Of all the states that still have “blue laws” in the books — preventing the sale of certain items like liquor on Sunday mornings — North Dakota’s may be the strictest in the nation. Until 1991, virtually no retailers (like Walmart) were allowed to be open on Sunday. After 1991, businesses open to the public could only be open after noon (with few exceptions).
Why? Because Sunday morning is reserved for Jesus, dammit. And we can’t have any distractions like open stores that might lure people away from church.
That ridiculous, archaic thinking is what North Dakota legislators were trying to overturn with HB 1163. At the end of January, the bill scraped through the House by a vote of 48-46.
“Man was not made for the Sabbath, rather the Sabbath was made for man,” Senator Robert Eberle (R-Lehr) told the floor in remarks attributed to Jesus. He went on to call the desire for Sunday sales “selfish consumerism.”
Senator David Clemens (R-West Fargo) said North Dakotans should “use that time to go to worship” or be with their families. Senator Diane Larson (R-Bismarck) echoed those sentiments.
The obvious rebuttal here is that religious people are free to abide by the Sabbath or attend church or be with their families. No one’s stopping them. Just because other options are available doesn’t prevent anyone from living by their own religious rules. (And since when did the Bible say it’s okay to purchase goods on the Sabbath after noon?)
It was no better than the arguments against the repeal offered last month by other Republicans, who said stores needed to be closed so wives could make breakfast for their husbands… or just not spend more money.
“Spending time with your wife, your husband — making him breakfast, bringing it to him in bed and then after that go take your kids for a walk,” state Rep. Bernie Santrom said when he denounced a bill that would end the state’s half-day ban on Sunday alcohol sales. His Republican colleague agreed, arguing that he cannot afford his wife having another full day of spending.
“I don’t know about you but my wife has no problem spending everything I earn in six and a half days. And I don’t think it hurts at all to have a half day off,” state Rep. Vernon Laning said.
So those were pathetic explanations. But they weren’t nearly as bad as the reason Republican State Sen. Dick Dever gave… which turned out to be a rant against atheism, Humanism, and separation of church and state. He begins speaking around the 14:55 mark in the video below, and the relevant portion begins at 16:00:
… Atheism is a belief system. Atheists believe there is no God. So if it’s a belief system, what is their religion? It’s called Humanism. Also known as Secular Humanism. Also known as Religious Humanism. If you were to Google “Humanism,” you might come to their website, where they talk about separation of church and state and their efforts to bring that about. You would also find what you could call their Bible: Humanist Manifestos I, II, and III…
Mr. President, We don’t teach evolution in school because it’s settled science. We teach evolution in school because it’s not Creation. Now why is that important? Well, it’s about control…
… When an atheist goes to court, to take God out of the pledge, to take God out of the classroom, to take God out of the Boy Scouts, they are using the government as a tool to advance their faith in violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause…
Besides just being wrong — most atheists don’t give a damn about the Humanist Manifestos — it’s completely irrelevant. Dever thinks retail stores needed to remain closed on Sunday mornings because opening them would be part of some broader atheist conspiracy to hurt the family unit.
I’m also not sure how opening up a car dealership on a Sunday morning advances atheism. Asking for government neutrality on religious issues isn’t pro-atheism.
Changing the law to pressure citizens to blaspheme on Sunday mornings? That might advance atheism. But that’s not what’s going on. Instead, the law is specifically designed to promote religion. And that’s why it needs to be repealed.
There are ways for the bill to be reconsidered — both in the Senate (again) and by putting it on a ballot for a statewide vote. This isn’t over yet.
But it’s appalling that legislators would keep this law on the books when there’s no secular reason for doing so. Their own explanations for why it needs to stay is evidence of that.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)