Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blue Laws and Remembering the Sabbath Day

One of the oddities of living in Hartsville, South Carolina is that we still have blue laws being enforced. For those heathens that don't know what blue laws are, well they are laws that forbid businesses and individuals from merchandising on a particular day, in almost every instance, on Sunday.

I remember in Cherokee County, Georgia in the 1980's, my dad and I would sit in the parking lot of K-Mart until noon on Sunday waiting for them to open so we could buy our home improvement stuff. Nowhere was open in the south end of the county save the Dunaway Drugs, 3-Way Grocery (I swear that's its name and it's still there), C&W Bait and Tackle, and the Amoco convenience store at the corner of Bells Ferry and 92. Keep in mind that there wasn't much there back then either. We weren't church going folks so keeping the Sabbath was never an issue for us---we didn't do it.

I remember my teacher, Sally Sutton, in the 4th grade in 1984, pulled me aside at the beginning of the school year and said something like "Mac, the other kids all said that none of them have ever seen you at church. Do you go somewhere?" I answered, "No ma'am. We don't go to church." She sweetly said, "Well if you ever want to go, just let me know." I think she said that she'd ask my Mom, but I can't remember; it's been too long now. If a teacher did that nowadays, people would freak out, but I think it's nice. Her heart was in the right place. The was no judging.....anyway, back to the blue laws.

As a Christian (no matter what some of my Protestant brethren might call me), I try and keep the Sabbath day holy. For me this means that I refrain from merchandising on the Sabbath. I try not to spend any money unnecessarily. When we go on vacations, I plan to eat as many meals as is possible in my hotel room by bringing food with me, or going shopping beforehand. I don't shop on Sunday. If I am travelling and must purchase fuel, I use the automatic pump. I've had to buy things on Sundays before, and I always make sure to thank the person for working on the Sabbath, and I apologize for making them work. They usually look at me like I'm nuts, but I still do it.

This also means that I refrain from doing work on Sunday that I could've done the day before, or that can wait until the next day. I only studied on Sunday a handful of times in my 12 years of college. My department at Tulane was considerate enough to let me take my PhD exams over a Monday-Tuesday instead of Saturday-Sunday (Tulane is the most responsive and tolerant place I've ever been; I absolutely loved it there). There's a saying that goes around about the Sabbath which goes something like, "Don't wait to pull the ox out of the mire on Sunday when you pushed him in Saturday night." A little planning can keep the Sabbath free from labor, as a day of rest. However, while a nap is an excellent Sabbath activity, I don't think that lounging around all day is keeping it holy. The Sabbath is made for Scripture study, church attendance, visiting family, friends, the sick, shutins, etc. There are many things we can and should do on the Sabbath. Having a rest from our secular labors allows us one day to concentrate on matters spiritual. I can't say that I'm a perfect Sabbath observer. I do love to watch movies on Sunday afternoons, and I love cooking big meals on Sunday because I have time....yet somewhere I feel that this is not what God intended.

So the blue laws here make it so that nothing can be sold before 1PM on Sunday. There are a couple of reasons why the laws were enacted. To make sure that people went to church, to protect workers that wanted to go to church from having to work, to allow some businesses a day off when they could be sure their competitors were also closed, to have one day where the streets were calm and quiet. I like the blue laws in principle, but in practice, I don't. Let me explain.

While I wish Utah, of all places, had blue laws, I don't think Hartsville should have them.

#1 They are a relic of bygone years.
#2 They are most likely unconstitutional as presently written.
#3 Most importantly, people should keep the Sabbath because they want to, not because the law says they have to do so.

I do think that the laws serve a purpose. When I lived in Provo, Utah, the freaking see of the Holy Mormon Inquisition, I had to work on Sunday at Pizza Hut. The area coach decided that we must remain open on Sundays even though revenue was abyssmal, and every other pizza chain was closed. Because almost every single employee was Mormon, we all had to rotate shifts to work on Sundays. If we had had blue laws in Utah, we would've been protected from Yum! Brands corporate policies (All stores must be open!). I like the blue laws here because it protects workers rights....but, I think that people should want to keep the Sabbath because the love God, and not because the law says they can't.

If you must be commanded in all things, you need the law of Moses hanging over you, which Jesus fulfilled.

Also, people who aren't Christian should be free to shop on Sunday. That is, unless we can come up with some secular reasons for not merchandising on Sunday, like Bergen, New Jersey has done.

Blue Laws will be a thing of the past in about 30 years, if not sooner.


J C said...

I really enjoy you humourous opinions. I would like to invite you to laugh at mine as well.

karie said...

There is only one comment that made me disagree with you. I had a problem with the whole "people who aren't Christians should feel free to shop" thing. Keeping the Sabbath day holy is a universal commandment and not just for Christians. In fact, the law was given to the Jewish people. One of the side effects of commandments is that they are given to everyone, whether they actually believe in God or not - much like President Hinckley is a prophet for the world not just the LDS church. Will everyone be held to the same standard? Of course not, as you know with more knowledge of truth comes more responsibility. While I agree that no one should be forced to keep the sabbath day holy, maybe the blue laws are providing people with an opportunity they would not normally think to take advantage of. Besides, with stores opening after 1pm, those who really want to shop can and will.

thewmes said...

why do you feel the laws are unconstitutional as written?