The National Sunday Law - Revisited

What will cause seven billion people
to worship the beast?
Revelation 13:8

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The Origin of Sunday Blue Laws in the United States

Revelation 13:8 contains a profound prediction: A day is coming when “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” Two important features stand out in this verse. First, the phrase “all inhabitants of the earth” is inclusive. Every wicked person living on Earth at that time will worship the beast! Second, this text indicates every nation will be divided into two groups. One group will worship the beast and the other will not! When will this division occur? What will cause it? Why will 1941 nations enact laws demanding that everyone worship the beast? Who is this beast that the wicked will obey? God has answered these questions in His Word if we are willing to let the Bible speak for itself. Surprisingly, the answer may be quite different than what you anticipate! So, please take a few minutes to consider this profound topic because this prophecy will be fulfilled very soon.


The story begins about A.D. 1532 in England. King Henry VIII wanted Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. When Pope Clement refused, King Henry retaliated by declaring himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Using his authority as King of England and Supreme Head of the Church of England, the king “persuaded” church leaders in England that it was in their best interests to annul his marriage to Catherine so he could marry Anne.1 Later on, Pope Paul III excommunicated King Henry for his rebellious and adulterous ways, but the king was not concerned. He remained a devout Catholic and during his reign, the Church of England mirrored the theology and practices of the Roman Catholic Church – the most notable difference was that the Supreme Head of the Church lived in England instead of Rome.


When King Henry died, his son, Edward VI, came to power. To win the approval of Protestants, King Edward permitted some reforms to take place within the Church of England. A new book of Common Prayer was created in 1552. The Protestants were delighted because it appeared that the Church of England was finally separating itself from Catholic heresy and tradition, but their joy was short lived because King Edward soon died. Since he died without an heir, his half-sister, Queen Mary I (also known as Bloody Mary), ascended to the throne. She was a devout Catholic and she used her authority as the Supreme Head of the Church of England to cancel the reforms that King Edward had permitted. She abruptly returned the Church of England to pure Catholicism. Many people were burned at the stake during her reign because they would not embrace Catholicism and renounce the reformed faith.


Queen Mary also died without an heir and her half sister, Queen Elizabeth I, came to the throne. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with establishing the Church of England (1558) as we know it today. She negotiated many thorny issues that existed between Protestants and Catholics. Theologically speaking, the Church of England ended up about 80% Catholic and 20% Protestant. During her reign, a grass roots movement formed within the church. These conservative radicals called for (a) complete separation from the Church of Rome, (b) the abandonment of Catholic rituals, and (c) complete devotion to perfection and piety. For the most part, the people calling these reforms were considered rabble (uneducated) and they were given the derogatory name, “Puritans.” To ordinary laymen, the Puritan Movement appeared to be obsessed with anti-Catholic sentiment and a relentless quest for purity and perfection.


King James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth in 1603. He favored some of the theology of the Protestant Reformation, but he did not like the Puritans. To his credit, King James believed the common people should be able to read the Bible in English and as the Supreme Head of the Church of England; he permitted the Bible to be translated into English. The first edition of the King James Version of the Bible was produced in 1611. After King James died, his son Charles I, came to the throne. King Charles openly detested the Puritans because he wanted the Church of England to return to its Catholic roots and rituals. When King Charles married a zealous Catholic woman, the Puritans became outraged. Tensions escalated and the Puritans repudiated the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings (a political/religious doctrine of absolutism), and King Charles responded by condemning the Puritans as heretics.


Deadly persecution followed and thousands of Puritans fled England to escape death.1


Hopefully, this brief history on the formation of the Church of England helps you understand who the Puritans were and why they left England. Even though their exodus to the colonies of New England began during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the Puritans fled England in large numbers when King Charles began to vigorously pursue and kill them. One could say that the Puritans lost their homeland when they concluded the king of England and the Church of England would no longer tolerate their beliefs. So, the Puritans arrived on the shores of North America having a strong resentment against Catholic and a devotion to purity and perfection, and an eagerness for freedom to worship God according to their dictates of their conscience.


Life in colonial America for the Puritans was harsh. Illness was rampant, food supplies were inadequate, and the Indians were often hostile. These challenges forced the Puritans into a stark way of thinking and living. The Puritans viewed life in terms of black and white, and the laws by which they lived were simple: Right was right and wrong was wrong. They regarded themselves as “godly” and everyone else, especially Catholics, as “ungodly.” The Puritans did not associate with the ungodly for fear they would contaminate their quest for purity.


The Puritans established Sunday laws in their colonies because they wanted to protect their holiness of Sunday from worldly compromise. To them anything less than perfect obedience to God’s law was sin. Their Sunday laws varied somewhat from colony to colony, but the result was the same. The Puritans obligated themselves to honor and respect the holiness of “the Lord’s Day” through mandatory church attendance. Puritans could not work, in the fields, make a bed, cook, sew, or even kiss their own child on Sunday. All business activities (for example, discussing business, buying, or selling) and various casual pleasures were outlawed. Consider the severity of the Sunday law that Lord De La Warr, the first governor of Virginia, enacted in 1610: “Every man and woman shall repair in the morning to the divine service and sermons preached upon the Sabbath day, and in the afternoon to the divine service, and catechizing, upon pain for the first fault to lose their provision and the allowance for the whole week following; for the second, to lose the said allowance and also be whipped; and the third to suffer death.”1 Ironically, the Puritans came to North America searching for religious freedom, yet they were first to enact and enforce laws limiting that freedom.

Blue Laws


Sunday laws are sometimes called “blue laws.” One story about the origination is that Reverend Samuel Peters claimed in 1781 the Puritans wrote the laws on blue paper or they were bound in books with blue covers.1 No evidence has been found to support this claim, but history suggests there may be a simple explanation behind the phrase “blue laws.” The color blue is often associated with coldness and rigidness.  For example, when a person dies, the body loses oxygen, cools and turns blue. When a person enters the water, his limbs and lips will turn blue. Blue was often used in a number of early American colloquial expressions to indicate coldness, such as “bluenoses” which refers to people who live in the north or in cold climates or “I’m felling blue” which can mean one feels depressed or feels cold, or “a blue norther is coming” which means a bitter cold weather front is coming. The Puritans may have been delighted with their stringent regard for the holiness of Sunday, but their rigid ways and legalistic regard for Sunday observance left observers cold. Thus, the expression “blue laws” became associated with the Puritans’ laws regarding Sunday observance. 


After the Civil War (1861-1865), several southern states (in the “Bible-belt”) enacted Sunday laws. Legislators claimed that a day of rest would be beneficial for the well being of society. Keep in mind that even though the war was over, attitudes towards slaves and slavery remained largely unchanged in the South. Many former slaves were forced to work seven days a week to survive. Lawmakers argued that Sunday laws were good for everyone because every human being should enjoy the benefits of a common day of rest. Most Protestants pastors agreed.


They argued that since Sunday was the ”Lord’s Day,” the Sabbath should be observed by attending church and resting from work. Church leaders also favored Sunday laws because business interests would not compete with attendance at worship services; therefore, most religious and non-religious people alike considered the “blue laws” a win-win situation.


There seems to be a truism that says, “Every time a new law is created, unintended consequences occur.” History affirms that blue laws have caused unintended consequences. During the late eighteenth century, non-religious people were arrested for playing games on Sunday, working in their own fields, or dong menial work around the farm, such as repairing a wagon. During the nineteenth century, blue laws changed focus by becoming more business oriented. This transition was necessary because personal freedom and civil rights became increasingly important in the United States. Currently, some cities still enforce blue laws. They allow grocery stores and drug stores to remain open on Sunday, but only certain items can be sold. (Only items defined as necessities can be purchased on Sunday. Nonessential items cannot.) Liquor stores are permitted to open on Sunday in some states, but only during certain hours. The state of Texas permits a car dealer to open his business on Sunday, but id only if it is closed on Saturday. So, while blue laws may seem to be harmless to most Christians today, Jews, Seventh Day Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Muslims and other religious groups that do not worship on Sunday often face the unintended consequences of Sunday blue laws. For example, a Seventh-day Adventist may close his businesses on Saturday due to religious principles. Because blue laws also restrict business opportunities on Sunday, his businesses is limited to operating five days per week instead of the six that Sunday observers would typically enjoy.


With today’s understanding of the “wall of separation between church and state,” it seems amazing that in 1961, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Maryland’s blue laws did not violate the First Amendment or the free exercise of religion. The court approved the state’s restriction of commercial activities on Sunday because the judges determined that Sunday blue laws were designed 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 the Christian Sabbath is not a bar to the state’s secular goals; it neither reduces its effectiveness for secular purposes not prevents adherents of other religions from observing their own holy days.”1


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