Sabbath Eve, painting by Alexander Johnston

Blue laws, also known as Sunday laws, Sunday trade laws, and Sunday closing laws, are laws restricting or banning certain activities on specified days, usually Sundays in the western world. The laws were adopted originally for religious reasons, specifically to promote the observance of the Christian day of worship, but since then have come to serve secular purposes as well.

Blue laws commonly ban certain business and recreational activities on Sundays and impose restrictions on the retail sale of hard goods and consumables, particularly alcoholic beverages.[1][2] The laws also place limitations on a range of other endeavors, including travel, fashions, hunting, professional sports, stage performances, movie showings, and gambling.[3][4] While less prevalent today, blue laws continue to be enforced in parts of the United States and Canada as well as in European countries, such as Austria, Germany, Norway, and Poland, where most stores are required to close on Sundays.[3][5][6][7][8]

In the United States, the Supreme Court has upheld blue laws as constitutional, recognizing their religious origins but citing secular justifications that have resulted, most notably the provision of a day of rest for the general population.[9][10] Meanwhile, various state courts have struck down the laws as either unenforceable or in violation of their states' constitutions. In response, state legislators have re-enacted certain Sunday laws to satisfy the rulings while allowing some of the other statutes to remain on the books with no intention to enforce them.[11][failed verification]


The Roman Emperor Constantine promulgated the first known law regarding prohibition of Sunday labour for apparent religion-associated reasons in A.D. 321:

On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.

— Codex Justinianus, lib. 3, tit. 12, 3

The earliest laws in North America addressing Sunday activities and public behavior were enacted in the Jamestown Colony in 1619 by the first General Assembly of Virginia. Among the 70 laws passed by the assembly was a mandate requiring attendance by all colonists at both morning and afternoon worship services on Sundays. The laws adopted that year also included provisions addressing idleness, gambling, drunkenness, and excessive apparel.[12] Similar laws aimed at keeping the Sabbath holy and regulating morals were soon adopted throughout the colonies.[13]

The first known example of the phrase "blue laws" in print was in the March 3, 1755, edition of the New-York Mercury, in which the writer imagines a future newspaper praising the revival of "our [Connecticut's] old Blue Laws".[14] In his 1781 book General History of Connecticut, the Reverend Samuel Peters (1735–1826) used the phrase to describe numerous laws adopted by 17th-century Puritans that prohibited various activities on Sunday, recreational as well as commercial.[15] Beyond that, Peters' book is regarded as an unreliable account of the laws and probably was written to satirize their puritanical nature.[16]

While the historical roots of Sunday trade laws in the United States are generally known, the origin of the term "blue laws" remains a mystery. According to a Time magazine editorial in 1961, the year the Supreme Court heard four cases on the issue, the color blue came to be associated with colonial laws in opposition to the red emblem of British royalty.[17] Other explanations have been offered. One of the most widely circulated is that early blue laws adopted in Connecticut were printed on blue paper. However, no copies have been found that would support this claim and it is not deemed credible.[18] A more plausible explanation, one that is gaining general acceptance, is that the laws adopted by Puritans were aimed at enforcing morality and thus were "blue-nosed", though the term "blue" may have been used in the vernacular of the times as a synonym for puritanism itself, in effect, overly strict.[16][2]

As Protestant moral reformers organized the Sabbath reform in 19th-century America, calls for the enactment and enforcement of stricter Sunday laws developed. Numerous Americans were arrested for working, keeping an open shop, drinking alcohol, traveling, and engaging in recreational activities on Sundays. Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley write that throughout their existence, organizations advocating first-day Sabbatarianism, such as the Lord's Day Alliance in North America and the Lord's Day Observance Society in the British Isles, were supported by labor unions in lobbying "to prevent secular and commercial interests from hampering freedom of worship and from exploiting workers".[19]

In Canada, the Ligue du Dimanche, a Roman Catholic Sunday league, supported the Lord's Day Act in 1923 and promoted first-day Sabbatarian legislation.[20][failed verification][21] Beginning in the 1840s, workers, Jews, Seventh Day Baptists, freethinkers, and other groups began to organize opposition. Throughout the century, Sunday laws fueled church–state controversy, and as an issue that contributed to the emergence of modern American minority-rights politics.[22] On the other hand, the more recent Dies Domini, written by Pope John Paul II in 1998, advocates Sunday legislation in that it protects civil servants and workers; the North Dakota Catholic Conference in 2011 likewise maintained that blue laws, in accordance with the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, "ensure that, for reasons of economic productivity, citizens are not denied time for rest and divine worship".[23] Similarly, Chief Justice Earl Warren, while recognizing the partial religious origin of blue laws, acknowledged the "secular purpose they served by providing a benefit to workers at the same time that they enhanced labor productivity".[24]

Laws by jurisdiction


A map of Europe providing an overview of Sunday shopping laws in each country

Green: Large supermarkets and shopping centers are generally open on Sundays.
Blue: Large supermarkets are allowed to be open for no more than 6 hours on Sundays.
Red: Large supermarkets are generally closed on Sundays.


The Ladenschlussgesetz "shop closing" laws on Sundays and public holidays are in effect, since 1956.


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.[25]

England and Wales

Before 1994

Prior to 1994, trading laws forbade sale of certain products on a Sunday; the distinction between those that could and could not be sold was increasingly seen as arbitrary, and the laws were inadequately enforced and widely flouted. For example, some supermarkets would treat the relatively modest fines arising as a business cost and open nonetheless.[citation needed]

Since 1994

The Sunday Trading Act 1994 relaxed restrictions on Sunday trading. This produced vocal opposition from bodies such as the Keep Sunday Special campaign, and the Lord's Day Observance Society: on religious grounds, on the grounds that it would increase consumerism, and that it would reduce shop assistants' weekend leisure time.

The legislation permits large shops (those with a relevant floor area in excess of 280 square metres; 3000 sq. ft.) to open for up to six hours on Sunday. Small shops, those with an area of below 280 square metres (3000 sq. ft.), 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.

Some very large shops (e.g. department stores) open for longer than six hours on a Sunday by allowing customers in to browse 30 minutes prior to allowing them to make a purchase, since the six-hour restriction only applies to time during which the shop may make sales.

Christmas Day and Easter Sunday are non-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; 3000 sq. ft.).[26]


See also: Sunday shopping § Netherlands

Prior to 1996, shops were generally closed on Sundays. A new law regarding opening times changed that and leaves that decision mostly up to local municipalities.

The Zondagswet[27] ("Sunday law"), a law on Sabbath desecration, is mainly to ensure that church services remain undisturbed on Sundays and Christian holidays. It forbids public festivities on a Sunday before 13:00, as well as making noise that carries farther than 200 m (yards), but activities that are unlikely to disturb church services are exempt.

Northern Ireland

Prior to 2008, no football was permitted to be played on Sundays by clubs affiliated to the Irish Football Association in Northern Ireland.[28]

Shops with a floor area of over 280 square metres (3,000 sq ft) may only open from 1 to 6pm on Sundays.[29]

In Belfast, public playgrounds were closed on Sundays until 1965. Swings in public parks were tied up and padlocked to prevent their use.[30][31] Similar laws formerly applied to cinemas, pubs and parks.[32]


See also: Sunday shopping § Poland

Since 2007, blue laws were enacted and resulted in stores closing on the 13 state holidays in Poland – these are both religious and secular days of rest. In 2014, an initiative by the Law and Justice party failed to pass the reading in the Sejm to ban trading on Sundays and state holidays. However, since 2018, the ruling government and the President of Poland has signed a law that restricts store trading from March 1, 2018, to the first and last Sunday of the month, Palm Sunday, the 3rd and 4th Advent Sundays, as well as trading until 14.00 for Easter Saturday and Christmas Eve. In 2019, the restriction was extended, and trading was permitted solely on the last Sunday of the month, as well as Palm Sunday, the 3rd and 4th Advent Sundays, as well as trading until 14.00 for Easter Saturday and Christmas Eve. From 2020, stores may only be open on seven Sundays in the year: Palm Sunday, the 3rd and 4th Advent Sundays, the last Sunday of January, April, June and August as well as trading until 14.00 for Easter Saturday and Christmas Eve.[33] As a result of restrictions in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2nd Advent Sunday was later added as a shopping day.[34]

North America


Sunday laws in Ontario, 1911

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.[35]

A Toronto referendum in 1950 allowed only team sports to be played professionally on Sunday. Theatre performances, movie screenings, and horse racing were not permitted until the 1960s.[36]

The Supreme 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. 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,[37] often due to competitive reasons where out-of-province or foreign merchants were open.

United States

Main article: Blue laws in the United States

In the United States, judges have defended blue laws "in terms of their secular benefit to workers", holding that "the laws were essential to social well-being".[38] In 1896, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Johnson Field, opined with regard to Sunday blue laws:[38]

Its requirement is a cessation from labor. In its enactment, the legislature has given the sanction of law to a rule of conduct, which the entire civilized world recognizes as essential to the physical and moral well-being of society. Upon no subject is there such a concurrence of opinion, among philosophers, moralists and statesmen of all nations, as on the necessity of periodical cessation from labor. One day in seven is the rule, founded in experience and sustained by science. ... The prohibition of secular business on Sunday is advocated on the ground that by it the general welfare is advanced, labor protected, and the moral and physical well-being of society promoted.

— Hennington v. Georgia, 163 U.S. 299 (1896)[39]

Many states prohibit selling alcohol for on and off-premises 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.[40][41]

Many blue laws in the United States restrict 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.

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 Charles, 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.[42]

Blue laws may also prohibit retail activity on days other than Sunday. In Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine,[43] for example, blue laws prohibit most retail stores, including grocery stores, from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas.[44]

Research regarding the effect of the repeal of blue laws has been conducted, with Professor Elesha Coffman of Baylor University writing:[45]

Regarding culture, the impact of vanishing blue laws could be larger. A study in New Mexico in 2006 found a sharp increase in drunken driving on Sundays after that state dropped its Sunday ban on packaged alcohol sales. A broader study published by MIT and Notre Dame economists in 2008 found that the repeal of blue laws led to decreased church attendance, decreased donations to churches, and increased alcohol and drug use among religious individuals. These wide-ranging effects cannot easily be pinpointed to specific causes, but one of the latter study's authors, Daniel Hungerman, suggested to Christianity Today that blue laws might have been fulfilling their original intent, to keep people pious.[45]

Court cases

Beginning in the mid-19th century, religious and ethno-cultural minorities arrested for violating state and local blue laws appealed their convictions to state supreme courts. In Specht v. Commonwealth (Pa. 1848), for example, German Seventh Day Baptists in Pennsylvania employed attorney Thaddeus Stevens to challenge the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's Sunday law.[46] As in cases in other states, litigants pointed to the provisions of state constitutions protecting religious liberty and maintained that Sunday laws were a blatant violation. Though typically unsuccessful (most state supreme courts upheld the constitutionality of Sunday laws), these constitutional challenges helped set a pattern by which subsequent minorities would seek to protect religious freedom and minority rights.[47]

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.[48] 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.[49]

McGowan was but one of four Sunday closing cases decided together by the Court in May 1961. In Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Mass., Inc.,[50] the Court ruled against a Kosher deli that closed on Saturday but was open on Sunday. The other two cases were Braunfeld v. Brown,[51] and Two Guys from Harrison-Allentown, Inc. v. McGinley.[52][53] Chief Justice Earl Warren declared that "the State seeks to set one day apart from all others as a day of rest, repose, recreation and tranquility--a day which all members of the family and community have the opportunity to spend and enjoy together, a day on which there exists relative quiet and disassociation from the everyday intensity of commercial activities, a day on which people may visit friends and relatives who are not available during working days."[24]

In March 2006, Texas judges upheld the state blue law that requires car dealerships to close either Saturday or Sunday each weekend.[54]


Cook Islands and Niue

Blue laws also exist in the Polynesian islands of Cook Islands and Niue. In the Cook Islands, these were the first written legislation, enacted by the London Missionary Society in 1827, with the consent of the ariki (chiefs). Laws in Niue ban certain activities on Sunday, reflecting the country's history of observing the Christian Sabbath tradition.


In the Kingdom of Tonga, the Vavaʻu Code (1839) was a form of blue law inspired by the teachings of Methodist missionaries. With the inauguration of the Tongan Constitution on June 4, 1875, the sixth clause stipulates: "The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practise his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day except according to law; and any agreement made or witnessed on that day shall be null and void and of no legal effect."

See also


  1. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q. (November 20, 2012), "Where Pilgrims Landed, Thanksgiving Is Kept at Table, Not Mall", The New York Times, retrieved December 29, 2021((citation)): CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  2. ^ a b Leff, David K. (February 25, 2015). "Once Strict 'Blue Laws' Have Largely Faded". Hartford Courant. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Hudson, David L. Jr. (August 2009). "Blue Laws". Freedom Forum Institute. Retrieved December 21, 2021.
  4. ^ Myers, Gustavus (1921). Ye Olden Blue Laws. University of California. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  5. ^ Яна (December 20, 2018). "What shops in Austria work on weekends". Austria Today. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  6. ^ Sullivan, Arthur (April 15, 2021). "Is it time Germany opened up its stores on Sundays?". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  7. ^ "Opening Hours in Norway". Visit Nordic. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  8. ^ Sas, Adriana (April 25, 2021). "Sunday trading ban in Poland - Statistics & Facts". Statista. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  9. ^ "McGowan Et Al. v. Maryland" (PDF). Library of Congress. May 29, 1961. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  10. ^ "Two Guys from Harrison-Allentown, Inc., v. McGinley, District Attorney, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, Et Al." (PDF). Library of Congress. May 29, 1961. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  11. ^ Bunn, Rachel (May 22, 2019). "A quick overview of Pennsylvania's Blue Laws". Penn Live. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  12. ^ "1619: Laws enacted by the First General Assembly of Virginia". Liberty Fund. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  13. ^ "Blue Laws". Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  14. ^ "blue law". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  15. ^ Peters, The Rev. Samuel (1877). General History of Connecticut (PDF). New York, New York: D. Appleton and Company. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  16. ^ a b Mahoney, Patrick J. (January 27, 2015). "The Long, Ambiguous History of Connecticut's Blue Laws". Connecticut Humanities. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  17. ^ "The Law: Blue Sunday". Time. June 9, 1961. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  18. ^ Mikkelson, David (July 19, 2021). "Why Are Blue Laws Called 'Blue Laws'?". Snopes. Retrieved December 29, 2021.
  19. ^ Fahlbusch, Erwin; Bromiley, Geoffrey William (2005). The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 787]. ISBN 9780802824165.
  20. ^ Roy, Christian (2005). Traditional Festivals: A Multicultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 457. ISBN 9781576070895. However, an amendment was made that left is enforcement to the discretion of the provinces, so that it remained a dead letter in mostly French Quebec. A Catholic Sunday League was formed in 1923 to combat this laxity and promote sabbatarian restrictions in that province--especially against movie theaters.
  21. ^ Rybczyński, Witold (1991). Waiting for the Weekend. Viking Penguin. p. 78. ISBN 9780670830015. In 1922, inspired by a pastoral letter decrying the lax observance of Sunday as a day of rest, the Ligue du Dimanche (Sunday League) formed. For fourteen years the League agitated for Sabbatarian legislation, particularly against cinemas
  22. ^ Compare: Kyle G. Volk (2014), Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019937192X - "To write the history of minorities and to understand the long tradition of minority-rights activism means rediscovering those in the past who found themselves in the minority and took action."
  23. ^ "North Dakota Catholic Conference says 'Sunday law' Benefits All People". EWTN News. September 19, 2011. Retrieved July 5, 2017.
  24. ^ a b Goldberg, Steven (2000). Seduced by Science: How American Religion Has Lost Its Way. NYU Press. p. 106. ISBN 9780814731055.
  25. ^ Lov om ændring af lov om detailsalg fra butikker m.v. - Liberalisering af reglerne om åbningstid [Act Amending the Law on Retail Sales from Shops, etc. - Liberalization of the Rules on Opening Hours] (543, amendment) (in Danish). Danish Civil Protection Agency. May 26, 2010. Retrieved September 23, 2018.
  26. ^ "Trading hours for retailers: the law". Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  27. ^ "Zondagswet". (in Dutch). Dutch government. April 1, 1994. Retrieved September 29, 2021.
  28. ^ Henry McDonald (September 2007). "New bid for Sunday football". The Guardian. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  29. ^ "Seasonal and Sunday Trading". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  30. ^ "Belfast Children Allowed To Use Swings On Sunday". RTÉ. Archived from the original on August 15, 2015.
  31. ^ Ross, Nick (March 25, 1999). "The banned played on". The Guardian.
  32. ^ "Never on a Sunday? Not any more". BBC News. May 27, 2009.
  33. ^ "Poland limits Sunday shopping to benefit family life". Business Insider. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  34. ^ "Poland's Sunday trading ban lifted ahead of Christmas due to pandemic". Notes from Poland. December 4, 2020. Retrieved January 2, 2021.
  35. ^ "CanLII – 1985 CanLII 69 (S.C.C.)". Canadian Legal Information Institute ( September 3, 2009. Archived from the original on May 9, 2011. Retrieved September 24, 2009.
  36. ^ "Allan Levine: Never mind Ford Nation. Hogtown has a long history of drunks, tyrants and loudmouths running City Hall". Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  37. ^ Raynault-Ollu, Louis-Philippe (2012). "Sunday Observance Laws in North America". SSRN Working Paper Series. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2260582. ISSN 1556-5068. SSRN 2260582.
  38. ^ a b Smith, Christian (2003). The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life. University of California Press. p. 319. ISBN 9780520230002.
  39. ^ Hennington v. Georgia, 163 U.S. 299 (1896).
  40. ^ Ph.D., David J. Hanson (February 19, 2014). "Alcohol Blue Laws (Laws Prohibiting Sunday Sales of Alcoholic Beverages)". Retrieved September 28, 2016.
  41. ^ Montgomery, Bob. "Gaffney churches seek to stop Sunday alcohol sales". Retrieved September 28, 2016.
  42. ^ Good Question: Why Can't We Buy Alcohol On Sunday?, WCCO-TV, November 20, 2006 Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  43. ^ "Title 17, §3204: Business, traveling or recreation on Sunday". Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  44. ^ "A turkey of a blue law", The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 25, 2006.
  45. ^ a b Coffman, Elesha (2009). "Bye-Bye, Blue Laws?". Christianity Today. Retrieved July 6, 2017.
  46. ^ Specht v. Commonwealth, 8 Pa. 312 (Penn. 1848)..
  47. ^ Kyle G. Volk, Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy (Oxford, 2014), 59-68, 190-201.
  48. ^ McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961).
  49. ^ McGowan, 366 U.S. 420, 445 (1961) "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."
  50. ^ Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Mass., Inc., 366 U.S. 617 (1961).
  51. ^ Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961).
  52. ^ Two Guys from Harrison vs. McGinley, 366 U.S. 582 (1961).
  53. ^ The LANDMARK Cases, National Sunday Law Crisis. Retrieved May 21, 2008.
  54. ^ "'Blue Law' for car sales upheld by Judge" Archived May 31, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, 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."