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A blue law is a type of law, typically found in the United Statesmarker, designed to enforce religious standards, particularly the observance of Sunday as a day of worship or rest, and a restriction on Sunday shopping. Most have been repealed, have been declared unconstitutional, or are simply unenforced, although prohibitions on the sale of alcoholic beverages, and occasionally almost all commerce, on Sundays are still enforced in many areas. Blue laws often prohibit an activity only during certain hours and there are usually exceptions to the prohibition of commerce, like grocery and drug stores. In some places blue laws may be enforced due to religious principles, but others are retained as a matter of tradition or out of convenience.

Laws of this type are also found in non-Christian cultures such as Israel, where the day concerned is Saturday rather than Sunday, and Saudi Arabia, where the month of Ramadan is involved.

In the Cook Islandsmarker, blue laws were first written legislation, enacted by the London Missionary Society in 1827, with the consent of ariki (chiefs). In Tongamarker, the Vava'u Code (1839) was inspired by Methodist missionary teachings, and was a form of blue law. In Niuemarker, certain activities remain forbidden on Sunday, reflecting the country's strong Christian heritage.


The first usage of the word blue law may have been by the Reverend Samuel Peters (1735–1826) in his 1781 book General History of Connecticut. He used it to describe various laws first enacted by Puritan colonies in the 17th century, prohibiting certain business activities on specific days of the week (usually Sunday). 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 to support the assertion that the blue laws were originally printed on blue paper. Rather, the word blue was commonly used in the 18th century as a disparaging reference to rigid moral codes and those who observed them (e.g., "bluenoses", blue movies). 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, and it is more likely that he simply invented the term himself. 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. (See related article: Blue Laws)

Southern and mid-western states also passed numerous laws to protect the (Sunday) Sabbath during the mid to late nineteenth 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. Some of these laws still exist today.

Many European countries still place strong restrictions on store opening hours on Sundays, an example being Germanymarker's Ladenschlussgesetz.

In Henry Taber's Faith or Fact, he writes:

In Texasmarker, for example, blue laws prohibited selling housewares such as pots, pans, and washing machines on Sunday until 1985. In Coloradomarker, Illinoismarker, Indianamarker, Iowamarker, Louisianamarker, Mainemarker, Michiganmarker, Minnesotamarker, Missourimarker, Oklahomamarker, North Dakotamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, and Wisconsinmarker, car dealerships continue to operate under blue-law prohibitions in which an automobile may not be purchased or traded on a Sunday. Marylandmarker permits Sunday automobile sales only in the counties of Prince George'smarker, Montgomerymarker, and Howardmarker. Texasmarker and Utahmarker 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.

Many states still prohibit selling alcohol on Sunday, or at least before noon on Sunday, under the rationale that people should be in church on Sunday morning, or at least not drinking. At least one unusual feature of American culture—the ability to buy groceries, office supplies, and housewares from a drug store—can be traced to blue laws (under blue laws, drug stores are generally allowed to remain open on Sunday to accommodate emergency medical needs).

Blue laws may also prohibit retail activity on days other than Sunday. In Massachusettsmarker and Connecticutmarker, 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.

Seventh-day Adventist Church

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has always taken a stance against blue laws. Church members observe the Sabbath on Saturday thus conflicting with Sunday laws. In the early days of the church in the mid 1800s, many Adventists in America were imprisoned for a short time for working in their fields on Sunday.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that Sunday worship will be legislated nationwide in the United States, and eventually world wide. Historically this was introduced into Seventh-day Adventist beliefs during its conception. It was stated that the Catholic Church under the direction of the Pope will spearhead this legislation. It is believed that accepting this legislation — choosing to worship on Sunday vs. Saturday, and agreeing not to buy or sell on Sunday — is "taking the mark of the beast," the mark and the beast that is described in the book of Revelation in the Christian Bible. They believed persecution to the point of death will result from such legislation, and various Adventist-aligned ministries are known for their attempts to show the credulity of this belief today, despite statements by experts, Seventh-day Adventist leaders, and Seventh-day Adventist congressmen to the contrary. Some Adventists, in lieu of such statements, have opted for alternative views of the fulfillment of this prophecy.

United States


In the state of Arizonamarker, alcohol sales are not permitted between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. However, stores may not start selling alcohol until 10 a.m. on Sundays.


The sale of any "intoxicating alcoholic liquor" on Sunday is prohibited by state law. However, restaurants or hotels that have appropriate alcohol licenses and are in jurisdictions that voted to allow Sunday sales are allowed to serve alcohol on Sunday for on-premises consumption. The same rule applies to large attendance facilities.


  • Car sales remain prohibited on Sundays.


Since the founding of the puritanical theological colony of New Haven in 1638, Connecticut had some of the harshest blue laws in the country. Until the 1970s, no stores were allowed to open on Sundays, save Jewish-owned businesses, which had to be closed on Saturdays. To this day, liquor sales and hunting on Sundays are illegal. Originally stores were not allowed to sell liquor after 8 p.m. but recently stores have the option of staying open until 9 p.m. Bars and restaurants are forbidden to sell liquor after 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. On Friday and Saturday nights bars and restaurants can remain open until 2 a.m.


Alcohol sales are generally prohibited on Sundays, with some exceptions made at the discretion of local governments. Cities and counties of sufficiently large populations may authorize Sunday alcohol sales by the drink at festivals, large events, and "eating establishments," which are defined as licensed establishments in which most revenue is generated through sales of prepared food. You are also not allowed to buy any type of alcohol past 11 PM on any other day although in most areas this law is generally ignored.


Car sales are prohibited on Sundays.Horse racing is prohibited on Sundays unless authorized by the local municipality.


Off-premises alcohol sales are completely prohibited on Sundays. Restaurants and taverns generally still serve it. Additionally, alcohol sales are prohibited Christmas Day and election days until the polls close. Vehicle sales are also banned on Sundays.


Car sales are prohibited on Sundays.


Car sales are prohibited on Sundays.


Most off-premises alcohol sales were not permitted on Sundays until 2004. Exceptions were made in 1990 for municipalities that fell within 10 miles of the New Hampshiremarker or Vermontmarker border. Since 1992 cities and towns statewide were able to sell on Sundays from the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving to New Years Day. In both exceptions sales were not allowed before noon. Since the law changed in 2004, off-premises sales are now allowed anywhere in the state, with local approval, after noon. Retail alcohol sales remain barred on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day (or the Monday following Christmas or New Year's Day should either fall on a Sunday). Hunting on Sunday is prohibited.

Massachusetts also has a "Day of Rest" statute that provides that all employees are entitled to one day off from work in seven calendar days. While this provision retains the blue-law enforcement of a religious practice (weekly rest) recast as a state-beneficial practice, it uncharacteristically neglects to specify any particular weekday.


  • The sale of alcohol is banned from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 2 a.m. to noon on Sundays. The only exception to this rule is New Year's Eve, in which case alcohol sales are permitted until 4 a.m. Alcohol sale is likewise banned from 9 p.m. Dec. 24 until 7 a.m. Dec. 26, or noon if Dec. 26 falls on a Sunday. Specific localities may petition for exceptions for either on-site or off-site consumption.
  • Additionally, vehicle sales are banned on Sunday in counties having a population of 130,000 or more. Vehicle dealers who keep the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday may operate on Sundays instead.


  • The sale of alcohol in liquor stores is prohibited state-wide on Sundays.
  • Car dealerships are not allowed to be open for sales on Sunday.


The sale of alcohol is prohibited in most of Mississippi on Sundays. Also, the sale of liquor is not allowed at all in nearly half of the state's counties.


The sale of alcohol is prohibited from 1:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Alcohol sales on Sunday are allowed from 9:00 a.m. to midnight subject to an additional liquor license fee.

New Jersey

  • In 1677, the General Assembly of East New Jersey banned the "singing of vain songs or tunes" on the Sabbath.

One of the last remaining blue laws in the United Statesmarker that covers virtually all selling is found in Bergen Countymarker, New Jerseymarker.

New York

Alcohol sales for consumption off-premises are not permitted between 3 AM and 8 AM on Sundays, while on-premises sales are not permitted between 4 AM and 8 AM on any day. Liquor stores are also required to close one day per week, on a day of the store's choosing. Prior to 2006, off-premises alcohol sales were forbidden until noon on Sundays, and liquor/wine stores were required to be closed the entire day. Because grocery stores are not permitted to carry wine or liquor, the older law essentially meant that only beer and alcoholic malt beverages could be purchased at all on Sundays.

Relatively few parts of New York actually permit alcohol sales at all times permissible under state law; most counties have more restrictive blue laws of their own.

North Carolina

  • The sale of alcohol on Sundays is prohibited from 2 a.m. to 12 p.m. and on other days of the week from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Liquor stores (referred to as ABC stores) are closed on Sunday.

North Dakota

  • All retail stores, excluding grocery stores and drug stores, must remain closed between the hours of midnight and noon Sundays.
  • Car sales are prohibited on Sundays.
  • Until 1992, all retail stores were to remain closed all day Sunday.


Alcohol sales are barred from 2:30-5:30 am on Monday through Saturday (and on Sundays for beer). Wine and spirits sales are barred from 2:30 am–10:00 am (or 2:30 am–1:00 pm, depending on the license and local ordinances) on Sundays and require an additional license.


It is illegal to sell packaged liquor (off-premises sales) on Sundays. Sales also are prohibited on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Car dealerships are also closed on Sundays.


Oregon was the first place in the U.S. to outlaw alcohol, prior to statehood, in 1844. The law was repealed in 1849. It then implemented prohibition again in 1916, prior to national prohibition. Today, liquor sales are conducted by state-licensed liquor stores; alcohol may be sold for on- or off-premises consumption from 7am to 2:30 a.m. daily.


  • The sale of alcohol on Sundays was prohibited until 2003. Since then, alcohol may be purchased at bars and restaurants. Since 2005, hours of sales of malt and brewed beverages on Sundays depends on whether beer distributors have obtained a Sunday sales permit from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. For beer distributors without a Sunday sales permit, sales and delivery of malt or brewed beverages can occur from noon until 5:00 p.m. Some wine and spirits stores, which are operated by the state, are selectively open on Sundays.
  • To this day, hunting is prohibited on Sundays.
  • Car dealerships are also prohibited from being open on Sundays.

South Carolina

Blue laws in South Carolina were first enacted in colonial times, with Sunday being the prescribed day for Christians and Saturday the prescribed day for Jews. While blue laws are still in place throughout the state, counties and cities have the option of repealing most of them.

  • As of today, South Carolina blue laws prohibit sporting events and non-essential businesses from operating on Sundays before 1:30 p.m. Many counties and towns in high-tourist areas have repealed this. Places such as gas stations and grocery stores are exempt as well.
  • As of October 20, 2009, the Sunday retail Blue Laws in Greenwood County are no more, by unanimous vote of the Greenwood County Council.
  • While there are no dry counties in South Carolina, most counties still prohibit Sunday off-premise beer and wine sales. Liquor stores must remain closed on Sundays. Cities and counties may hold a referendum to allow the sale of beer and wine off-premise on Sundays. Restaurants can obtain an exemption to serve on Sundays as well.

From 1950 until 1983, the Southern 500 auto race in Darlington was held on Monday (Labor Day) because of blue laws; a 1983 NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman race at Darlington was 250 miles, not the traditional 200 miles, because it was run on the Sunday before the Southern 500. State blue laws mandate a race distance of 250 miles for Sunday races. Also, the inaugural Rebel 300 resulted in a fine for track president Bob Colvin for holding it on a Sunday after the Saturday before was rained out; ironically, the Rebel 500 run 50 years later in 2007 was pushed from Saturday to Sunday and run at 1 PM, with the 250-mile exemption in place.

The 1978 Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston was held on a Sunday, but drew complaints from churches; that led to the race being moved to Saturday in 1979, where it stands. The state's three marathons—in Greenville, Kiawah Island, and Myrtle Beach—are all held on Saturday. Greenville had been held on a Sunday in the first two years (2006-07) as it runs through the Furman University campus. However, complaints have led the third Spinx Run Fest marathon in 2008 being moved to Saturday.

Myrtle Beach has a problem holding a marathon on Sunday, since ten churches are on the marathon courses (listed in order of appearance on course). Eight of the ten churches (exceptions are churches on Mile 12 and 19) are on Kings Highway.

  • Mile 9
    • Kingsway Pentecostal Church

  • Mile 11
    • First Baptist Church
    • Agape Christian Fellowship
    • First United Methodist Church

  • Mile 12
    • Sandy Grove Baptist Church

  • Mile 19
    • Faith Presbyterian Church

  • Mile 21
    • Ocean View Baptist Church

  • Mile 22
    • St. Philips' Lutheran Church

  • Mile 23
    • Church of the Nazarene

  • Mile 24
    • St. Andrew's Catholic Church
    • Trinity Episcopal Church


  • Sale of liquor is prohibited on Sundays with the exception of restaurants and some hotels
  • Likewise, all liquor stores are closed on Sunday
  • Several Tennessee counties are dry counties (the ownership and operation of stores that sell liquor (anything stronger than beer or wine) is prohibited), and may not sell beer/wine until after noon on Sundays, if it is permitted at all.


  • Beverages of 20% alcohol content or higher are prohibited from sale on Sunday with the exception of establishments that sell food
  • Liquor stores closed statewide on Sundays
  • Liquor stores open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
  • Beer and wine may be purchased at any open store until 11 p.m. Sunday
  • Beer and wine may be purchased at any open store until midnight Monday through Friday.
  • Beer and wine may be purchased at any open store until 1 a.m. Saturday.
  • Last call at bars and clubs all days of the week is at 2 a.m.
  • You can only buy beer and wine after 12:00 (noon) Sunday. The rest of the week it may be purchased at 7 a.m.


  • Liquor stores are closed statewide on Sundays.
  • Car lots are closed on either Saturday or Sunday, depending on the dealership.
  • No alcohol served in restaurants without purchase of food.
  • Only 4.0% or below beer available on tap.
  • Ban on the sales of kegs.


Blue laws were repealed in Virginia in 1988. However, some businesses (including the state owned and operated "ABC" liquor stores & the Ukrops grocery store chain); still observe them to some extent. Both stores are closed on Sundays (although ABC stores are slowly starting to open on Sunday in larger cities, based on population).


Washington state's broad prohibition on Sunday business activity was repealed by the initiative process in 1966. The state's Liquor Control Board authorized Sunday liquor sales on a restricted basis in 1967, and in 1976 expanded the hours for those sales to the same as for other days of the week.

West Virginia

The sale of liquor is prohibited statewide on Sundays. Beer and wine may be purchased after 1 pm.

The sale of all alcohol is prohibited on election days.


In Canada, the Lord's Day Act, passed in 1906, prevents business transactions from taking place on Sundays. The constitutionality of this act was questioned in the case of 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 Canadamarker. In a unanimous 6-0 decision, the Lord's Day Act was ruled as an infringement of the freedom of conscience and religion defined in section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


Until 2006, in much of southern Ontariomarker, it was illegal to hunt using a firearm on Sundays as part of the Lord's Day Act. The issue of whether or not to allow Sunday gun hunting has now been left up to each municipality to decide, many of them now allowing Sunday gun hunting.


Running most public transportation from Friday evenings to Saturday evenings is banned in Israel, at least as of the summer of 2008.

Court cases

The concept of a secular day of rest, not directly related to a religious day of rest, has been adduced as justification for retention of restrictions on commercial activity on Sunday.

The Supreme Court of Canadamarker, in the case of R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] (1 S.C.R. 295) ruled that the 1906 Lord's Day Act that required most places to be closed on Sunday did not have a legitimate secular purpose, and was an unconstitutional attempt to establish a religious-based closing law in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the court later concluded, in R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd., [1986] (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.

The Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker held in its landmark case, McGowan v. Maryland (1961), that Marylandmarker'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 the 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).

According to KVIA-TVmarker El Paso, in March 2006 Texas judges upheld the state Blue Law that requires car dealerships to close either Saturday or Sunday each weekend.

See also


  1. Encyclopedia Britannica, Columbia Encyclopedia and The Reader's Companion to American History. Retrieved August 13, 2006.
  2. American "blue laws" were so named because they were originally printed on blue paper.. Retrieved July 12, 2006.
  3. Good Question: Why Can't We Buy Alcohol On Sunday?, WCCO-TV, November 20, 2006
  4. "A turkey of a blue law", Boston Globe. Retrieved November 25, 2006.
  5. Adventist News Network 12/13/96, "Sunday Laws not an Option Now"
  6. Des Moines Register 01/05/01, "Anti-Catholic Newspaper Ad"
  7. "Arkansas Code 3-3-210"
  8. "Arkansas Code 3-9-215"
  9. "Arkansas Code 3-9-216"
  10. The General Laws of Massachusetts Chapter 149: Section 48. One day of rest in seven; operation of business on Sunday; violations
  11. MN Stat. 340A.504
  12. MN Stat. 168.275
  13. Borough of Paramus, NJ — Chapter 391: SUNDAY ACTIVITIES § 391-1. Findings., Paramus, New Jersey. Retrieved August 10, 2007.
  14. IN NEW JERSEY; PARAMUS BLUE LAWS CRIMP OFFICE LEASING, The New York Times, November 4, 1984. "Officials tried to regulate the effects of the tremendous growth on the borough by insisting that at least one day a week, Paramus be allowed to enjoy some of its former peace and quiet. In 1957, an ordinance was passed banning all worldly employment on Sundays, forcing all the new stores and malls built in the celery fields to close for the day."
  17. The Index-Journal: Blue Laws are no more. Retrieved Oct 21, 2009.
  18. McGOWAN v. MARYLAND, 366 U.S. 420 (1961), Supreme Court of the United States, Decided May 29, 1961. Accessed 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."
  19. The LANDMARK Cases, National Sunday Law Crisis. Accessed May 21, 2008.
  20. "'Blue Law' for car sales upheld by Judge", KVIA, March 22, 2006. Accessed 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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