Let’s say you are a Minnesotan with a very busy schedule that only provides a few hours of “me time” on Sundays.
Let’s also say you’re in the market for a new car. This means the logical time for you to check out new models is Sunday.
If so, forget it. Minnesota law forbids the sale of cars at dealerships on Sundays.
If that sounds crazy, it probably is. After all, you can buy pretty much anything else on Sundays in Minnesota now, including liquor (which finally became legal in 2017).
But 12 other states also ban car sales on Sundays. Why?
Religious Freedom and Worker Protection
The answer is that these are “blue laws,” also known as “Sunday laws,” and they were enacted to forbid certain activities on the Sabbath. The first blue laws, enacted in the Jamestown Colony in the 1600s, were draconian measures to ensure that people observed the Sabbath in proper fashion. If they didn’t, the punishments could include whipping or placement in stocks.
Blue laws encouraged – or coerced – religious observance in various ways, such as banning alcohol or inappropriate dress on Sundays, and they continued during the Colonial Era. After independence, however, the purpose of blue laws began to change. They were seen as measures to protect workers by giving them a day off
So, to answer the question of why people can’t go to a dealership and buy cars in 13 states, that second category – ensuring that workers have a day off – is a big reason. But dealers themselves have also grown to like the idea because financial institutions are closed on Sundays, which makes sales paperwork on Sundays more difficult and also because it reduces their operating costs.
Supreme Court Support
Whether the reason is religion or worker protection, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of blue laws numerous times. While the impact of blue laws on Americans’ lives has diminished over time, 28 states still have them.
Car-sale bans make up a chunk of their coverage, but the main target of these laws (not surprisingly) is booze. While it’s difficult to get a clear picture of Sunday liquor laws because they’re all over the map, restrictions on liquor sales have clearly eased in recent years. About 20 states have no blue laws and about 10 more leave it up to counties.
For those states that hand powers to the counties, the result can be confusing. Texas, for instance, has a complex patchwork of Sunday liquor laws. Texas has long banned liquor-store sales of any kind on Sundays, but a new law in 2021 allows the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores. Within those parameters, Texas’ 254 counties can make their own rules—five are completely dry and 159 are somewhere in between wet and dry.
Bans on Mattresses, Horse Racing, and Hunting
We’ve been focusing on cars and liquor, but blue laws have traditionally placed limits and bans on all kinds of commerce and activity. Many of them no longer exist. In 1985, for instance, Texas threw out a blue law that prohibited the sale of 42 specific furniture, clothing, hardware, and appliance items.
But some weird ones are still on the books.
- In the state of Washington, you can’t buy a mattress on Sunday.
- Maine and Massachusetts prohibit hunting on Sundays. Nine other states place various limits on Sunday hunting.
- In Illinois, horse racing is prohibited on Sunday unless a municipality authorizes it.
- In Maryland, professional sports team can’t begin play before 1 p.m. on Sundays.
- One of the last large-scale Sunday closing laws exists in heavily populated Bergen County, New Jersey, home to nearly 1 million souls. The county has numerous large shopping centers, but on Sundays you can’t buy electronics, clothing, or furniture in any of them.
A word to the wise: If you’re making travel plans to a different state and they include having liquor available on a Sunday, you might check ahead to see what the laws are there. And if you’re thinking of checking out new car models at dealerships on Sunday, make sure you’re in one of the 37 states that will let you.
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