Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Way We Are: Setting Sunday Apart

When religion meets economics

Posted By Rita Kohn on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 at 1:33 PM

Blue Laws. What are they? When did they appear? How did they get the color designation? Whom do they affect? Why did they become essential to Indiana's way of life? Where are they taking us now?

Jan. 22, at the Indiana State Museum, an audience engaged in a spirited conversation with a panel including Ball State Professor Michael Hicks, Butler Professor Jason Lantzer, ISM staff member Katherine Gould and journalist John Krull.

Blue Laws generally refer to activities not allowed on Sunday. Most prominent is disallowing sale of alcoholic beverages in one form or another. Among other forbidden activities are car sales, hunting and various forms of entertainment. There's a website dedicated to "Silly Sunday Laws."

Sunday laws entered into the mainstream of what is now the U.S. from the beginning of European settlement on the North American continent. The very same groups of people who sailed away from 'home' for religious freedom established their sets of beliefs as the norm for everyone when they colonized the New World. Religion and secular merged as one entity.

No one knows for certain how laws pertaining to Sunday restrictions came to be called "blue." Of the many suppositions, scholars on the subject tend to agree "blue" refers to "morally rigid" in a disparaging sense rather than having gained its epithet from the blue paper Samuel A. Peters used to print his now largely discredited 1781 history of laws in Connecticut.

The panelists referred to the "ebb and flow" of religious to secular regarding acceptable behavior, with the dominant religion taking precedence. Everyone living within a geopolitical entity has been expected to abide by what the simple majority considered right. But individual choice has fought for a foothold. "What has been the spur for Indiana to maintain Blue Laws?" posited Krull. Lantzer believes it's public perception. Over time Sunday restrictions define who we are, even if we don't actually belong to the originating religion.

Blue Laws came into being as municipal and state prerogatives and once on the books remained intact even when Federal law, the 18th Amendment, negated Blue Laws as such. What Repeal did, however, is give even more power to local control. Each state can regulate at will. So what happens when Indiana has restrictive Sunday alcohol sales and all the other states surrounding have open Sunday sales? Legislators look at lost tax revenues, residents look at free will, business owners look at bottom line.

Degree of ease of transportation determines how we live, and how we can obtain products we want when we want them. Some of us don't want to have to plan ahead or go to multiple sites to shop.

Hicks asked us to consider the accepted notion of a day of rest, and how that is affecting current debate about changing or not Indiana's Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages. "A day off" has different meanings to different people. Small retail business models have been predicated on the notion that it's a level playing field for Indiana's alcohol industry, mostly dominated by the products of now foreign-owned corporations. Who gets hurt, who prospers when there's a change in long-standing business practices originally dictated by Blue Laws?

Religion has morphed into economics. Gould pointed to the long-range effects of Prohibition, including obliterating an entire industry and changing the notion of acceptable beverage to sugared "soft drinks." Prohibition also changed mores and attitudes towards each other.

"No other issue cuts so deep and wide as does Prohibition," said Lantzer. "It touches every strand in the fabric of society and is part of what drives moral and economic elements, intellectual and emotional issues, of our society."

Exhibit: American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

When: continues through Feb. 15

Where: the Indiana State Museum


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