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Sunday Laws: A Bad Idea

Sunday Laws: A Bad Idea

One doesn’t need to be a pessimistic, panic-mongering, doomsday-proclaiming kind of person to realize that people in the United States and in the rest of the world aren’t feeling particularly great about what’s been going on in their local areas and around the globe.

Central to their woes, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic, now entering its third year. According to the World Health Organization, as of January 26, there have been about 352,800,000 confirmed cases worldwide—with 5,600, 434 (and counting) deaths. Added to the pandemic is the outrage among millions, especially in Europe, over lockdowns and mask mandates.

Stacking onto this trauma are fears of war (Ukraine), distress over climate change, a sense of injustice of the widening gap between the rich and poor, and anxiety of the political turmoil in America to the point where some are talking about another civil war. Not helping (to put it mildly) is social media, which with the flick of a finger puts all the gloom and doom, either accurately reported or not, right in the palm of our hands 24/7.

No wonder people are burned out, tired, and depressed!

Sunday Law?

According to one law professor, a possible solution to this mess is Sunday laws, which would prohibit all but the most essential retailers and services from opening on the first day of the week.

Adrian Vermeule, the Ralph S. Tyle, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University, recently tweeted that one thing that could help Americans regain some stability, get needed rest, and promote “the common good” would be a revival of such Sunday laws.

Generally speaking, the professor is not speaking out of the blue—after all, taking a day of rest every week is one of the Ten Commandments, which reads: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it Holy” (Exodus 20:8). For this rule to be listed among commands such as do not kill and do not steal must mean that God takes “remembering the Sabbath” seriously. He wants us to rest!

And we should also want that. Hence, the reasoning behind Sunday closing laws, which in some people’s minds goes like this: If the masses don’t want to take a day of rest voluntarily, then the government, by closing down business on Sunday, will help them along for their own good.

Sounds Like a Good Idea, But …

Vermeule’s idea, though just a tweet, got real traction, garnering article titles like “Americans need a break. Maybe blue laws can help.” And “Could Sabbath closure laws make a comeback?” And even one from the Caribbean, “Stage 1 of Sunday Law Enforcement Is Now Being Discussed.”

And though it’s not the first time that people have talked about Sunday laws, even recently, for the most part, the idea has become as antiquated as rotary telephones and segregated water fountains.

That is, until now. With COVID and its attendant strains and fears, for some the idea of Sunday laws—which can help us slow down, relax, and take it easy—sounds like a good idea. But it’s not.

Problem Number One

First, if they want to back Sunday closings with the fourth commandment, they can’t. God’s law teaches that Friday sundown to Saturday sundown serves as the true seventh day—not Sunday, which is the first day. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:9, 10). 

The commandment unequivocally ties the seventh-day Sabbath back to the six days of creation. “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it” (Exodus 20:11). The first time God blessed and sanctified the seventh day was during the creation week itself. “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2, 3).

Indeed, that means the Sabbath was made sacred long before the existence of the first Jew, who didn’t come along until thousands of years later.

Problem Number Two

Sunday “blue laws” are nothing new in America. From the earliest colonies, even up through today in some areas where such laws remain on the books, though are rarely enforced, Sunday laws have been part and parcel of the American landscape. And, generally, they didn’t work‚ sometimes leading to the kind of absurdities found in the convoluted Sabbath rules of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

For instance, in Salem, West Virginia, you couldn’t eat candy in the immediate hours before church. (But what if you didn’t go to church?) In Winona Lake, Wisconsin, you couldn’t eat ice cream at a counter on Sunday. (But ice cream consumed at a booth was ok?) In Arizona, it was illegal to take pictures before Sunday noon. (But at 12:01 pm, you could shoot away.) In Montana, it was illegal to go fishing alone on Sunday. In Florida, unmarried women who skydived on Sunday were violating the law. 

More seriously, though the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Sunday laws, these laws have typically placed unconstitutional burdens on Jews and other Sabbath-keepers who would not open their businesses on Sabbath due to religious convictions, but then were forced, by law, to remain closed on Sunday—even when they couldn’t afford to be closed two days a week.

Yes, many Americas are stressed, burned out, and in need of rest. But legislation designed to mandate forced closings on Sunday—even to help citizens cope with COVID and supply shortages (that is, for the good of public health)—is not the answer. In a nation where freedom to practice one’s faith without interference of the government, enforcing a Sunday rest opens the door for wider infractions against religious observance and practice. Indeed, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a better scenario for the second beast of Revelation, would it?

Do you want to learn more about why Sunday became a day of worship for Christians despite the clear message of the Bible? Click here.

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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