ON THE BLUE LAWSFebruary 1, 1977 The repeal of the Sunday Closing or Blue Laws portends a negative impact on the quality of life in Massachusetts. We, therefore, urge the preservation of these ancient but valuable restrictions to protect a common day of rest.
Proponents of repeal argue that an end to the Blue Laws will have substantial economic benefits, including an increase in sales, profits, employment, payrolls, consumer convenience, revenues, the state's competitive advantage in relation to its neighbors, plus a reduction in prices. These extensive claims invite skepticism, In fact, all of these claims have been strongly refuted by opponents of repeal, some of whom maintain that exactly the opposite effects will occur. For example, the claim of increased sales is offset by the alternative position that only a certain number of dollars for retail purposes exists and they will be expanded over seven rather than six days. Moreover, the alleged competitive advantage for Massachusetts will not materialize, it is argued, because shoppers travel to border states not merely to take advantage of Sunday openings but to save money on sales taxes.
The issue of economic benefits is immensely complex and strongly debated. It deserves lengthy and careful study, not exaggerated advocacy on either side.
Moreover, proponents of repeal argue that the option of opening or remaining closed will be preserved. Cities or towns can choose to maintain Sunday and holiday closings; commercial establishments can choose not to open; and laborers will be free to work or not to work. It seems more likely, however, that the practical dynamics of competition will force openings. When one city permits openings, others will follow suit, to maintain competitive parity. Businesses will do likewise, and workers, receiving income incentives and fearing reprisals, will feel compelled to work. The likely result will be generalized commercial openings, making the seventh day nearly indistinguishable from the other six in terms of consumer and commercial activity.
Whatever conclusions are ultimately reached about the economic gains or losses from the Sunday closing laws, some fundamental human values could be lost if these laws are repealed. Society needs a regular period of rest, relaxation, and renewal, a shift in pace from our pervasive consumerism and commercialism. A common day of rest makes it more likely that families and friends can experience this relaxation and renewal together. The present exceptions in the law mean that many citizens must work on Sunday I but the repeal of the closing laws probably would magnify that factor many-fold, making a qualitative change out of a quantitative one. Sunday closing laws are a device to protect the quality of human life in a complex, intense, and almost constantly gyrating society. The rest from labor, the relief from the clamor of perpetual motion, is such a fundamental human need as to be a sacred duty. To brand these laws as archaic is to pretend that these needs are outmoded.
The original religious rationale for the Blue Laws is unfair in a pluralistic society. The sanctity of Sabbath worship, of course, is one of our commitments, but it cannot be one, in the midst of cultural diversity, for which we seek the sanctions of civil law. Though the present common day of rest obviously coincides with the primary day of worship in the churches, it is unclear that Sunday openings will have any more adverse effects on participation in Sunday worship than recreational opportunities now have. Our intent, therefore, in supporting the principle of these laws is not to protect the Christian Sabbath, but to preserve the benefits for human well-being in a uniform time for rest and renewal. Until such occasion, if ever, as changes in cultural patterns and traditions allow for another day, it seems reasonable that the time of common rest should be Sunday.
The very complexity of our society, of course, requires some exceptions to Sunday closings. An examination of the laws might reveal, in fact, the need for further amendments to insure that exceptions are rational rather than random. All such exceptions, we hope, will be based upon necessity and equitability, to maintain the day of rest as a time to benefit, not hurt, people.
We believe that the Sunday closing laws deserve continuation. We recognize that the effects of these statutes are complex and ambivalent. We, however, urge citizens and legislators to consider not only the alleged economic benefits of repeal, which may, in fact, be mythical or minimal, but also the quality of life in this Commonwealth.
The above statement was signed on February 1, 1977 by six denominational executives of member-bodies in the Massachusetts Council of Churches. Representing the viewpoint of the Council, it also was endorsed by the Massachusetts Commission on Christian Unity.
The position was reaffirmed by the Massachusetts Council of Churches Board of Directors as official policy in 1982, 1985, and 1990.
MASSACHUSETTS COUNCIL OF CHURCHES 14 Beacon Street Boston, MA. 02108 The Rev. Diane C. Kessler, Executive Director 617-523-2771