NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 19, 2005

Governments should not impose what is essentially a religious observance or ban otherwise legal behavior, says USA Today. Today, "blue law" prohibitions on Sunday commerce and activities exist in 17 states and hundreds of communities across the nation.

Blue laws banning commerce on Sundays and holidays were inspired by the Puritans in the 1600s. Travel, work and missing church was strictly forbidden. Attire was also strictly regulated.

While attitudes have relaxed during the past four centuries, some laws are still enforced, even though they are widely confusing. Consider:

  • In Massachusetts, grocery stores must close on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but convenience stores selling the same goods can open.
  • In Bergen County, N.J., blue laws bar the Sunday sale of clothing, appliances and furniture -- but boats, hardware, antiques and jewelry are not affected; some store owners must rope off aisles of prohibited items.

Since 2002, 12 states have rolled back their blue laws to permit Sunday liquor sales. In days of giant budget woes, it brings in needed tax revenue. Pennsylvania has gained more than $22 million since 2003 when it allowed Sunday sales, notes the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Blue-law supporters maintain that a day of rest is necessary and that reluctant employees are forced to work Sundays. But sensible laws exist to protect workers who wish to observe the Sabbath.

Opponents of blue laws argue:

  • Many employees want to work Sundays to earn extra income, often at a mandatory time-and-a-half rate.
  • Sundays are the second busiest shopping day; preventing commerce just makes life more difficult for busy people.
  • In an era when consumers can shop 24/7 on the Internet, blue laws put brick-and-mortar retailers at a competitive disadvantage.

Source: Editorial, "Time to Erase 'Blue Laws:' Puritanical Bans Step on Rights of Merchants, Workers, Customers," USA Today, December 9, 2005.


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