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A blue law is a type of law designed to restrict or ban some or all Sunday shopping for religious standards, particularly the observance of a day of worship or rest. Blue laws may also restrict or ban sale of certain items on specific days, most often on Sundays in the western world. Some Islamic nations may ban on Fridays, and Israel often on Saturday Sabbath. Blue laws are enforced in parts of the United States, as well as some European countries, particularly in Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway keeping most stores closed on Sundays.
In the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court have held blue laws as constitutional numerous times due to secular rationales, even though the origin of the blue laws were for religious purposes. Most blue laws have been repealed in the United States, although many states still ban the sale of alcohol or cars on Sundays. Bergen County in New Jersey is notable for their blue laws banning the sale of clothing, shoes, furniture, home supplies and appliances on Sundays kept through county-wide referendum. Paramus, New Jersey has its own blue laws even more strict than the county itself, banning any type of worldly employment on Sundays except necessity items such as food and gasoline.
The first occurrence of the phrase blue law so far found is in the New-York Mercury of March 3, 1755, where the writer imagines a future newspaper praising the revival of "our Connecticut's old Blue Laws". In his 1781 book General History of Connecticut, the Reverend Samuel Peters (1735–1826) used it to describe various laws first enacted by Puritan colonies in the 17th century that prohibited various activities, recreational as well as commercial, on Sunday (Saturday evening through Sunday night). Sometimes the sale of certain types of merchandise was prohibited, and in some cases all retail and business activity.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that blue laws were originally printed on blue paper. Rather, the word blue was used in the 17th century as a disparaging reference to rigid moral codes and those who observed them, particularly in blue-stocking, a reference to Oliver Cromwell's supporters in the parliament of 1653. Moreover, although Reverend Peters claimed that the term blue law was originally used by Puritan colonists, his work has since been found to be unreliable. In any event, Peters never asserted that the blue laws were originally printed on blue paper, and this has come to be regarded as an example of false etymology. Another version is that the laws were first bound in books with blue covers.
Southern and mid-western states also passed numerous laws to protect Sunday during the mid to late 19th century. Laws targeted numerous groups including saloon owners, Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, and non-religious peoples. These Sunday laws enacted at the state and local levels would sometimes carry penalties for doing non-religious activities on Sunday as part of an effort to enforce religious observance and church attendance. Numerous people were arrested for playing cards, baseball, and even fixing wagon wheels on Sunday.
In Henry Taber's Faith or Fact, he writes:
The first observance of Sunday—that history records is in the fourth century', when Constantine issued an edict (not requiring its religious observance, but simply abstinence from work) reading, 'let all the judges and people of the town rest and all the various trades be suspended on the venerable day of the sun.' At the time of the issue of this edict, Constantine was a sun-worshiper; therefore it could have had no relation whatsoever to Christianity.
In Texas, for example, blue laws prohibited selling housewares such as pots, pans, and washing machines on Sunday until 1985. In Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, car dealerships continue to operate under blue-law prohibitions in which an automobile may not be purchased or traded on a Sunday. Maryland permits Sunday automobile sales only in the counties of Prince George's, Montgomery, and Howard; similarly, Michigan restricts Sunday sales to only those counties with a population of less than 130,000. Texas and Utah prohibit car dealerships from operating over consecutive weekend days. In some cases these laws were created or retained with the support of those whom they affected, to allow them a day off each week without fear of their competitors still being open.
The Lord's Day Act, which since 1906 had prohibited business transactions from taking place on Sundays, was declared unconstitutional in the 1985 case R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd. Calgary police officers witnessed several transactions at the Big M Drug Mart, all of which occurred on a Sunday. Big M was charged with a violation of the Lord's Day Act. A provincial court ruled that the Lord's Day Act was unconstitutional, but the Crown proceeded to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In a unanimous 6–0 decision, the Lord's Day Act was ruled an infringement of the freedom of conscience and religion defined in section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, the court later concluded, in R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd.,  (2 S.C.R. 713) that Ontario's Retail Business Holiday Act, which required some Sunday closings, did not violate the Charter because it did not have a religious purpose. Nonetheless, as of today, virtually all provincial Sunday Closing laws have ceased to exist. Some were struck down by provincial courts, but most were simply abrogated — often due to competitive reasons where out-of-province or foreign merchants were open.
In Chile most services and businesses are closed on both New Year's Day (January 1) and Labor Day (May 1). Alcoholic beverages in Chile are not sold on Sunday mornings, while on election days their sale is prohibited by law during the entire day (starting the Saturday before).
Late in 2010, some Congressmen (after the four-day Bicentennial holiday was proved successful) asked for a law that would forbid the opening of supermarkets and department stores on Sundays, however retailers claimed that Sunday shopping made about 20% of their weekly sales, more than other day of the week, thus preventing the law from taking place.
Cook Islands, Tonga and Niue
In the Cook Islands, blue laws were the first written legislation, enacted by the London Missionary Society in 1827, with the consent of ariki (chiefs). In Tonga, the Vava'u Code (1839) was inspired by Methodist missionary teachings, and was a form of blue law. In Niue, certain activities remain forbidden on Sunday, reflecting the country's history of observing Christian Sabbath tradition.
In Denmark the closing laws restricting retail trade on Sundays have been abolished with effect from October 1, 2012. From then on retail trade is only restricted on public holidays (New Years Day, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Day of Prayer, Ascension Day, Whit Sunday, Whit Monday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day) and on Constitution Day, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve (on New Year's Eve from 3 pm only). On these days almost all shops will remain closed. Exempt are bakeries, DIYs, garden centres, gas stations and smaller supermarkets.
England and Wales
The Sunday Trading Act of 1994 permits large shops (those with a relevant floor area in excess of 280 square metres) to open for up to six hours on Sunday between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. Small shops, those with an area of below 280 square metres, are free to set their own Sunday trading times. Some large shops, such as off-licences, service stations and garages, are exempt from the restrictions.
Christmas Day and Easter Sunday have been excluded as trading days. This applies even to garden centres, which earlier had been trading over Easter, but not to small shops (those with an area of below 280 square metres) 
In Norway the sale of alcohol on Sundays and election day is strictly illegal, the sale of alcohol on Saturdays ends at 6 pm, while it ends at 8 pm on weekdays. Most stores are closed on Sundays.
In Thailand, stores are banned from selling alcohol between midnight-11am and 2pm-5pm. Within these hours however it is legal to buy a total quantity of at least ten litres of any alcoholic beverages. Alcohol sales are also banned during many holidays, especially those related to Buddhism and to the King of Thailand, and election periods. The ban is sometimes skirted by wrapping newspaper or other covering around beer bottles so as not to openly violate it, especially at venues serving tourists.
Many states prohibit selling alcohol for on and off-premise sales in one form or another on Sundays at some restricted time, under the idea that people should be in church on Sunday morning, or at least not drinking.
Another feature of blue laws in the United States restricts the purchase of particular items on Sundays. Some of these laws restrict the ability to buy cars, groceries, office supplies, and housewares among other things. Though most of these laws have been relaxed or repealed in most states, they are still enforced in some other states.
Some states prohibit some forms of hunting in various degrees on Sundays. For example Virginia allows the use of hounds to chase wild game but does not permit hunters to still hunt on Sunday.
Blue laws may also prohibit retail activity on days other than Sunday. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, for example, blue laws dating to the Puritans of the 17th century still prohibit most retail stores, including grocery stores, from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Bergen County, New Jersey is the last remaining county that prohibits the sale of clothing, shoes, furniture, home appliances and certain other items on Sundays for secular reasons voted to keep by residents through numerous referendums. Paramus, New Jersey bans any type of employment except necessary items like food and gasoline.
The Supreme Court of the United States held in its landmark case, McGowan v. Maryland (1961), that Maryland's blue laws violated neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It approved the state's blue law restricting commercial activities on Sunday, noting that while such laws originated to encourage attendance at Christian churches, the contemporary Maryland laws were intended to serve "to provide a uniform day of rest for all citizens" on a secular basis and to promote the secular values of "health, safety, recreation, and general well-being" through a common day of rest. That this day coincides with Christian Sabbath is not a bar to the state's secular goals; it neither reduces its effectiveness for secular purposes nor prevents adherents of other religions from observing their own holy days.
There were four landmark Sunday-law cases altogether in 1961. The other three were Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Mass., Inc., 366 U.S. 617 (1961); Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961); Two Guys from Harrison vs. McGinley, 366 U.S. 582 (1961).
In March 2006, Texas judges upheld the state blue law that requires car dealerships to close either Saturday or Sunday each weekend.
In Vanuatu the sale of alcohol in shops and supermarkets is forbidden from midday Saturday until Monday morning, although it is available at resorts and hotels.
- Dry county
- Raines law
- Sunday shopping
- Sundown town
- Religious coercion
- Oxford English Dictionary.
- Snopes.com: American "blue laws" were so named because they were originally printed on blue paper.. Retrieved July 12, 2006.
- Good Question: Why Can't We Buy Alcohol On Sunday?, WCCO-TV, November 20, 2006[dead link]
- "CanLII – 1985 CanLII 69 (S.C.C.)". Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII.org). September 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-24.
- Louis-Philippe Raynault-Ollu (February 20, 2012). "Sunday Observance Laws in North America". Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Retrieved 2013-07-17.
- Lov om ændring af lov om detailsalg fra butikker m.v. - Liberalisering af reglerne om åbningstid - retsinformation.dk
- Trading hours for retailers: the law - GOV.UK
- "A turkey of a blue law", Boston Globe. Retrieved November 25, 2006.
- McGOWAN v. MARYLAND, 366 U.S. 420 (1961), Supreme Court of the United States, Decided May 29, 1961. Retrieved August 10, 2007. "The present purpose and effect of most of our Sunday Closing Laws is to provide a uniform day of rest for all citizens; and the fact that this day is Sunday, a day of particular significance for the dominant Christian sects, does not bar the State from achieving its secular goals."
- The LANDMARK Cases, National Sunday Law Crisis. Retrieved May 21, 2008.
- "'Blue Law' for car sales upheld by Judge"[dead link], KVIA, March 22, 2006. Retrieved May 28, 2008. "A Texas judge has upheld an old law that requires car dealerships in the Lone Star state to close one day each weekend. They must now choose to open either Saturday or Sunday."
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- Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture – Blue Laws
- The Massachusetts' Blue Laws
- Blue Law - Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL newspaper)