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Bringing Back Sunday Blue Laws?

Bringing Back Sunday Blue Laws?

With America reopening after months of pandemic-related quarantines, a writer for Crisis, an online magazine, which describes itself as “America’s most trusted source for authentic Catholic perspectives on Church and State, arts and culture, science and faith,” is calling for a new kind of lockdown—a weekly one on Sundays, as a matter of fact.

Writer Casey Chalk declares, “Americans in those early quarantine days—after the haze of their Netflix-binge had evaporated—woke up with a surprised appreciation for what earlier generations had considered normal: Sunday laws, otherwise known as blue laws. As America returns to normality, we should consider these laws and their manifold benefits afresh.”

But Chalk, a writer whose work appears in many Roman Catholic and politically conservative outlets, believes more than “consideration” is in order. He urges a wholesale implementation of shopping restrictions: “There was a time, surprising as it may be, when Amazon did not deliver on Sunday, and Americans somehow survived. There was a time when citizens had to do their shopping at the hardware store on a weekday, or early Saturday morning, in order to complete their home projects.”

An Appeal to De Tocqueville

Portrait of Alexis De Tocqueville

To make his point, Chalk appeals to figures of history and the present day. He leans most heavily on Alexis de Tocqueville, the French scholar whose “Democracy in America,” published in 1835, portrayed the young nation as a pietistic republic: “In the United States on the seventh day of the week, trade and industry seem suspended throughout the nation; all noise ceases. A deep peace, or rather a sort of solemn contemplation, takes its place. The soul regains its own domain and devotes itself to meditation.” (De Tocqueville was mistaken in his reference to Sunday as “the seventh day of the week.” Sunday is the first day of the week.)

Chalk also approvingly quotes attorney Jay Lefkowitz, who wrote in The Washington Post about the blessings of the seventh-day Sabbath, known as Shabbat in Hebrew. “Shabbat is also a reminder of other forms of separation that add meaning to our lives—between hard work and play, and between pursuing our own dreams and caring for others,” Lefkowitz states. “Shabbat is about balance or, to use a modern word, mindfulness.”

The writer also references the recent experience of Poland, whose population is overwhelmingly affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church: “In Poland, the 2017 Sunday trading ban was ‘about helping small family stores, but also about letting people who are effectively forced to work on Sundays be free,’ said President Andrzej Duda. Since the ban’s introduction, Duda has noted, more families have engaged in outdoor activities, and the domestic tourism industry has benefited.”

So a day of rest has not only personal benefits but also economic advantages; it is good for not only the individual, it is good for the entire nation. While all this sounds like a great sales pitch, Chalk doesn’t want to sell it to you; he wants to force-feed it to you. While he used a Jewish writer’s argument as support, Chalk nevertheless asserts that there’s only one day that society should legislate as the national day of rest—and that’s Sunday.

This is not placed in your realm of choice. Chalk, in fact, infers Sunday legislation to be one’s moral obligation as a citizen, as a patriot, or at the very least as a rational human being: “America, for the sake of its own emotional and spiritual welfare—for the sake of its own sanity—needs to restore the blue laws.”

Sunday-only Problems

Such appeals are hardly new. The late Pope John Paul II called for governments to support Sunday-keeping in his apostolic letter “Dies Domini.” The Roman emperor Constantine, on March 7, 321, declared Sunday the official day of rest for his territories. Though agricultural work was allowed, everyone else had to cease from labor on that day.

Fast-forward about 1,560 years and U.S. Sen. Henry W. Blair of New Hampshire attempted to enact a federal Sunday law for the United States. But the same problem that exists today existed back then: the issue of free will.

Portrait of Alonzo T Jones

Historian Douglas Morgan describes the opposition of Sabbathkeeper A.T. Jones, who traveled to Capitol Hill to testify against such a restriction, specifically addressing the unconstitutionality of the law itself: “A proposed exemption for ‘Seventh-day believers’ would solve nothing. Acceptance of an exemption clause would mean conceding the central principle and acknowledging the authority of Congress to legislate in connection with the observance of rest days. … It would reflect mere toleration of difference, not recognition of human right.” In other words, Jones did not just want to be allowed to worship on the seventh day. He was fighting for person’s God-given right to freedom of religion—to worship or not to worship at all. That is what Sunday laws really threaten: the ability to worship as your conscience dictates.

Interestingly enough, through all these attempts to change God’s law, the seventh-day Sabbath of the Bible has endured, as our free online article “ Sabbath Through the Centuries” shows. Do you know why? Take a look at our other article called “ Weighing the Evidence.”

Reach your own conclusions about God’s day of worship. Investigate it for yourself! Make your decision as your conscience dictates. Remember, it is your God-given right.

This article contributed by Mark A. Kellner
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