On a Sunday morning, the average American might hope to enjoy any number of activities: attending a church service, drinking a mimosa with brunch, shopping for clothes at the mall, looking for a new car, or hunting with friends. However, in a surprisingly large number of states, only one of these activities would be legal: going to church.
Such is the result of blue laws,' the colloquial term for state statutes that regulate or prohibit entertainment and commercial activities on Sundays or religious holidays. Originating in England, blue laws were enacted throughout colonial America in an effort to protect the Christian Sabbath as mandated by the Fourth Commandment. Despite centuries of change and secularization, Sunday restrictions have not only survived, they have thrived, remaining in effect in a majority of states even today.
This prominence, however, does not equal validity. To the contrary, blue laws frequently have been challenged as unconstitutional establishments of religion in violation of the First Amendment, most notably in the 1961 case of McGowan v. Maryland. Although the Supreme Court has acknowledged the overtly religious origins of blue laws, it has chosen nevertheless to uphold them as advancing the secular purpose of creating a uniform day of rest. Despite this conclusion, changes in both the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence and modern blue laws themselves suggest the Court would reach a very different result if a similar challenge were brought today.
Part II of this Note outlines the history of blue laws and provides an overview of their current status, specifically exploring the most frequently restricted activities. Part III examines the Supreme
Red, White, but Mostly Blue: The Validity of Modern Sunday Closing Laws Under the Establishment Clause,
60 Vanderbilt Law Review
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