Remember "blue laws"?
I recall writing about their abolition in Missouri back in the 1970s and the concern about whether allowing commercial establishments to be open for business on Sunday would bring about the moral collapse of our culture.
It turns out that there still are blue laws here and there in the United States. And now they've become a big legislative issue in, of all places, North Dakota. As this AP story reports, "Critics of the nation's strictest so-called blue law began another effort Monday to strip it from the books. Some such restrictions have existed since North Dakota became a state in 1889, stemming from fears that visiting a retail store on Sunday morning would compete with church and erode family values, leaving little time for rest."
Well, the reality may well be that having retail stores open on Sunday competes with church and can "erode family values, leaving little time for rest." (Whatever the heck the term "family values" means.)
But it's not up to the state to worry about church attendance. It's not up to the state to define "family values" or any kind of spiritual values or spiritual discipline. It's up to the state, instead, to offer equality under the law and to maintain public safety.
It's up to religious communities to teach their followers what constitutes moral behavior. If a faith community thinks buying beer or sweaters or tires on Sunday is immoral and even sinful, it's up to that community to teach that value to its adherents, not to get the state to enforce its own version of moral rectitude.
Religious people who want to deputize the state to be its moral police might do better to move to a place like Saudi Arabia, where there really are vice police who do such things. I've seen them there.
The current North Dakota effort to do away with blue laws is far from the first there. As the AP reports, "The legislation is the latest in a line of attempts to persuade the Legislature to end the Sunday morning shopping prohibition. The state Supreme Court has twice upheld the ban, once in the mid-1960s and again in the early 1990s. The state's high court, in similar conclusions, ruled that the law was not to aid religion, but rather to set aside a day for 'rest and relaxation.'"
If that court was right, it still doesn't explain why it is the state's job to make sure this or that day is for rest and relaxation. Such matters, if they are to addressed at all by the law, should relate to labor laws and regulations, not religious activities.
For religion to operate freely, it simply needs a government that doesn't impede its ability to teach its followers what it believes to be proper theology and action. The last thing religion needs is for the state to be its handmaiden. That weakens religion.
(By the way, you still can find some blue laws hanging on not just in Missouri but in lots of states. The only blue laws I might keep are those that regulate the sales of alcohol after a certain late-night hour. And I'd do that for legitimate public safety reasons, not so the state can be a nanny.)
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WONDER WHAT HE MEANT BY THAT
Pope Francis seemed to say recently that there's lots of freedom of religion in China. He's going to have to do a lot of explaining of what he meant by that. For as the Crux piece to which I've linked you accurately reports, the evidence is quite the contrary. It's been that way for a long time and seems not to be getting any better.
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P.S.: There are several upcoming opportunities for KC area youth to be involved in interfaith activities, including a chance to do a service project and opportunities to discuss how to react to religious harassment. For details, click on this link to a pdf file outlining several upcoming events: Download KCIYA_upcoming_events_2017_01_17