Friday, September 25, 2015

21st Century, Religion, and Blue Laws

In 1993, while attending the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), I decided to do a work-study program abroad for credit over the summer. I chose the United Kingdom because my sister lived there so housing would be cheap. My sister, whose husband was in the military and stationed at a U.S. Military base in the UK, lived just outside Harrogate, about three hours north of London. The program, which included working for non-US companies, was for three months.

Living (very different from visiting) abroad for any length of time is always a very interesting experience and I highly recommend it. Even living in a country perceived to be similar to the United States in background and language, is in fact very different than expected in many ways.

For example, the vast majority of people in the UK were off work on Sundays. The normal activities on Sundays were visiting family and friends, picnics in the park, attending boot-sales (literally people would gather with the cars in a parking lot with their boots, trunks, open to sell items), and window-shopping in the towns because the shops were closed.

At the time, the UK had a law prohibiting retail shops from opening on Sundays. Violators were subject to hefty fines. However, because so many people were out walking by the shops on Sundays, and no one was open, several shop owners had determined the amount of sales that could be made on Sunday far outweighed the fine – so some did begin to open.

This caused quite an uproar. The politics and social discussions about whether shops could open on Sunday were heated – sometimes resulting in both verbal and physical violence.

Some people wanted to make the law more strict – not just a fine but jail time or loss of business license – arguing that Sunday was a day of rest mandated by God and that all people/employees deserved at least one day of rest. 

Others wanted to not only repeal the law, but pass a new law that required all shops to be open on Sunday – arguing that would be the most fair - if all shops had to be open and all employees were subject to working on Sunday, everyone would be treated equally.

As an outside observer, I was astounded that there were only two choices. Either everyone had to follow God’s law, regardless of their own beliefs, and not work on Sunday; or everyone had to suffer equally by working on Sunday whether they wanted to or not.

I kept thinking, “There is no middle? Could the law not be repealed and allow shop owners to decide for themselves whether to open on Sundays – and thereby allow employees to decide if they wanted to work for a company that did or did not open on Sundays?”

I think a lot of Americans would make the same observation – particularly since that is how the American society has chosen to deal with the problem. For those who do not know, the US once had a “Blue Law” that prohibited certain types of economic activities on Sunday as well, particularly retail

The only remnants of the Blue Laws now are the prohibition in some areas (particularly southern states) of alcohol sales on Sunday [No alcohol sold on Sunday at all; No alcohol sold unless with food (restaurants); No alcohol sold on Sunday except beer (stores); No alcohol sold on Sundays except by private membership organizations (leading night/dance clubs to sell token memberships for $5)]. Texas even has Blue Law restrictions on car sales

But what if we were having the debate today?

With all the rhetoric about this being a Christian country, founded on Christian values, and wanting to return to Christian values, the reality is lost about what that means. I am not even sure if people making the claim know what that means, but one indisputable fact is that, according to Christianity, Sunday is a day of rest.  The US custom is that government and most non-retail companies are closed on Sunday as a continuation of the recognition of Sunday being a day of worship within Christianity, or at the very least to prevent a massive labor shortage due to Sunday church attendance. 

Some politicians in the South have begun publicly stating an agenda to outlaw all alcohol sales, again, on Sunday.

While Christians in the US have never practiced "day of rest" to the extent of strict Jews (absolutely NO work or commerce on Staurday, not even in the home) there is a strong foundation of not allowing retail shops to open on Sunday or restricting the sale of specific items on that day.

If we are returning to Christian values, is it a "pick-and-choose" or should we prepare for no more shopping on Sunday?