Of all the states that still have “blue laws” on the books — preventing the sale of certain items like liquor on Sunday mornings — North Dakota’s may be the strictest in the nation. Until 1991, virtually no retailers (like Walmart) were allowed to be open on Sunday. After 1991, businesses open to the public could only be open after noon (with few exceptions).
Why? Because Sunday morning is reserved for Jesus, dammit. And we can’t have any distractions like open stores that might lure people away from church.
That ridiculous, archaic thinking is what North Dakota legislators tried to overturn with HB 1163 in 2017. That bill got through the State House by a vote of 48-46… only to die in the State Senate 25-22.
At the time, senators cited religion as an excuse to keep the law as it was:
“Man was not made for the Sabbath, rather the Sabbath was made for man,” Senator Robert Eberle (R-Lehr) told the floor in remarks attributed to Jesus. He went on to call the desire for Sunday sales “selfish consumerism.”
Senator David Clemens (R-West Fargo) said North Dakotans should “use that time to go to worship” or be with their families. Senator Diane Larson (R-Bismarck) echoed those sentiments.
The obvious rebuttal was that religious people were free to abide by the Sabbath or attend church or be with their families. No one was stopping them. Just because other options were available didn’t prevent anyone from living by their own religious rules. (And since when did the Bible say it’s okay to purchase goods on the Sabbath after noon?)
But will it finally get through the State Senate? It just might. Legislators are optimistic.
… Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, predicted Thursday the repeal would pass the Legislature.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum supports repealing the Sunday closing law, a spokesman previously said.
Repeal supporters said the bill was a matter of economic freedom and argued retail employees are already working inside the stores ahead of noon on Sunday.
“Our law … does not prevent people from working, it just stops us from shopping,” said Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot. “It’s time probably that we just change the law and then allow businesses to decide when it’s best for them to be open and closed.”
… What? Sensible Republicans? I’m not used to this.
But don’t worry. The theocrats were still there making their case.
Several opponents leaned heavily on religious arguments Thursday. Rep. Sebastian Ertelt, R-Lisbon, said laws passed by the state Legislature are not above “God’s law,” which he said policy makers already recognize by prohibiting “wholesale murder.”
Rep. Kathy Skroch, R-Lidgerwood, argued people need time for rest and relaxation and blamed the Legislature for “undermining” Sunday restrictions.
“For the good of our families and our state, we must not strip the last remnants of the North Dakota Sunday closing laws,” she said.
Remember: No one’s forcing her family to do anything they don’t want to do on Sundays.
State Rep. Vernon Laning also made a religious reference in defense of the archaic law:
I think that [a] half-day should be set aside to recognize that we all do have a Creator, and He’s the ultimate law giver and the ultimate law controller. And I don’t think it hurts North Dakota to remain in that position to recognize that.
That’s a convenient thing to say when you live in a bubble where Jews and Muslims and atheists simply don’t exist.
Let’s hope those people are finally in the minority. The State Senate will soon have a chance to push religion further into the past where it belongs for the benefit of business owners and citizens. Let’s hope they don’t screw it up again.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)