Do You Remember…Blue Laws?

Statutes and ordinances that prevent individuals from engaging in certain private and public activities on Sunday and that impose sanctions on violators are referred to as “blue laws,” “Sunday legislation,” “Sunday closing laws,” or “Sunday statutes.” 

They have prohibited sporting events and entertainment as well as the sale of certain items. 

There are two origins of how the laws were named. One is that in Colonial times when the laws were first enacted,  they were written or printed on blue paper. The other version is that the people who observed these laws were “true blue.”

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, These codes were written into the Oklahoma Constitution, and they gave municipalities the authority to establish their own ordinances governing Sunday activities. By 1931 all 48 states except California enacted blue laws.

Blue Laws still in effect in the United States as of September 2018.

An article written by The Oklahoma Historical society states that In August 1923 an orchestra at Medicine Park was charged with “Sabbath-breaking” for performing servile labor. The town of Bethany had restrictions prohibiting cigarette, tobacco, gasoline, and candy sales in 1926. Jazz, intercollegiate athletics, and the wearing of superfluous jewelry were also condemned, and Sunday newspapers were rarely read by Bethany citizens. In 1931 Tulsa officials enforced Sunday closing laws by prosecuting owners of grocery stores, movie theaters, gas stations, and drug stores. Paul Hudiburg, the owner of Hudiburg Chevrolet in Midwest City, was accused in the 1950s of selling on Sunday along with Nine Salesmen.

Growing up in the fifties here in Sapulpa I remember nothing being open on Sunday, with the exception of a few restaurants. More than once my mother complained about running out of grocery items and having to borrow from neighbors because no stores were open. My father once needed to buy gas for the pickup and he complained that there was no station open. 

A friend of mine in Garland Texas once lamented that he was unable to buy sanitary pads for his wife due to those “damned blue laws.” Another friend, while living in New Mexico, was unable to buy a broom on Sunday.

By the late 1950s, blue laws were repealed around the nation. Today a handful of states still have blue laws in one form or another. A referendum in 1991 allowed department stores in Oklahoma to open on Sunday.

In today’s 24-hour, fast-paced world it is hard to imagine such arcane laws. However, vestiges of those laws remain in Oklahoma today. It is still illegal for car dealerships to sell cars on Sunday and one can not buy liquor on Sunday.

However, the prohibition on Sunday liquor sales may be coming to an end. Thanks to SQ 792, which allows grocery stores and convenience stores to sell high-point beer and wine, citizens in Creek County will have the opportunity to vote on the issue March 3rd, 2020.
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Charles Betzler

Charles Betzler

Charles Betzler is a contributing writer for Sapulpa Times.