The Indiana General Assembly, during its upcoming session, will once again consider whether to lift the ban on Sunday sales of liquor. It tried last year and failed. Proponents of lifting the ban have higher hopes for this coming session.
Several states join with Indiana in banning the sale of certain items, such as alcoholic beverages or vehicles, on Sunday. These are called blue laws for reasons that are not entirely clear, but it is not because these laws were once written on blue paper or in books with blue bindings as some say. They date back to Puritan days when this ultra-religious sect banned certain activities on the Christian Sabbath.
In the U.S., blue laws are permissible as long as their purpose is allegedly secular, even though in almost every case the day on which the sale of certain items is banned is Sunday.
But there is no real purpose for blue laws and they should all be repealed. Decades ago, many states banned the sale of almost anything on Sunday. Why Sunday? It was obviously tied to the Christian day of rest and worship. But in 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that blue laws were constitutional as long they had a secular purpose. I can’t imagine a true secular purpose for banning sales on Sunday, but the ban on liquor and automobiles remains in effect in at least a dozen states, including Indiana.
Most states no longer have or enforce blue laws prohibiting shopping on Sunday. In 1990, Massachusetts became the last state to lift its law requiring shopping malls to be closed on Sundays.
Sunday has become a major shopping day. As part of a two-day weekend, it is the time when most workers can spend the day at the mall. But in many states, they can’t spend their day shopping for cars. In Indiana, they can stop by the bar for a couple of beers, then proceed to drive home, but if it’s Sunday they can’t stop by the grocery store or liquor store to buy a six-pack of beer to consume while at home.
If it is true that the purpose of these remaining blue laws is to protect commissioned sales people from the undue stress of a highly competitive industry, or to protect Mom and Pop liquor stores from increased competition from chains, then why choose a huge shopping day like Sunday for the ban? Why not, as some states already do, allow the store owners or auto dealerships to choose whatever day they wish to close?
The liquor store lobby doesn’t want the ban on Sunday sales lifted. They want their day off, free from competition. But laws are supposed to be for everybody, not just the big lobby groups. If a liquor store owner wants to close one day a week, let him pick a day that typically has sketchy sales and close that day. It might be a Monday or a Wednesday, but it probably won’t be a Sunday.
If an individual store owner wants to close on Sunday, then that is his or her choice. But to force a Sunday closure smacks of religious intrusion into public life.
The time has come for adult consumers in general to have the right to shop for anything on any day they wish. The time for blue laws has passed, if it ever actually existed in the first place.