1961 May 19

Supreme Court Rules Sunday “Blue” Laws Constitutional

 

“Blue” laws, or “Sunday Closing” laws, are statutes that prohibit commercial businesses from operating on Sunday or other religious holidays. In McGowan v. Maryland, decided this day, the Supreme Court declined to ban such laws as violating the Establishment of Religion Clause of the First Amendment. The Court held that many such laws had a secular purpose, such as promoting a universal day of rest. Sunday-closing laws have largely disappeared from the U.S., primarily because of business interests seeking to operate on Sunday.

The Court: “In the light of the evolution of our Sunday Closing Laws through the centuries, and of their more or less recent emphasis upon secular considerations, it is concluded that, as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular rather than of a religious character, and that presently they bear no relationship to establishment of religion, as those words are used in the Constitution of the United States.”

Justice Douglas in dissent: “The First Amendment commands government to have no interest in theology or ritual; it admonishes government to be interested in allowing religious freedom to flourish — whether the result is to produce Catholics, Jews, or Protestants, or to turn the people toward the path of Buddha, or to end in a predominantly Moslem nation, or to produce in the long run atheists or agnostics. On matters of this kind government must be neutral.”

Learn more about the Establishment Clause: Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, No Establishment of Religion: America’s Original Contribution to Religious Liberty (2012)

Learn about the history of “Blue Laws” in Washington State: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=9057

And learn more at the First Amendment Center: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/category/religion

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