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S, Sunday Closing Laws,

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 23 November 2020

Sunday Closing Laws,

state or local laws requiring all but the most essential businesses to be closed on Sunday, commonly known as blue laws from the color of the paper on which the early ones were printed. They originated in the colonial period, when their religious purpose was expressly stated, and *state courts in the nineteenth century generally upheld them.

(p. 990) In McGowan v. Maryland (1961) the Supreme Court considered the broad issue of whether the laws were an establishment of *religion. Claimants contended that Sunday was selected for closing to recognize the Christian sabbath and to encourage church attendance. The Court held that while these laws had a sectarian purpose at one time, their contemporary purpose was secular: to provide a common day of rest for the entire community. Since there was a valid secular purpose and only an indirect effect on religion, the laws were not an establishment of religion.

Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) posed the issue whether Orthodox Jews who shut their businesses on Saturday for religious reasons could be forced to close on Sunday as well. Closing both days would impose an economic hardship on them. The Court ruled that there was no interference with their free exercise of religion. Sabbatarians were free to close on Saturday, and their religion did not command Sunday opening. Sunday closing imposed only an indirect burden on religious observance and was valid.

Despite the legitimization of these laws, suburbanization, the growth of shopping malls, and police reluctance to enforce them induced many communities to repeal Sunday closing laws. Except for bans on beer and liquor sales, there are few localities today that have Sunday laws.

See also first amendment.

Robert H. Birkby