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Blue Laws & Sabbatarianism in Modern America

Theocratic & Political Agenda Behind Resurrection of American Blue Laws


Legal enforcement of a "day of rest" was dormant until recent years, but cat-calls from the choir have been increasing. There is a subtext of anti-civil liberty ideology in defenses of blue laws. Efforts to recreate blue laws do not occur in a political or theological vacuum — they are part of a larger agenda to limit what people can do in the name of others' religious purity. If the state can forbid Sunday shopping because majority Christian sects prohibit it, what else will they prohibit?


Christian Churches Seeking Special Privileges

In Massachusetts, the Council of Churches initiated a campaign to pressure governments, schools, businesses, and civic groups to "respect" the "religious tradition of our churches" when scheduling their activities. It's not necessary to respect or consider any other traditions, evidently — just the religious traditions of the dominant forms of Christianity. Of course, churches don't need to bother respecting anyone's traditions or needs when scheduling their activities.

New York's Roman Catholic Cardinal John O'Connor criticized athletic leagues and other city groups for daring to have events on Sundays and Catholic holy days. In his regular column in The New York Times in 1998, he complained that events like Little League games were replacing his traditional Sunday church services. Earlier he announced that he would boycott Major League Baseball because all 30 teams had played games on Good Friday, some during the time scheduled for Good Friday Mass.

So what?

Even his poor flock recognized that the Cardinal stepped over the line of good taste and decorum. Interviews in the papers revealed strong negative reactions: one man was quoted as saying "I don't think that anyone has the authority — hopefully not in this country — to tell you that... Everybody's got their beliefs, and perhaps he's (O'Connor) overstepping his bounds."

Cardinal John O'Connor was not alone in this. In 1991 and 1993, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston wrote to then Massachusetts governor William Weld opposing Weld's plan to let stores open at 9 AM on Sundays instead of noon. Evidently, Law didn't think his churches could handle competition from Wal-Mart.

Pope John Paul II himself was involved in such efforts, too. In a 1991 encyclical issued, John Paul called upon governments around the world to recognize Sunday as the day of rest; he described this as "a human right, which is based upon a commandment." Funny, but I can't think of any human rights listed in any of the commandments. Sadly, it is all-too-common for some Christians to mistake their religious doctrines with "human rights." I find it curious that he thought his "day of rest" is a human right, but not the "day of rest" observed by other religions.

Pope John Paul II also urged leaders of the European Economic Commission to forcibly impose blue laws upon the citizens of Europe, with some success. He considered himself and his beliefs to be primary in the world marketplace — or at least the European marketplace — deserving a special position of support, recognition, and even enforcement. The last time the Catholic Church held such a position within Europe, it was a time of feudal repression, "the divine right of kings," bitter serfdom, and an absence of religious freedom. Is that what the Pope wanted to return to? European politics has progressed dramatically since those times, but has Rome? I doubt it.

If church leaders have trouble filling their pews, they should take a good look in the metaphorical mirror and figure out where they are going wrong such that people prefer other activities rather than church services. Falling attendance is the problem for the church leaders, not politicians. If religious leaders do their jobs properly, people will attend services regardless of alternative activities. Otherwise, people will choose different activities for their Sundays.

Guess which is currently happening?


Christians Against Religious Liberty

Throughout history, blue laws have been closely linked with religiously-biased social controls like anti-blasphemy and anti-obscenity regulations. Catholic and Protestant groups have worked to "safeguard public morality" through official endorsements of Sunday church services as well as the regulation of "immoral" books or art to enforce their religious ideology on the populace.

Any attempt to restrict people's activities on Sundays means that the government is telling people that it is better to attend church or accept a religiously mandated "rest day" than engage in normal commerce or socially oriented leisure activities. If the government uses the law to allow a Catholic church to operate but a Wal-Mart not, the message is unmistakable and unambiguous.

Why should my government tell me I should be in church rather than attending a ball game or shopping? It not only favors religion over non-religion, but necessarily favors some religions over others. Such measures are supported solely by those who do not genuinely value other people's freedom. Instead, they value their own religious dogmas over anything that another person might believe.

What would people say if theater owners demanded that other businesses and church activities be restricted to encourage people to attend movie showings? What if any business demanded that their activities be protected at the expense of all others? These priests and holier-than-thou pundits don't realize — or just don't want to believe — that a free and enlightened society must allow its citizens to freely choose what they do on Sundays.

If we want and deserve the kind of society where we have the freedom to choose and where options are not dictated by a few churches, then we must oppose efforts to impose religious ideology on us. Fortunately, most people — including most Christians — support their right to do as they will on Sundays, but political winds can shift. Ignoring the issue won't make it go away — it has to be brought out in the open and exposed for what it is.

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