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New York Targets Chick-fil-A Over Sunday Closings

New York Targets Chick-fil-A Over Sunday Closings

Most everyone has heard of “blue laws,” which are government-imposed regulations that are based on traditional Bible theology. One kind of blue law requires businesses to close on Sunday, the first day of the week, a day of worship for Roman Catholics and most Protestant churches.

While blues laws requiring businesses to close on Sunday are a thing of the past, one U.S. state, “out of the blue,” is now pushing a Sunday-opening law.

The bill is called, innocuously enough, the “Rest Stop Restaurant Act.” It’s currently in the New York State Assembly and would require food and beverage companies in rest stops on the New York State Thruway to be open seven days a week.

That may not sound like such a draconian proposal. People on the road, after all, need to eat, even on Sundays. In fact, that’s the supposed rationale behind the bill. Sunday is often the busiest day for driving, especially on highways, a day when many people are returning home from weekend trips. How much easier to have restaurants open at rest stops than to have motorists take an exit to find nourishment among traffic lights?

That’s why Bill Number A08336 reads, in part, “While there is nothing objectionable about a fast-food restaurant closing on a particular day of the week, service areas dedicated to travelers is an inappropriate location for such a restaurant. … Allowing for retail space to go unused one seventh of the week or more is a disservice and unnecessary inconvenience to travelers who rely on these service areas.”

Enter Chick-fil-A

Other than some rest stops being out of commission due to a massive reconstruction project along New York State’s 570 miles of thruway, a bill like this would hardly make news. But then there’s Chick-fil-A, the nation’s largest fast-food chain specializing in chicken sandwiches, which closes—religiously—on Sundays. 

The founder, S. Truett Cathy (1921–2014), was a devout Southern Baptist. Believing that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, he closed all his restaurants on the first day of the week—a practice that his children, who now run the business, continue.

Wrote Truett, “We were not so committed to financial success … that we were willing to abandon our principles and priorities. One of the most visible examples of this was our decision to close on Sundays. (My brother) Ben and I had attended Sunday school and church all our lives, and we were not about to stop just because we owned a restaurant.”

The Sunday closings have not significantly impaired the chain’s overall financial performance, despite warning that they would. According to a 2023 article in Franchise Times, “Total systemwide sales generated from the 2,411 … restaurants were $18.8 billion in 2022 compared to $16.7 billion in 2021, an increase of 12.8 percent.”

Is This Anti-Christian Harassment?

Chick-fil-A’s refusal to open on Sundays led to a clash with the proposed Rest Stop Restaurant Act. Though the ostensible argument for the law is the inconvenience to motorists, the claim falls flat. The New York State Highway Authority, which is not in favor of the bill, argued that under the lease conditions for the rest areas, facilities hosting a Chick-fil-A were obligated to have at least one other restaurant open around the clock seven days a week, which they do.

At the stop along U.S. Highway 87 in Plattekill, N.Y., for instance, consumers can frequent units of Burger King, Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Auntie Anne’s if the Chick-fil-A is closed. A sign approaching the facility alerts travelers that the Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays.”

What else, then, might be going on here? 

According to Restaurant Business, the state assemblyman who introduced the law is a staunch proponent of LGBTQ issues. Said the article, “Chick-fil-A has drawn fire for supporting groups in the past that held marriage can only take place between a man and a woman. It has been accused repeatedly of being anti-gay and its leaders have acknowledged their conservative Christianity, which holds that homosexuality is wrong.” 

Thus, the implication is that anti-Christian hostility might be the real reason behind the proposed Sunday-opening law.

A Sunday-Opening Law?

Still, the irony is palpable. A Sunday-opening law? 

For hundreds of years in America, from before the American Revolution, many laws mandated that businesses be closed on Sunday, sometimes with harsh penalties for violators. In the early 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld certain local Sunday laws, arguing that, though originally religious in nature, they now had taken on a secular purpose.

Whatever a legislator’s reason for passing a law that requires businesses to close on Sunday, it ends up hurting owners like Jews and Seventh-day Adventists, who for religious reasons close their businesses on the seventh-day Sabbath, which is Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Being closed two days a week, in some cases, can be financially ruinous.

However, Chick-fil-A’s motive for closing on Sunday is purely faith-based, and it is lawfully exercising its religious right to not work on Sunday. And that is probably why this Sunday-opening law, even if passed by New York legislators, may not fare well in federal courts.

A Certain Theological Problem

Though Chick-fil-A’s commitment to honoring God is absolutely commendable, there is a problem with its particular theology: Nothing in the Bible says that Sunday should be observed as a weekly holy day. 

Scripture is clear that the seventh day, Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, is the biblical Sabbath, the day sanctified in Eden before sin entered the world. “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. 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” (Genesis 2:1–3; see also Exodus 20:8–11).

This text, and the fact that the New Testament never links Sunday with “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10), shows that, however well-meaning Chick-fil-A is, it has the day wrong. Fortunately, in the United States, the government isn’t allowed to enforce theological orthodoxy; people have the right to worship when they want, even if it doesn’t square with the Bible truth.

To learn more about the history and theology behind the Saturday-Sunday debate, see our study The Lost Day of History. 

This article contributed by Richard Young
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