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Massachusetts Sunday Blues

Massachusetts Sunday Blues

Throughout European history, the practice of not only keeping Sunday but legislating it has continued to prevail. This was especially so during the long dominion of the Roman Catholic Church, which takes credit for changing the biblical seventh-day Sabbath, Saturday, to the first day, Sunday. (Our article “Where’s the Evidence that the Sabbath Was Changed?” has a quick but thorough explanation of this history.)

So entrenched was Sunday-keeping that even Protestant Reformers, who, in valiant and often dangerous attempts, broke away from the Roman religion, didn’t denounce Sunday worship but instead, with rare exception, took it into the Reformation itself.

And that’s why, no matter how fiercely anti-Catholic, pilgrims brought strict Sunday laws with them to the New World. In 1648, the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a law declaring: “Whoever shall prophane the Lord’s Day by doing any servill worke should be fined or whipped.”

And some form of those Sunday laws existed in most states in America even into the 20th century, though by now the majority have either been repealed, ignored, or only sporadically enforced. It’s hard to imagine a ban, for instance, on Sunday NFL games, right?

Of course, why would a nation that prided itself on separation of church and state—the idea that the government should not use its power to enforce religious observance—have allowed Sunday laws to begin with?

The answer is fairly complicated. For a long time, the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) had applied only to the federal government, that is, only to the U.S. Congress in Washington, DC—and not to the states. 

In the early part of the 20th century, that ban was finally applied to the states too; and by the 1960s, the constitutionality of Sunday laws was challenged. But in the ensuing U.S. Supreme Court cases McGowan v. Maryland, and Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Supermarket of Massachusetts, the high court upheld the laws, arguing that though they had been of a religious nature in the past, they had now taken on a secular purpose—that of allowing people to have a day of rest.

The Massachusetts Blues

And today, as an article in local newspaper The Berkshire Edge put it, “blue laws are alive and well” in Massachusetts. According to the office of State Attorney General Maura Healey, “The Massachusetts Blue Laws control hours of operation for certain businesses and require some businesses to pay extra compensation (known as ‘premium pay’) on Sundays and some legal holidays. These laws are enforced by the Attorney General’s Office.” 

Thus, a cannabis chain called Theory Wellness has agreed to “pay $300,000 in restitution and penalties for failing to pay hundreds of employees premium pay on Sundays and covered holidays.” Not only that shop, but four grocery stores in Massachusetts had to pay more than a million dollars for the same oversight. 

“In March of this year, a grocery store in Boston agreed to pay $183,800 in back wages. Just last May, three grocery stores paid nearly $1 million in back pay. In both cases, it was premium pay that was the issue.”

In total, the businesses were forced to pay nearly $1,500,000 in back wages.

The Irony of it All

A state government, ideally secular, is forcing a Christian tradition on a shop that sells a product still illegal in some parts of the nation? The irony is astounding.

Even more ironic is that Sunday is not mandated in the Bible. Nothing in Scripture has put Sunday, the first day of the week, in place of Saturday, the seventh. Yet it seems more and more commonly publicized that Sunday equals the Sabbath. Just look at what Berkshire propagated, stating that Sunday blue laws were both “based on the biblical commandments to observe the sabbath as a day of rest” and “designed to preserve the Sabbath by prohibiting most work and commerce.” It also quoted a 1983 article from The New York Times regarding Sunday retail: “This weekend, the heirs to that Puritan ethos can spend the Sabbath shopping for waterbeds, rock albums, and designer jeans.” And it even distinguished the seventh-day Sabbath as belonging to the Jewish faith as opposed to the Christian.

Yet just because an untruth is stated as fact multiple times does not make it any less of an untruth. Sunday is not nor will it ever be the Sabbath. “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Genesis 2:3)—not the first day. “The seventh day is …. the Sabbath of the LORD” (Leviticus 23:3)—not the first day.

Neither is the seventh-day Sabbath relegated to a certain faith or ethnicity. “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27); God created this day of rest for the entire human race. If you are reading this, then the seventh-day Sabbath was meant for you to keep. Out of anyone, Christians, as followers of the God of the Bible and carriers of His beautiful truths to the world, should know that. Yet for the most part, all the world has witnessed is that Christians worship on Sunday. Does something seem off about that?

For more understanding of why—regardless of how entrenched the tradition—a Sunday sabbath is not biblical, we’re offering our free, online book Is Sunday Really Sacred? 

And while Massachusetts seems to finally be phasing out its blue laws in the next couple years, don’t write them off into antiquity just yet. Take a look at our free article “The Sabbath in Prophecy” for an overview of what the future holds for Sunday laws. 

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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