Commentary

Why is this still a law?

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I have had a mild obsession with the 1984 hit movie Footloose for as long as I can remember. The way actor Kevin Bacon, an underdog and outcast, rallies his fellow classmates and community members one at a time, and eventually takes his case to the town’s moral authority, Reverend Shaw Moore, to allow the high school to put on a school dance gets me every time.

While there is not a prohibition on public dancing on any day of the week in Maine (phew!), there are still a handful of antiquated “blue laws” on the books today.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the term “blue law” originates from Samuel A. Peter’s General History of Connecticut (1781). This publication contains a list of forbidden secular activities on Sunday such as buying, selling, traveling, public entertainment or sports. It also contained laws such as “married persons must live together or be imprisoned.” Blue laws were common in the American colonies and date back to before the American Revolution.

These values no longer prevail in Maine, and our laws largely reflect that. Today, nearly all of these activities are perfectly legal any day of the week with the exception of  Title 17, Chapter 105 § 3203 of the Maine Revised Statutes, which prohibits the sale of motor vehicles on Sunday, and the prohibition on Sunday hunting, as previously reported here and here in The Maine Wire.

In the early 1960’s, many businesses ignored Sunday closure laws because the penalty for violation was so minor. A lenient ten-dollar fine for conducting business on the Sabbath was greatly outweighed by the economic benefit of conducting business every day of the week. One car dealer even said that Sundays were one of the best sales days of the week, which is obvious to those who work Monday through Friday jobs. Eventually, legislators caught on to the trend and upped the ante by amending the law to inflict significantly harsher penalties.

To this day it is a Class E crime for car dealerships to make a sale on a Sunday. Class E crimes are misdemeanors that carry a penalty of up six months incarceration and a fine of $1,000. It is difficult to fathom that in this day and age, religious doctrine is still so blatantly driving our economic policy. In fact, A 2012 survey of religiosity in the U.S. ranks Maine as the third least religious state in the country, behind New Hampshire and Vermont; yet certain blue laws continue to be an economic hindrance for car dealerships.

Blue laws that prohibited other forms of retail activity in Maine have long since been repealed. You are free to shop for a new carpet at Walmart, go in to the Maine Mall, peruse a local book store or shop for a new home without a second thought any day of the week. Shopping for a vehicle should be no different. Car dealerships should not be beholden to laws that have long overstayed their time.

About Krysta West

Krysta West is the Communications Director for The Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to her time with MHPC, Krysta served as a Legislative Assistant at the National Rifle Association. Krysta is a native of Arundel, Maine, and has served as an aide in the Maine Legislature.

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