DISCUSSION: Blue Laws Reconsidered?

DISCUSSION: Blue Laws Reconsidered? January 27, 2023

In today’s post on suicide and the loss of religion, we mentioned that researchers found a correlation with “blue laws,” suggesting that getting rid of Sunday closing laws may have had the unintended consequence of increasing the suicide rate.

I found that a bit of a jump, but said that I had never thought of the dismantling of Sunday closing laws as a factor in the decline in church attendance, but it is surely a factor.  If you have to work on Sunday, you can’t go to church.  Most of us probably know people in that predicament.

Even after the blue laws were abandoned, communities tended to protect Sundays.  No more, even here in rural, Bible belt, Oklahoma, where soccer practices and little league tournaments are often scheduled on Sunday mornings.

Ironically, though, most European countries and Australia, which I know most about, have kept most of their blue laws, even though they are far more secularized than the United States.  Most people there don’t use Sundays to go to church, which was the origin of those laws, but they prize them as a day of rest.

We Americans still try to go to church, but we have given up our day of rest.  Consequently, we are more busy than we should be, which also has unintended consequences for our mental health.

Now there are problems with rigid, legalistic approaches to the Sabbath, which gave rise to the blue laws.  German Lutheran immigrants encountered hostility from the Reformed majority for breaking the Sabbath.  On Sunday afternoons, after church, the Lutherans would play or watch sports, attend concerts, and, worst of all, relax at Beer Gardens.  Lutherans knew that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  And what man needs on the Sabbath is both worship and rest, including innocent recreation and time with family and friends.

Today any Sabbath laws would have to be packaged as days of rest with many exceptions and accommodations, as in Europe and Australia.  No one religion could be privileged.  Christians have Sundays as the day of worship, Jews have Saturdays, and Muslims have Thursdays.  The work week and the number of hours Americans work per week are said to be contracting.  Most Americans work only five days a week, but these can be different days.  But is it helpful for the whole society to have days off in common?  We still have weekends.  We could institutionalize a three day weekend, beginning with Thursdays rather than adding Mondays, to accommodate the Muslims, thereby keeping a religious dimension to these days of rest.

So our discussion topic for this weekend is “would it be a good idea to bring back Sunday closing laws or their equivalent?”

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