Monday, October 17, 2011

Blue Laws: They still have those?

I opened up my North American Hunter magazine to cure (or at least temporarily relieve) my hunting jitters since school has kept me from going back up to Humboldt to go huntin'. One of the articles dealt with Pennsylvania's recent attempts to repeal a blue law that keeps hunters from hunting on Sundays.

This surprised me. Blue Laws are laws that prevent activities from occurring on Sundays because in theory, these activities detract from going to church and spending time with family. Most people who have heard of blue laws, have probably heard of laws preventing the sale of alcohol on Sundays. When I think of blue laws, I'll admit I think of very rural states. Pennsylvania, with its two major metropolises, doesn't qualify as a very rural state in my book. But Pennsylvania has blue laws, along with many other eastern states that don't seem very rural, like Connecticut. Many of these laws were made in colonial days, when religion and government were almost one and the same. But the laws did spread as far west as Texas and North Dakota.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state keeping hunters from going out on Sundays; Massachusetts and Virginia are on board along with 41 of the 55 counties in West Virginia. This law is surprising because Pennsylvania has a large number of hunters, and they can be a strong voting block.

Since hunters, like all Americans, tend to hold off on most personal activities until the weekend (Friday night, Saturday, and usually Sunday) we have a short window in which to actually hunt. Not having Sundays to hunt must be a big kick in the gut for Keystone State hunters. But it is not just hunters who are impacted by blue laws.

Besides barring the purchases of alcohol, blue laws can bar people from shopping or conducting other business on Sundays. This impacts many people including: those who work all week and use the weekends to catch up on personal needs, non-religious people who are forced to conform to the demands of a religion based law, and religious minorities who don't view Sunday as a day of religious observance. Blue laws can cause some serious problems.

For instance, a number of states bar car dealerships from selling cars on Sundays. In rural states like North Dakota, where people may have to travel 30 or more miles to the nearest dealership, Sunday may be the only practical day to go looking for a new ride. Which makes the combination of blue laws and large, rural states quite problematic. These laws cause people to give up economic and religious freedom. Laws in the blue law mold may also drive away young people who are tired of these kinds of restrictions.

Gradually, these laws are being challenged. Canada's highest court actually banned blue laws entirely in R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., 1 S.C.R. 295 (1985). In the U.S. they are taken on one at a time because the U.S. Supreme Court held in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961) that blue laws were fine if there is a secular purpose to back them up. A few Pennsylvania law makers are just the latest to challenge a blue law on the state level. But a strange alliance has formed to challenge the law's repeal. A group of religious organizations, some farmers (who claim the law prevents hunters from soliciting them to hunt on their property on Sundays), and the ASPCA (claiming animals rights) have joined together to keep the blue law in place. It is unclear whether the law will stand or fall in the near future.

But as urban and rural areas become more integrated with different peoples who have different needs, how long will all blue laws stand?


Jason said...

I found it interesting that farmers were part of the action to keep blue laws in place. What is their position to prevent hunting on Sunday?

I know with the decrease in the number of public lands on which to hunt, many hunters are turning to farmers and other large landowners to find new hunting grounds. This is of course only after they have permission from the land owner. Could it be that farmers are doing what they can to keep blue laws in place to allow them an extra day of work with no hunters on their property? Or is it just to limit the number of requests to use their land?

JLS said...

So interesting! I was previously only familiar with the laws that prevent the sale of alcohol on Sundays (and I had no idea that the laws were called "blue laws"). I wasn't aware that they laws applied to other kinds of businesses. It seems very strange that these laws were ever extended to hunting. Although not connected to religion, hunting is often a family activity, and for many people a relaxing way to spend their "day of rest."

Azar said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. As a Jewish person who believes the Sabbath is actually on Saturday, I feel like demanding that hunters not be allowed to hunt on Saturdays either (for that matter, sport hunting is against the Jewish faith, so actually- let's just ban it all together). It's amazing that these types of things continue to linger despite our "commitment" to separation of church and state.

Anonymous said...

Read the article. They want hunters to be able to pay them to hunt on their land on Sundays. They're against, not for, blue laws.