On 15 January 1974 a bill to repeal the section of the Code of Virginia
relating to the transaction of business on Sunday was presented to the House of Delegates.
Title page: The Blue Laws of New Haven Colony . . . (1922) Virginia Historical Society
Sunday-closing laws, often called "blue laws," prohibited certain activities such as alcohol and retail sales on Sunday.
In America, these laws date back to the colonial period, starting with the first blue law in 1610 that required the
citizens of Jamestown to keep the Sabbath day holy. But it was not until the early twentieth century that such
statutes became common. The prohibition movement prompted an increase in legislation regulating public
and private conduct, such as restricting the sale of cigarettes and forbidding amusements and all unnecessary
work on Sunday. Church groups and some merchants' associations supported these measures, arguing that
society would benefit if citizens were required to take a day of rest. In Virginia, people were arrested
and fined for such activities as selling Coca-Cola or peanuts, and for showing movies or operating
public swimming pools.
In 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Sunday-closing laws were constitutional, since such
laws were civil and not religious in nature. However, the police found that strict enforcement was
impractical, and the General Assembly eventually enacted 21 exemptions to the blue laws. This
led to such inconsistencies as prohibiting hardware stores from opening on Sunday but allowing
drug stores to sell nuts and bolts on that day. In 1974 the legislature allowed each city and
county the right to suspend or retain Sunday-closing laws. Finally, in 1988, a group of Virginia
Beach businessmen initiated the case that ended blue laws in the state. The Virginia Supreme
Court struck down the closing laws because the numerous exemptions had changed them from
general laws to special legislation, and special legislation is prohibited by the state constitution. The
ruling was handed down on a Saturday, and the next day many stores were open for business.
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