwise signify items which were forbidden on Sunday.
Resistance to repeal of most blue laws came primarily from the clergy, though before Sunday shopping became commonplace throughout most of the country many businessmen agreed with the religious leaders. Some argued that the same amount of spending would take place each week, stretched over seven days rather than six, but there would be an increase in operating costs by paying workers for an additional day. The argument from the clergy was that shopping was in danger of becoming a national obsession. They argued that the day of rest represented by the Sabbath would become a stressful day, ignoring the fact that many people considered shopping a recreational activity.
22. The effect of the repeal of Prohibition on blue laws
Once Prohibition was repealed, states established blue laws to restrict and control the sale of alcohol within their boundaries. Many prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays, though for most states the sale of alcohol both for on-premises consumption and packaged was gradually eased. Still, restrictions on Sunday sales remained in effect in many places, as part of state law as well as local laws. Several states in the south had significant portions of them completely dry, while others had restrictions on Sunday sales. Several Georgia communities allowed Sunday sales in the 21st century, though the state mandated none before 12.30 in the afternoon, in deference to church services.
Massachusetts did not allow off-premises alcohol sales on Sunday until the 21st century either. But as a matter of practicality, it offered exemptions to liquor stores which were within ten miles of the New Hampshire and Vermont state lines. The exemptions showed an awareness that the good citizens of the Commonwealth would simply visit their northern neighbors for their Sunday purchases. The tax revenues left the state with them. Depending on how far one wanted to travel, Sunday purchase of alcohol was possible in Massachusetts even while the law said it was not. Massachusetts also required retail workers to be paid time and a half for Sunday labor, which was later repealed.
23. Mississippi’s blue laws were linked to its temperance history
The first state to ratify the 18th Amendment, which imposed Prohibition as the law of the land in the United States, was Mississippi. The state had banned alcohol within its boundaries a full decade earlier, in 1908. After national repeal in 1933, the states had the choice of remaining dry or allowing alcohol to be bought and sold within them, and Mississippi chose the former. It continued to enforce statewide prohibition until 1966. When counties and municipalities were allowed to choose wet or dry within the state, many elected to remain alcohol-free.
Mississippi’s blue laws prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays, in all its forms, except for on-premises consumption of beer. Alcohol sales were also banned on Christmas day. Mississippi long enforced Sunday closing laws in numerous communities, despite legal challenges to the laws. It has, along with most of the rest of the nation, gradually yielded to the demands of citizens for more freedom to shop on Sundays.
24. The Supreme Court found Sunday closing laws constitutional
The 1961 decision by the Supreme Court acknowledged that the blue laws, in Maryland and elsewhere, were based on the religious control of colonial governments. But it nonetheless found them constitutional. The court found, “In light of the evolution of our Sunday Closing Laws through the centuries, and of their more or less recent emphasis upon secular considerations, it is not difficult to discern that as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular rather than of a religious character, and that presently they bear no relationship to the establishment of religion”.
By the end of the 20th century, most Sunday closing laws had been eased, though in the Bible Belt local communities continued to enforce them. Most states however continued to enforce liquor laws on Sunday which differed from the other six days of the week, and several continued to ban the sales of automobiles on Sunday (or Saturday, in some cases). Several states continued to restrict hunting on Sundays.
25. Sunday closing laws were not limited to the United States
Until the 1990s in Great Britain, laws restricted the buying and selling of certain items on Sunday, and limited the types of stores and shops which could open for business. In 1994 the law was changed, allowing large stores to open for six hours of trading within the hours of 10 AM and 6 PM. Northern Ireland protected the Sabbath by prohibiting football played on Sunday until 2008 (Irish Football Association). Canada’s Lord’s Day Act (1906) restricted business transacted on Sunday until it was found to be a violation of freedom of conscience in 1985.
Some Canadian communities restricted the availability of leisure activities on Sunday until well into the 1960s. In Toronto, theaters were dark on Sunday, and those wishing to see a play or take in a movie were forced to consider other forms of entertainment. Denmark had strict laws banning trade on Sundays until 2012. In the United States, many states still have blue laws on the books, but simply ignore them. For example, the law in Kentucky making it illegal to work on Sunday (with, of course, certain exemptions) remained in effect in 2018, though it hadn’t been enforced for decades.
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