Alcohol Blue Laws (Laws Prohibiting Sunday Sales of Alcoholic Beverages)
A blue law is one restricting activities or sales of goods on Sunday, to accommodate the Christian sabbath. The first blue law in the American colonies was enacted in Virginia in 1617. It required church attendance and authorized the militia to force colonists to attend church services.
Other early blue laws prohibited work, travel, recreation, and activities such as cooking, shaving, cutting hair, wearing either lace or precious metals, sweeping, making beds, kissing, and engaging in sexual intercourse. The Puritans believed that a child was born on the same day of the week on which it was conceived. Therefore, the parents of children born on a Sunday were punished for violating the blue law nine months earlier.
Blue laws have operated to protect Christian business owners from competition on their sabbath. However, they don't protect from competition those (such as Jews and Muslims) whose sabbath is Saturday. Thus blue laws have established a double standard in favor of Christians.
Although blue laws requiring Sunday church attendance disappeared in the nineteenth century because they violated citizen' rights to religious freedoms, other blue laws have continued to exist into the modern era. In Texas, for example, blue laws prohibited selling house wares such as pots, pans, and washing machines on Sunday until 1985, and car dealerships in the state continue to operate under blue-law prohibitions. Many states still prohibit selling alcohol on Sunday, although it's now the second busiest shopping day of the week.
In 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Lord's Day Act of 1906 was an unconstitutional violation of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms It found that there was no legitimate secular basis for the legislation and its only purpose was, in effect, to establish a state religious-based requirement, and was therefore invalid.
Similarly, courts in New York and Connecticut have ruled that, because blue laws were created and propagated by religious groups for religious purposes, they are unconstitutional. Nevertheless, blue laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays continue to exist and be enforced.
Religion, Morality, and Blue Laws
The town of Henderson in Kentucky will vote on whether or not to permit restaurants to serve alcohol beverages with meals on Sundays.
Support for maintaining the colonial-era Blue Law prohibitions against the sale of alcohol on Sundays is largely based on the religious beliefs held by some Christians. A typical letter to the editor of the town's newspaper asserts that even discussing such an option is thrusting "an immoral sword" deep into Henderson.
The letter explains that "We believe the church plays a critical role in our nation, therefore we do not believe the historical documents of this country, our state, or our local government teach anywhere of a separation of church and state"
It continues that "We are opposed to Sunday alcohol sales because it is Biblical to do so; it is the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."
Opposition to Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages is frequently, if not usually, based on religious beliefs.
Some communities are voting on whether or not to allow Sunday alcohol sales or on whether to overturn old laws prohibiting any sale of alcohol. In virtually all news reports, opposition to such change is organized by a local minister who contends that drinking is prohibited by the Bible or otherwise against the will of God.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, the founding pastor at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Rincon, Georgia, expresses concern that people in such communities are only hearing from local religious leaders who oppose alcohol sales or alcohol sales on Sundays and are coming to the conclusion that such an issues is one of Christians against non-Christians.
Dr. LeFavi says that what he sees as vital to these debates "is a clear separation between Holy Scripture and personal opinion." The Bible makes it clear that Jesus drank wine (Matthew 15:11; Luke 7:33-35) and approved of its moderate consumption (Matthew 15:11). Rev. LeFavi says the Bible makes clear that alcohol beverage is neither good nor bad in itself.
An editorial in South Carolina's Independent-Mail notes that much of the opposition to Sunday alcohol sales uses religion as its justification. However, it notes that "Nowhere in the Bible does it say, 'Thou shalt not drink alcohol on Sunday.'"
Effects of Alcohol Blue Laws
Based on current scientific research evidence, it appears that Sunday package alcohol sales do not increase alcohol-related traffic crashes or fatalities nor do they pose a heath hazard. To the contrary, Sunday sales may reduce heavy drinking on Saturdays, thereby providing a health benefit.
New Mexico lifted its ban (Sunday Blue Law) against packaged alcohol sales on July 1, 1995. Analyzing traffic crash data collected between January of 1990 and December of 2005 by the Division of Government Research in New Mexico, and adjusting for such factors as an increase in the state's speed limits in 1996, researchers found no increase in total alcohol-related accidents nor in alcohol-related fatal crashes on Sundays after the repeal of the ban on alcohol sales.
Sunday liquor sales are prohibited in Gallup, NM. As a result, a chain store there has decided to halt sales of hairspray and mouthwash on Sundays because some customers dilute them with water to make drinks called "ocean water." Similarly, other stores now keep hairspray, mouthwash and vanilla extract behind the counter.
Abolishing Washington State's old "blue law" in a number of state-run and private stores increased state revenue without any increase in alcohol-related or other problems.
Abolition of the Blue Law in New Mexico that had prevented the sale of packaged alcoholic beverages on Sundays was followed by a drop in both alcohol-related traffic crashes on and in alcohol-related traffic fatalities on that day of the week.
Permitting the sale of alcohol on Sunday, the second busiest shopping day of the week, increases tax revenues, but doesn't increase either drunk driving or underage drinking.
Blue Law in Georgia
A Superior Court judge handed down a decision calling the city of Atlanta's and the state of Georgia's prohibitions against Sunday bar openings unconsititutional.
The ordinances prohibit alcohol sales on Sundays, but provide exceptions for many venues, including hotels, bowling alleys, sports arenas, auditoria, festivals, and any establishments that receive at least 50% of gross revenue from food.
However, the alcohol blue law continues to exist in Georgia.
Georgia is one of only three states that still has a total prohibition on the retail sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays although it appears that a majority of Georgians want to abolish the colonial-era Blue Laws.
A poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that over two-thirds of respondents across the state favor ending the prohibition, a proportion that rises to 80% in metropolitan Atlanta.
Puritan-era Blue laws prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays should be abolished says Georgia state Representative Roger Williams, chair of the House Regulated Industries Committee.
An analysis of the 12 states that have abolished the Sunday sales prohibition since 2002 "shows that the repeal has been a huge success both commercially and socially. It's been a boon to for customers, and there has been no negative social impact in states that have moved to Sunday sales" of alcoholic beverages, reports the legislator.
Blue Law in Connecticut
Connecticut is the only state in the northeast U.S. that has not yet abolished its Puritan-inspired Blue Law against the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays.
"Connecticut must legalize Sunday alcohol sales" asserts a newspaper editorial. It points out that in the 1600's, religiously inspired blue laws were passed to curb such behaviors as dice games, card playing and sexual intercourse on the Sabbath. Also prohibited was commerce, including buying alcohol beverages on that day.
While virtually all the other prohibitions were abolished decades ago, the law forbidding consumers from purchasing alcohol beverages has continued for 400 years. "All blue laws are inherently flawed , unconstitutional statutes, as they unjustly impose subjective religious standards onto the general population" observes the commentary.
The editorial concludes that "the Connecticut legislature needs to realize that the ban on Sunday alcohol sales is wholly unconstitutional, and that it has had a deleterious effect on personal liberty simultaneously costing the state millions of dollars in tax revenue. Accordingly, the state government should repeal this foolish law and finally grant the states' residents the freedom they deserve."
More Blue Laws
Whenever Christmas falls on a Sunday, Massachusetts state law prohibits the sale of any alcohol beverages the next day. This prohibition remains in effect although the state's Colonial-era Blue Law ban on Sunday sales of alcohol was repealed in 2003.
Most residents assumed that the repeal of the Sunday sales prohibition also meant repeal of the quirky Monday prohibition. No so, says the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Although the law is apparently completely illogical, it will be enforced.
A state senator in Michigan proposes lifting the state's prohibition against Sunday morning alcohol sales. Sen. Gilda Jacobs' bill would permit the sale of alcoholic beverages between 7 am and 12 pm on Sundays.
Sen. Jacobs observes that "it's OK to drink Saturday morning and go to the store but not OK on Sunday morning?
Readings on Alcohol Blue Laws:
- Alcohol sales: Beyond demon rum. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 11,2005.
- Ammons, David. WA Sunday liquor sales a big hit. Associated Press, January 20, 2007.
- Anderson, S.R. Governor John G. Richards and the Blue Laws. M.A. thesis, University of South Carolina, 1983.
- Blue Laws. The Columbia Encyclopedia. NY: Columbia University Press, 6th ed., 2001.
- Blue laws has some in state seeing red: This is getting embarrassing, Tuscaloosa News, April 21, 2008.
- Blue Sunday, Tulsa World, April 16, 2008.
- Brubaker, Brandy. Group wants to end W. Va. blue laws: One of 15 states that ban Sunday liquor sales, Dominion Post, April 22, 2008.
- Cameron, Duncan H. Arkansas OK on Sunday, Illinois Beverage Guide, 2009, 9(4), 4.
- Capp, Reilly. Come July, liquor stores open Sundays, Telluride News, April 22, 2008.
- Carpenter, C.S. and Eisenberg, D. Effects of Sunday sales restrictions on overall and day-specific alcohol consumption: Evidence from Canada. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2009, 70, 126-133.
- Chase, R. Sunday liquor laws get watered down: States undo Prohibition- era sales ban. Washington Times, 6-2-03, p. A2.
- Columbus officials eye Sunday alcohol. Commercial-Appeal, August 23, 2009
- Connecticut must legalize Sunday alcohol sales. The Daily Campus, October 3, 2005.
- Easing up on blue laws - states profit from tossing out Prohibition-era rules. U.S. News & World Report, July 21, 2008, 22.
- Erikksson, Ann M. The Blue Law Sunday Prohibitions. Columbus, OH: Ohio Legislative Services Commission, 1963.
- Flowerdew, Nelson J. Sunday Blue Laws and other Blessings. Los Angeles, CA: Pacific Press, 1914.
- Gerber,A.S., et al. Does church attendance cause people to vote? : using blue laws' repeal to estimate the effect of religiosity on voter turnout. Cambridge, MA : National Bureau of Economic Research, 2008. Working paper # 14303.
- Gibbs on the wisdom of blue laws. Time - New York U.S. edition), August 2, 2004,164(5), 90.
- Hanna, J. Committee endorses proposal on Sunday liquor, beer sales. Associated Press, November 24, 2003.
- Harper, William G. A short history of the Texas Blue Laws. M.A. thesis, Texas Tech University, 1973.
- Join Together. Sunday Alcohol-Related Crashes Rise with "Blue Law" Repeal. October 4, 2006.
- Laband, David N., and Heinbuch, Deborah. Blue Laws: The History, Economics, and Politics of Sunday-closing Laws. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1987.
- LeFavi, Bob. Guest column: Separate Holy Scripture from opinion on alcohol referendum. Savannah Morning News, December 13, 2007.
- Machan, T.R. Blue laws are unjust and unequal. Free Inquiry, 2008, 28(6), 21-22.
- McMillan, G.P. and Lapham, S. Effectiveness of bans and laws in reducing traffic deaths: Legalizing Sunday packaged alcohol sales and alcohol-related traffic crashes and crash fatalities in New Mexico. American Journal of Public Health, 2006, 96(11), 1944-1948
- Maloney, M.T. and Rudbeck, J.C. The outcome from legalizing Sunday packaged alcohol sales on traffic accidents in New Mexico. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2009, 41(5), 1094-1098.
- Marsh, Ralph E. The Development of the Pennsylvania Blue Laws. M.A. thesis, Shippensburg State College, 1975.
- Myers, Gustavus. Ye Olden Blue Laws. NY: Century Co., 1921.
- Obscure state law bans alcohol sales on Monday. Boston Globe, December 24, 2005.
- Orlando, A. Law change won't spur liquor sales. Milford Daily News, November 29, 2003.
- Painter, S. Panel supports Sunday liquor sales. Wichita Eagle, November 25, 20003.
- Pearson, E. NYC's blue laws. Gothan Gazette, May 5, 2003.
- Perdue, Sonny. The tragic cost of Sunday alcohol sales. Banner-Herald. March 28, 2008.
- Randal, J. R. Old-Time Blue Laws. Worcester, MA: Charles E. Burbank and Co., 1879.
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Grant Results. Car Crashes, Fatalities Rise Sharply With New Mexico Sunday Package Liquor Sales. Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, November, 2007.
- Salzer, James. Purdue opposes vote on Sunday beer, wine. Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 18, 2007.
- Scarborough, Scott. Sunday alcohol sales an affront to moral values. Courier Press, November 8, 2005.
- Senator proposes lifting ban on Sunday morning alcohol sales. Detroit Free Press, May 3, 2005.
- Smith, J.J. Bars want alcohol law changed. Southern Voice, February 14, 2003.
- Soulsman, Gary. Blue laws a burden for other faiths. The News Journal, July 20, 2003.
- Store halts Sunday sales of hairspray, mouthwash. Associate Press (3-29-03).
- Sunday sales dilemma: No legitimate reason to support alcohol ban (editorial). Independent-Mail (Anderson, SC), September 16, 2007.
- The Blue Laws of Connecticut. NY: Truth Seekers Co., 1899.
- Van Dolson, L.R. and Spangler, J.R. The Case against Saturday Blue Laws. Nashville, TN. : Southern Pub. Association, 1977.
- Virtanen, M. Study Says Ending Blue Laws Would Add Jobs, Tax Revenues.
- Associated Press, June 19, 2002.
- Wheildon, W. W. Blue Laws and their Origin. MA: W. W.Wheildon, 1886.
- Why Do We Have Sunday Blue Laws? In: Voorhees, Don. The Book of Totally Useless Information. NY: MFJ Books, 1993.
- WTOV 9, Ohio passes Sunday liquor law. Ohio becomes the 31st state to pass the law, June 18, 2004.
filed under: Prohibition
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