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What are Blue Laws?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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There is an old saying that one cannot legislate morality, but the concept behind a blue law comes as close as possible. In the modern sense of the term, a blue law is any ordinance that attempts to control the sale of commerce or limit business hours on Sunday, also known as the Lord's Day or the Christian Sabbath. Many parts of New England and the South still observe a number of blue law restrictions, especially the prohibition of alcohol sales and the limited hours permitted for retail sales on Sundays.

A blue law usually begins as an honest attempt to curtail immoral activities on a day devoted to religious observances. The sponsor of a blue law may feel it would be in the city's best interest to curtail gambling operations, for instance, so an ordinance would ban the opening of pool halls and casinos on Sundays. Another blue law may limit the number of hours a store could operate, allowing employees to attend morning or evening church services. Almost every blue law on the books today can trace its origin back to a religious cause, whether it be temperance against alcohol sales or the enforcement of dress codes.

Many of the more Draconian blue laws are no longer enforced, but a number of cities regulate alcohol sales and retail operating hours whenever possible. A number of local retailers have become accustomed to closing on Sundays or limiting their hours to the afternoon. Sunday sales of alcohol may be allowed in some cities, but not in others. This arbitrary enforcement of blue laws can create unusual problems for the hospitality industry, since a hotel located in a 'dry' town may have to send guests to neighboring 'wet' cities on Sundays for any alcohol purchases. Restaurants may not be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages on Sundays, but a convenience store across the street may not face such restrictions.

The origin of the term blue law is a little murky. Many sources say that the original blue laws in America were first codified by a Colonial Connecticut governor named Theophilus Eaton. Eaton was said to be assisted by a Reverend John Cotton, which should not come as any surprise.

Settlers of the New Haven colony were given a set of laws in 1656 that sought to define proper and moral conduct. These laws contained a great deal of extremist Puritanical thought, such as denying food and lodging to Quakers, Adamites, and other 'heretics'. The bulk of these laws emphasized the importance of keeping the Sabbath day holy by refraining from a number of activities, including kissing a child and walking in a garden.

These laws were not called blue laws by the colonists themselves. The term blue law in reference to this early legal code did not appear until the 18th Century, when a Reverend Samuel Peters paraphrased what he called the Blue Laws of Connecticut. There is not much evidence that any of these rules were actually implemented, but the principle of legislating morality influenced future lawmakers. The modern idea of a blue law really started with temperance movements and other moral causes espoused during the late 1890s.

Even the origin of the name blue law is in dispute. Some sources make the erroneous claim that the original pamphlets were printed on blue paper. Blue paper would have been a luxury item in the 17th Century. Others suggest that the term 'blue' was used as an insult against extreme moralists and politicians, much like our present day description of snobbish people as bluebloods. The term blue law may have also been a corruption of blood law, which would appear appropriate considering the harsh penalties suggested for those who violated any blue law.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Historical Index, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By Embarae — On Dec 18, 2010

There is so much debate on the Word of God. We put our own understandings in it which make it twisted. The Bible says what the Bible says. Jesus said, "If you love me Keep my commandments," they are not grievous. Believe on Him who died for you and be saved.

Silly creations, read the Scriptures and let the Holy Spirit speak to you. Jesus died for our sin, but we are to still keep His law. The world will keep it's own, but the people of God's Kingdom see's the need for His law, for they are righteous and holy. Love Love Love is God's law now. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as you do yourself. The greatest commandment is LOVE. When you observe these you are fulfilling all of God's command's. We are spirit creatures now, we have put on the new and the old has been buried. We pray and sing and eat and dance and be joyous in the spirit. We have walked away from corrupting. We are covered by His blood.

We feel convicted if we do something wrong. We repent and God forgives us. Blue Sunday is of the World. Let them fight over their laws. We know God's Laws and they are a delight in our hearts, and we do them to please Him who gave them to us.

By anon90123 — On Jun 14, 2010

What separation of church and state? The State rules over matters of the churches, making them file tax exempt status and telling the church what they are allowed to talk about in church (like politics) and also whether a church can buy certain lands as a church etc.

By the way, separation of church and state isn't even in the constitution, and if it weren't for the church, you wouldn't have a constitution; in fact you wouldn't have what few freedoms you have now. And what is the problem with giving one day in seven to the Lord? Or to simply rest with your family?

Get what you need on Saturday and rest! As for changing the sabbath day, Christ is our Sabbath rest. The ritualistic, legalistic, ceremonial Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ; any day can be set aside for worship and better yet, every day has been if one be in Christ.

I would love for Saturday or Sunday -- either would suffice, for a national day of rest. We the people of the United States of America were better when they were enforced, and the family was certainly closer as well as neighbor relations.

What can you expect when people hate God? Drinking and partying and fighting and getting girls pregnant and murdering their babies because you aren't ready for one and other out of control lusts that once were curtailed because God's laws were enforced and brought about a great nation of people.

I can see our demise in the not too distant future, thanks to socialist secular humanist ideals (religion), being forced on today's youth in the public schools (socialist churches).

By anon86028 — On May 23, 2010

The Blue law will be enforced for sunday worship.

therefore saying "the Lord's day or or Sabbath", which is a lie from Satan as Sabbath is Saturday and comes and was changed by the catholics.

By anon83021 — On May 08, 2010

Blue laws are crap! Enough said. Can't race on Sunday? Are you kidding me? This country has definitely gone soft!

By anon49278 — On Oct 19, 2009

I honestly think that Blue Laws are unconstitutional. they breach the separation of church and state so epically that it's mind-blowing.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Historical Index, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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