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Sunday-Hunting Lawsuit Exposes Christian Worship Tradition

Sunday-Hunting Lawsuit Exposes Christian Worship Tradition

You may have never heard of the “Food Sovereignty Movement.” It’s a worldwide but loosely based coalition concerned about food production and consumption. The term “food sovereignty” was first coined by La Via Campesina International, “an autonomous, pluralist international movement made up of over 200 million peasants, small-scale farmers, landless peoples, farmworkers, Indigenous Peoples, and other food producers in over 70 countries around the world.”

La Via Campesina also “defends peasant agriculture for food sovereignty as a way to promote social justice and dignity and strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture that destroys social relations and nature. … It is an autonomous, pluralist, multicultural movement, political in its demand for social justice while being independent of any political party, economic or other type of affiliation.”

Heavy stuff, for sure. But what does it have to do with hunting on Sundays in Maine?

“The Right to Food” Amendment

Last year, the state of Maine approved an amendment to its constitution. The first of its kind in the United States, Article I, Section 25, the Right to Food Amendment, declares that Maine residents have “a natural, inherent, and inalienable right to food, including … the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce, and consume the food of their own choosing.” It was passed on a vote of 61 to 39. 

In principle, the amendment now allows locals to grow their own food and raise their own livestock at a time when bad actions by a handful of major corporations could threaten the food supply. (Haven’t we been hearing about upcoming food shortages?) The amendment allows Maine residents to take more control of their own food, as opposed to being dependent upon big agriculture and giant retailers, who often have little connection to local communities. 

Sounds reasonable enough. In fact, it is already being heralded as something that could spawn similar amendments in other states.

The Sunday-Hunting Twist

However, after the amendment passed and, in part, because of it, another issue arose: A Maine woman filed a lawsuit against the state in an effort to force the government to rescind its ban on hunting on Sundays. The lawsuit seeks to overturn Maine’s Sunday-hunting ban, in place since the 1800s, because of “the unalienable constitutional right to harvest food, superseding the old religious ban on Sunday hunting.”

In other words, because hunting has been a time-honored way to get food, it would seem logical, reasonable, and lawful that the new Right to Food Amendment would allow for people to hunt even on Sunday—especially if, as is often the case, they eat what they shoot.

Others agree. The Hunter Nation Foundation, whose mission statement reads, “To be the united voice of the American hunter, to protect our sport, our lifestyle, and our heritage—while standing for the principles of God, family, country, and our nation’s Constitution,” had made a large donation, “a Five-Figure Donation to Lawsuit Fighting Maine Sunday Hunting Ban.”

Maine and Massachusetts are the only two states that ban hunting on Sundays across the board. According to Virginia Parker, who filed the suit, her husband works five days a week, and Saturday alone does allow them enough time to harvest the game meat that they use to feed their family of seven.

“Opening up Sunday hunting would allow our family to go out on weekend hunting trips together as a family. We can teach our children how to properly and safely harvest animals,” Parker said. “And we would have more opportunity to feed our family an organic, natural, God-given gift of wildlife.”

That’s the argument, anyway.

Sunday-Closing Laws

The law that bans hunting on Sundays in Maine goes back to 1883. Every colony in America had strict Sunday-closing laws, which remained on the books when the United States was founded. And while those laws have since either been repealed, fallen by the wayside, or been ignored, some vestiges of them remain—including the Sunday-hunting ban in Maine.

There is no question of the religious underpinning of Sunday laws, especially in the early years, when people could be punished for not attending church on Sunday. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s upheld their validity in two cases.

In, for example, McGowan v. Maryland (1961), the High Court ruled that though “Sunday closing laws started out to facilitate church attendance in colonial America; however, the present Maryland laws are based on secular rather than religious state interests. The laws are to improve the ‘health, safety, recreation, and general well-being’ of citizens. The present purpose of the laws is to provide a uniform day of rest for all. The fact that this day is of particular significance for various Christian sects does not bar the State from achieving its secular goals.” 

A Bit of Irony

Whether or not one agrees with the Court’s rationale, one biting irony exists with Sunday-closing laws. However much Sunday has become the traditional day of rest for Christians, that’s all it is—a tradition, one not based on Scripture. 

The day first established at the Creation: the seventh day (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown); the day reiterated in Exodus 16 and again at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20): the seventh day; the day that Jesus Himself kept and defended (Matthew 12:8, 12; Luke 6:9): the seventh day; and the day that the apostle Paul kept (Acts 17:2): the seventh day—that is the day depicted in the Bible for weekly rest. 

Not Sunday. 

Does it matter? Well, it matters if it matters to God. Indeed, the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, God’s holy law—so it must matter very much to Him. To learn more about the Sabbath and why it does matter, you can read “Seize the Day: Keeping the Sabbath Holy.

 It’s bad enough to enforce by secular law a rest that God asks us to keep freely. What about rest on a day that the Bible does not call the Sabbath?

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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