The Random History of Blue Laws in the United States

The Random History of Blue Laws in the United States

Larry Holzwarth - January 8, 2020

The Random History of Blue Laws in the United States
Horse racing was banned on Sundays in many jurisdictions. Wikimedia

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.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Blue Laws Were Meant to Keep Sunday Holy”. Pernell Watson, Daily Press. September 29, 2002

“Sunday Sport Comes to Pennsylvania”. J. Thomas Jable, Pennsylvania State University. Pdf. Online

“The Old Blue Laws of Maryland”. Anita Beatty-Hoffman, Sheperdstown Chronicle. February 10, 2017

“No driving, liquor, or films: Michigan blue laws prevented secular activities on Sunday”. Stateside Staff, NPR. July 12, 2018. Online

“Blue laws? Blame the Puritans”. Ken Sheldon, Yankee Magazine. October 21, 2016

“The Puritan Experiment with Sumptuary Legislation”. Gary North, Foundation for Economic Education. June 1, 1974. Online

“The Long, Ambiguous History of Connecticut’s Blue Laws”. Patrick J. Mahoney, Connecticut History. January 27, 2015

“John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founder”. Francis Bremer. 2003

“Blue Laws: When Puritan Values Were the Law”. Jan Howard, The Newtown Bee. October 5, 2000

“Blue Laws”. Article, Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Online

“Blue laws as old as the South”. Ellen Debenport, UPI. August 6, 1984. Online

“Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People”. Jon Butler. 1990

“The Beer and Whisky League: The Illustrated History of the American Association – Baseball’s Renegade Major League”. David Nemec. 2004

“U.S. Supreme Court Upholds ‘Blue Laws’ Banning Trading on Sundays”. Article, Jewish Telegraphic Agency Archives. May 31, 1961

“ND stores to open Sunday morning after “blue law” ended Thursday”. Report, KFGO Fargo. August 3, 2019. Online

“Sunday, Sabbath, and the Weekend: Managing Time in a Global Culture”. Edward O’Flaherty, Rodney L. Petersen, Timothy A. Norton. 2010

“The Crazy Quilt of Blue Laws”. UPI, The New York Times. August 29, 1984

“Studies relaunch debate on further liberalization of shop opening hours”. Alexandra Scheele, Eurofound. December 27, 1999. Online