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Secular Left and Conservative Right Are Talking About The Benefits of Sunday Blue Laws


You might remember this article “Bring Back the Blue Laws” which Crisis Magazine (a Roman Catholic group), published in June 17, 2020 in the midst of the Coronavirus lockdown restrictions to revive The Blue Laws as the solution to America’s problems. “the prohibition of secular business on Sunday is advocated on the ground that by it the general welfare is advanced, labor protected, and the moral and physical well-being of society promoted… America, for the sake of its own emotional and spiritual welfare—for the sake of its own sanity—needs to restore the blue laws.”

What will happen as a result of reviving these blue laws?

“The Protestant world have cherished an INSTITUTION OF THE PAPACY,–they have OBSERVED SUNDAY in preference to the Sabbath of the Lord their God,–and in compelling men to keep Sunday, under penalty of law, they are exalting the first day of the week, A SPURIOUS SABBATH, and casting dishonor upon the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. But the Lord says: “Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep; for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that YE MAY KNOW that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.“ Exodus 31:13 {ST, March 12, 1896}

On Monday, January 24, 2022, the Virginia state senate voted 29 to 11 (SB8) to allow people to hunt on Sundays on public or private land, so long as it takes place more than 200 yards from a place of worship.

Virginia’s ban on Sunday hunting is one of the last remaining “blue laws,” a relic of colonial times when laws prohibiting various activities were passed to encourage church attendance. Until 2014, Virginia had prohibited hunting on private land on Sundays, but the ban on hunting on public lands on one of the two days of the weekend has remained in place.

Virginia’s ban on Sunday hunting on public land is not without its quirks since it allows for shooting at targets and waterfowl but not other animals except for unfortunate raccoons which may be hunted until 2:00 a.m. If you want to know more about what you can hunt on Sundays, the state of Virginia explains it on this webpage: https://dwr.virginia.gov/hunting/hunting-on-sundays/faq/

Increased Chatter about Blue Laws

While blue laws have been declining for years, there is a quiet push to bring left and right together to give Americans at least a weekly break. The reasoning is that if people, particularly those who work hourly schedules, can all take a weekly break simultaneously, they can spend more time with their families or enjoy some stress-free relaxation.

From the left, some have begun promoting a four-day workweek. On January 9, Damon Linker, a left-leaning columnist for The Week, tweeted, “If you want to pass a law to give everyone at least one day off per week, I have no objection. But why say this has anything to do with “the sabbath” when only about 25% attend services weekly? Or is the idea that people will use the time to return to the pews? I doubt it.”

In response, the same day, Jeet Heer, a columnist for The Nationtweeted, “Elevator pitch: a secular Sabbath that starts on Thursday evening. This will create a 4-day work week and also preserve religious neutrality.”

On the right, Sohrab Ahmari wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath,” published on May 7, 2021. He tweeted about it again on January 9, 2022, saying that this article was his “argument … for restoring America’s blue laws and Sabbatarian tradition.”

Then, on January 11, 2022, Ahmari wrote in The American Conservative: “A campaign for the Sabbath can bring together labor unions, religious conservatives, and small-business owners (that last group historically opposed abolishing blue laws for lack of ability to compete). Can any other issue unite three core constituencies of the new right quite like Sabbath?” Amari notes that “Americans carved out a day of rest and worship going back to the colonial era, not just in Puritan New England, but even in New Amsterdam and Virginia.”

Joel Mathis, writing for the left-leaning publication, The Week, observed the conversations going on about blue laws. He concluded that “if the right and left can agree on anything these days, maybe it’s that workers should get a day off now and then.”

That society can shut down, and function was proven during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when all but “essential” services ceased in many jurisdictions. Decreased traffic led to cleaner air, and there were benefits to a day of rest.

Are Blue Laws Constitutional?

It may seem that there are apparent constitutional problems with Sunday blue laws designed to promote church attendance. But in 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the issue in McGowan v. Maryland, a case brought by employees of a discount department store who Maryland fined for selling items prohibited from selling on Sundays, including floor wax and loose-leaf notebooks. Maryland’s laws only allowed certain things like medications, tobacco, newspapers, and food to be sold on Sundays.

The employees said it violated their rights under the Free Exercise Clause. Still, the Supreme Court found that they only alleged economic injury, not an infringement on their religious practices. Even though blue laws historically aimed to promote church attendance, they were now based on secular reasons to improve “health, safety, recreation, and general well-being.” The Maryland law provided the same day of rest for everyone, and the fact that it was significant for Christians did not mean the state could not use it to meet secular goals. The Court noted that the law did not constitute an establishment of religion. (You can read the decision and listen to the oral arguments in McGowan here: https://www.oyez.org/cases/1960/8 )

Justice Earl Warren, writing for the McGowan majority, wrote, “the State seeks to set one day apart from all others as a day of rest, repose, recreation, and tranquility – a day which all members of the family and community have the opportunity to spend and enjoy together, a day on which there exists relative quiet and disassociation from the everyday intensity of commercial activities, a day on which people may visit friends and relatives who are not available during working days.”

He then wrote, “It would seem unrealistic for enforcement purposes and perhaps detrimental to the general welfare to require a State to choose a common day of rest other than that which most persons would select of their own accord. For these reasons, we hold that the Maryland statutes are not laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

Steven Greenhut, writing in the Orange County Register on January 20 in a piece titled, “Modern Pharisees think government creates virtue,” notes some pitfalls of blue laws, which can create an underground economy. “Instead of promoting virtue, they become a means by which special interests – such as small businesses and beer distributors – abuse the legislative process to limit competition.”  He writes, “Mandating that businesses close Sunday won’t do anything other than reduce jobs and give the rest of us fewer opportunities to go shopping and live our lives as we choose.”

While actual blue laws that specifically prohibit things like Sunday hunting may be disappearing from the books, there is an undeniable movement afoot to reintroduce the concept of a common day of rest in ways that appeal to people across the political divide. Modern approaches to blue laws are couched in secular terms and appear neutral on their face, yet they could adversely affect the livelihoods of those who do not observe the Sabbath on Sunday who would now be locked out of the labor market two out of seven days. In a larger sense, students of history would do well to recognize the signs and remember what happened to dissenters in Puritan New England.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ This command contains the principles of the first four precepts. And ‘thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Upon THESE TWO GREAT PRINCIPLES, the Word of God declares, HANG ALL THE LAW and the prophets. “These principles are made known by the third angel’s message, which declares that the Creator has always required and always will require obedience to his royal law. But this law HAS BEEN DISREGARDED AND TRANSGRESSED, and is now being ignored by the churches. HUMAN ENACTMENTS are placed where God’s law should be. SUNDAY, A CHILD OF THE PAPACY, HAS TAKEN THE PLACE OF GOD’S HOLY SABBATH. As Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image, and SET IT UP TO BE WORSHIPED BY ALL, so SUNDAY is placed before the people to be regarded as sacred. This DAY bears not a vestige of sanctity, yet it is held up to be honored by all.” {RH, April 27, 1911}


[1] McGowan v. Maryland | Oyez

[2] Left and right talking about benefits of Sunday blue laws – ReligiousLiberty.TV / Founders’ First Freedom®

[3] LIS > Bill Tracking > SB8 > 2022 session (virginia.gov)

[4] Hunting on Sundays in Virginia FAQs | Virginia DWR

[5] What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath – WSJ

[6] The Post-Liberals’ Fight for the Weekend – The American Conservative

[7] Americans need a break. Maybe blue laws can help. (theweek.com)

[8] Modern Pharisees think government creates virtue – Orange County Register (ocregister.com)

[9] Left and right talking about benefits of Sunday blue laws – ReligiousLiberty.TV / Founders’ First Freedom®

[10] https://www.crisismagazine.com/2020/bring-back-the-blue-laws


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