“We’re having a damn tent revival,” one legislative observer told me of the debate today over HB1163. “Anybody who watched can safely skip church on Sunday.”
At issue was North Dakota’s so-called “blue laws,” or the prohibition on Sunday morning openings. Currently stores can’t open before noon on Sundays. This legislation would have repealed that prohibition (restrictions on Sunday sales for alcohol and car dealers would have remained the same).
“I think it’s time,” state Rep. Tom Beadle said of the legislation, noting that businesses particularly in the eastern part of the state want the law repealed so they can be on equal footing with Minnesota competitors. “Business should be able to open when they want to,” he said.
Most of his colleagues in the state House disagreed, however. The bill failed on a 44-50 vote after a lengthy floor debate which was heavy on the religious rhetoric.
I’m an atheist, but I’m also someone who has consistently stood in favor of laws protecting religious liberty. I didn’t think the Obama administration should have tried to force nuns or companies like Hobby Lobby to pay for coverage for contraceptives, for instance.
I tend to see the repeal of “blue laws” as also a move toward religious liberty. The mandate for Sunday morning closing is a reflection of one set of religious beliefs, but not all religions hold Sunday as their Sabbath.
As state Rep. Jon Nelson (R-Rugby) noted, his running mate in his district, Rep. Robin Weisz, holds Saturday as the Sabbath (during election season he doesn’t campaign on that day).
“That part of the argument should be a moot point,” he said.
Nelson also made another point. “I’m a farmer,” he said, “and we never get a day off.”
Currently the ban on Sunday openings only really applies to retail stores. Plenty of employers, notably restaurants, can and do open on Sundays.
They don’t have to, of course, nor would they had this bill passed. Any given business could remain closed on Sundays, but this bill would have allowed those businesses which want to be open to make that happen.
It was remarkable to me how many lawmakers – those who would think of themselves as proponents of religious liberty – rose to defend a law which imposes a religious point of view on the business community.
“Support the 3rd commandment and vote no on this bill,” Rep. Sebastian Ertlet (R-Lisbon) told the House floor, referring to the edict that Christians “honor the Sabbath.” He said our society has taken “enough steps to push god out of our lives. We don’t need to take one more step.”
But what about those of us who aren’t Christian? Who see Sunday as just another day? Shouldn’t we get a choice on when we open our businesses?
Republicans who voted against this bill, who talk very often about religious liberty and personal responsibility, committed an act of rank hypocrisy.