Sundays, the Sabbath, and Blue Laws

John W. Pinkerton

I suspect that when I was growing up, the no work on Sundays tradition was beginning to loosen its hold on folks, but, generally, the Sabbath was observed.

For Christians, Sunday is the Sabbath.  Traditionally, folks have avoided working on Sundays because, “On the seventh day, the Lord rested.”  Folks figured that if it was good enough for the Lord, it was probably good enough for mere mortals.

My Aunt Gussie, along with her husband Jack, did no work on Sundays.  She cooked Sundays’ meals on Saturdays.  Sundays were days of worship and thanksgiving and rest.

Genesis 2 states, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.  By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” 

Exodus 20 states, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor, do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Of course, those of the Christian faith designate Sunday as the Sabbath; whereas, those of the Jewish faith designate Saturday as the Sabbath.

The first legal restriction on Sundays can be traced back to the Fourth Century when Constantine, a sun-worshiper, required an abstinence from work.  Of course, Christians picked up the banner of blue laws trying to encourage church attendance or at least restrict drinking on Sundays.  By the way, in case you’re unaware, a blue law is a type of law designed to enforce religous standards, particularly the observance of a day of worship or rest.

Blue laws began in Texas in 1863 and were still being passed in 1961.  Most of the Texas blue laws came to an end in 1985.  Up until then one could buy beer and milk on Sundays but not mugs or baby bottles.  Hardware dealers could sell hammers and screwdrivers but not nails and srews.  One could buy blank cassette tapes but not recorded tapes.  Other prohibited items were clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, stoves, refrigerators, air conditioners, electric fans, washers, dryers, radios, televisions, cameras, jewelry, silverware, watches, clocks, luggage, and musical instruments.

The laws didn’t prohibit most businesses being open on Sundays, but all the restrictions made it impractical to open.

In Texas we still have a few blue laws: car dealers must be closed either Saturday or Sunday; alcohol products cannot be sold on Sundays before noon; and liquor stores are closed on Sundays.

The move to repeal the blue laws was begun by a group of major department stores in Houston which openly defied the laws by remaining open Saturdays and Sundays.  By the spring of that year, merchants in Austin and San Antonio joined the protest.

The big department stores formed Texans for Blue Law Repeal Inc. and lobbied for the repeal of the blue laws.

Not everyone was supportive of the Blue laws repeal.  Some merchants wanted to maintain family time for their employees.  Others were fearful of the cost of being open seven days a week.

Not many major chains are closed on Sundays: a couple which come to mind are Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby.  Hobby Lobby is my pusher for art supplies.  Assuming it was open like the rest of the world, I drove the twenty-five miles to College Station to pick up some paint on a Sunday.  No, I didn’t become angry.  Instead I felt admiration for Hobby Lobby’s decision not to open on Sundays.  Monday would work just fine for me.

Most blue laws have been repealed or declared unconstitutional or just simply not enforced.  The sale of alcoholic beverages is the one prohibition which remains.

Twenty-nine counties in Texas are completely dry, so closing time is not an issue in those counties.  In the other counties, bars can serve drinks Monday through Friday and Sundays until midnight.  A few years ago the Saturday night witching hour was extended to one a.m. which caused some consternation for a young friend of mine who was quite the rounder.  When I ran into my young friend, I casually asked him how things were going for him.  He responded that the new extended closing time was killing him.  I sympathized.  When I was young, I too quit drinking when they closed the doors.

In the mid 80’s, I noticed that businesses were beginning to stay open on Sundays, but at the time I was unaware that most blue laws had been abolished.  I’ve never been completely sure how I felt about businesses remaining open on the Sabbath.  I wonder how Aunt Gussie would have felt about this.


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