A few weeks back, while tuning into the Assembly Session for other reasons related to my job, was when I first heard that Assemblyman Jack McEneny (D-Albany) was pushing for legislation to be passed that would further loosen New York State Blue Laws. Along with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Nick Spano (R-Yonkers), the legislation got passed in June and it went before Governor Pataki for his signature last month.

For those of you that do not know, Blue Laws are the term used for laws that limit (or prohibit) certain business practices – such as selling alcohol – on Sundays. It was not until 2003 that liquor stores in New York could even open on Sundays. Though, even that change came with limitations – in exchange for being open from 12pm to 6pm on Sundays, the store would have to close another day, a day when they could open as early as 8am. However, in 2004 this changed and now liquor stores can be open 7 days a week.

There are still a number of liquor stores that choose to close on Sundays – mostly because many are family owned stores and want one day off, so closing on the day that you can be open for the shortest span of time makes sense. However, I would be willing to bet Sunday would be a popular closing day, anyway, as, well, it’s SUNDAY. Hence why it was not until recently that alcohol sales laws were challenged.

You see, since beer is sold at grocery stores and beverage outlets in New York (other states require all alcohol to be sold in liquor stores only, such as Massachussettes), beer has been sold on Sundays for as long as I can remember. Nevertheless, one could not buy beer between the hours of 3am and 12pm on Sundays – every other day of the week is 8am. This, of course, was because people were expected to be attending church at this time, not buying beer.

The Memo of Support for A.914/S.5343 stated this: “This section of law is an archaic one, a holdover from the blue laws that were put into effect when most businesses were closed on Sundays and society was very different. With people attending religious services at varying times and days, not just on Sunday mornings, this prohibition doesn’t seem practical today. The law also needlessly inconveniences citizens whose faith or lack of faith has no relevance to Sunday morning.”

Not the most compelling writing I’ve ever seen (perhaps Mr. McEneny needs a new policy advisor? I’d be happy to fill those shoes), but it gets my point across. Though I have never found the 12pm law to be a huge inconvenience, it is a principle – not everyone is Christian. Not everyone attends church on Sundays. And, just like the liquor laws don’t force liquor stores to stay open on Sundays – they merely grant the option – no one is forced to buy beer before noon on Sundays.

But, as of July 26, when Pataki signed A.914/S.5343 into law, we now have the option.

The Corning (NY) Leader reported that Rev. Jorge Gutierrez, rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in Corning, was less concerned with the sale of beer on Sunday mornings than other activities that steal away members of his flock.

“Whether you are selling between 8 a.m. and noon on Sunday morning is just a detail, as long as you have commerce on Sunday,” he said. “I just don’t think it is something that will compete with church. I get more worked up about family events, particularly sports, that are set up to conflict with a family’s participation in worship,” he said.

Some good points. I have had friends complain of this. It’s a fine line – people should not be forced to choose between religion and other activities, but they should not be barred from these activities because of a religion they may choose not to practice.

Of course, the part I find most amusing is that alcohol consumption is tied so closely to sin in some Christian denominations. There is nothing in the Bible that espouses against the consumption of alcohol. The ABUSE of alcohol, just like the overindulgence in anything (otherwise known as gluttony) is considered taboo, however Jesus did turn water into wine. Drinking alcohol is not sinful. I can understand the purpose of the original blue laws – no commerce at all on Sundays – but to limit them to just alcohol makes no sense at all.

Though wine and hard liquor still cannot be purchased before noon, and bars and restaurants cannot serve it, either, it’s a step in the right direction. Score another point for the First Amendment. Yet another unconstitutional law that no one cared enough about to fight is repealed. Let’s keep ‘em coming.

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