Monday, January 16, 2017

Don't be blue about blue laws

By Jack Zaleski on Jan 15, 2017 at 7:03 a.m.

The debate about blue laws, the prohibitions on commercial activity on Sunday, is older than the nation. Today's much-modified laws are rooted in Puritan New England. Early blue laws are documented in a 1656 publication by the settlement of New Haven, Conn., that set down what was and was not permitted on the Christian Sabbath. The debate has gone on in the states at various levels of intensity since the colonial era, and is on the calendar at the North Dakota Legislature—again.

North Dakota relaxed its blue laws in 1967 and in 1991. There are all sorts of exceptions to Sunday closings, but since '91 most retail stores must be closed from midnight Saturday to noon Sunday. A proposal at the Legislature would allow Sunday opening all day, like every other day of the week.

Let it happen.

Why should government mandate a "day of rest" on Sunday when it's none of government's business when I or anyone else takes a day of rest? Why should North Dakota lawmakers, most of whom believe government intervention and regulation are anathema, arbitrarily determine that Sunday morning is off limits to buying groceries or tools? Why should government covertly endorse the Sunday Christian Sabbath when the diversity of religion in this state embraces many definitions of "the sabbath"?

Some church leaders apparently want government to partner with churches in order to fill the pews on Sunday morning. Bad idea. If churches are worried about sliding Sunday attendance, they should be looking at themselves. If church attendance is falling (it's not a crisis in North Dakota), preachers should concede their message is not resonating, particularly among young people, where there is compelling evidence millennials are the most unchurched generation in history.

Silly me. I believed sociologists and pundits who said the '60s and '70s generation would be damned to hell—we baby boomers, who now make up the graying, fading and dying mainstays of most mainline congregations. And whose children and grandchildren, in increasing numbers, want nothing to do with traditional church life.

Blue laws, however modest, do not determine church attendance. Persons of faith who value a congregational family will be in church Sunday morning regardless of Walmart's hours. Others don't attend because church does nothing for them. That has nothing to do with Sunday morning retailing.

A day of rest or going to church are personal matters. The Legislature should be about enhancing free choice, not demonizing choices some lawmakers don't like. Faith leaders who seek government endorsement of a sabbath disguised as a day of rest, confirm the failure of their message.


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