All Laws Matter: A Response to Josh Frey

During my undergraduate experience at a small, Southern Baptist university in South Carolina, I had the pleasure of encountering certain students and faculty whose political leanings seemed, to me at least, mildly incongruous. I recall one interaction in which a student, who in all other instances could be considered among the most staunch believers in the free market, began a spirited defense of Sin Taxes. His idea was simple; as John Adams famously asserted, our system of government was only meant to work with a “moral and religious people.” Sin Taxes, as well as Sunday Blue Laws (which our own Josh Frey venerated), this student saw as a tool for encouraging a virtuous citizenry.  

While I sympathize with the sentiments of Christians who wish for a moral country, I cannot join Mr. Frey in the opinion that Blue Laws, like those set to begin in Poland, will do any such thing. Sunday Blue Laws are Sin Taxes without the tax benefits, which remove from business owners the right to signal their virtues to the public, and from the public the right to act upon those signals.

It must first be noted that Western and Judeo Christian standards of virtue are by no means exclusive to religions that reserve Sundays as their day of worship. Mr. Frey remarks,  “Citizens would be forced to reflect on the meaning of the sabbath every time they drive past a deserted Wal-Mart parking lot on a Sunday afternoon.” Whose “sabbath” is being referenced? Orthodox Jews are a devoutly religious people who aspire towards virtue, and their Shabbat is Friday to Saturday evening. Surely Seventh Day Adventists, who worship on Saturdays, are no less involved in producing moraled people than their Christian brothers and sisters. Blue Laws do not promote broad religious attendance, but rather a specific type of denominational adherence.

One must also consider the effect Blue Laws would have in removing the ability of the free market to be an avenue for moral considerations. Americans will no doubt be familiar with the fast food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A, which famously choses to close its doors every Sunday. By bucking conventional business wisdom in favor of Christian norms, the chain signals its virtue to the public. Despite voluntarily missing out on an enormous amount of sales, Chick-fil-A has become the quickest growing fast food chain in America.  Coinciding with this rise, CEO Dan Cathy chose to voice his support for the “traditional family”, prompting widespread boycotts of his restaurants. Nevertheless, Christians and conservatives across the country concurred with Cathy, and rewarded the chain with growing patronage. Businesses should be free to signal their values to the public, and the public should be free to support or reject those values.

Therein lies the problem with Blue laws. Rather than allowing citizens to promote their morals with purchasing power, they abdicate this responsibility to the state. The state has far less ability or prudence to produce moral people than Americans themselves. Citizens ought to stand against legislation which remove obligations from the virtuous only to place them in the hands of government.