Sunday Blue Law

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Sunday Blue Law historically refers to the prohibited sale of many things, including drinking, gambling, bear baiting, and cock fighting, on the Sabbath. The term "blue law" refers to blue paper used to print colonial Massachusetts moral statutes.

Arkansas legislators crafted the first blue laws in 1837, the year after Arkansas' statehood. An 1853 law outlawed any "game of brag, bluff, poker, seven-up, three-up, 21, 13 cards, the odd trick, 45, whist, or any other game at cards." Though most of the blue laws have since been repealed, the state still regulates the sale and use of alcohol. Blue laws proliferated after the Civil War as Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian leaders encouraged their congregations to avoid amusements, recreation, work, and unnecessary travel on Sundays. Sunday baseball, for instance, had been illegal in Arkansas since 1885. In the 1920s police arrested the owner of the Capitol Theatre for showing movies for charity purposes on Sundays.

Some amendments hold local ordinances and legislative bodies responsible for voting and creating laws pertaining to the selling of alcohol in particular counties or townships. In some counties, for instance, the selling of alcohol is prohibited on election days, Christmas Day, and any other holiday deemed "dry" by local ordinance. Blue laws could be very complex in their regulation of moral behavior, but were often championed by retailers wishing to give employees time off and save money on a traditionally unpopular shopping day. M. M. Cohn vice-president Tad Phillips once remarked, "We prefer not to open on Sunday. We prefer to give our people a day off and for the type of customer we wish to appeal to. We don't know if Sunday's a shopping day." Religious authorities also weighed in. Reverend Harold Walls of the Arkansas Division of the Assemblies of God asserted, "Historically, the Assemblies of God have supported Sunday closing of all businesses, and an all-out observation of Sunday as the Lord's Day. I would favor, and think that a majority of Assembly of God people would support, blue laws." On the other hand, Reverend G. Truman Welch, associate rector of Little Rock's St. Mark's Episcopal Church noted, "I'm against all blue laws. I think that if it's wrong on Sunday, it should be wrong all the rest of the week. I don't quite get the moral of consistency of saying it's wrong one day and right all the rest of them. I don't see any reason for restricting people's freedom to do something which is legal the rest of the time."

At one time or other the state banned hunting and skeet shooting, horse racing, pool playing and bowling (excepting the pool tables owned by the Little Rock Athletic Association, motion pictures (before 1931), barbering, and roller coaster operation. In the 1960s the city of Little Rock banned sales of fresh Vienna sausage, pantyhose, and toilet paper, but put no similar restriction on bacon and bologna, baby clothes, or newspapers. Citizens of the city could buy lettuce but not cabbage. Cooked meats and fish could be purchased on Sunday, but not if sold in jars, bottles, or cans. In the 1970s, police arrested a shopkeeper for selling cups and sewing needles on Sunday. Another ran afoul of the law for selling nails, and a third for selling towels and a key chain. The point of prohibiting certain items but not others generally followed the rule of thumb that prohibiting certain or enough items would have the effect of keeping shops targeted by special interests closed entirely on the Lord's Day. Grocer H. V. Hickinbotham actively fought the blue laws by advertising Sunday sales, and found himself arrested on a number of occasions.

Newspaper humorist Richard Allin called Little Rock's blue laws "a municipal effort to please God." To explain how enforcement worked, he dreamed up the fictional characters, including "municipal theologian" Reverend Dr. Oswald Chubb and his two virginal daughters Lutherene and Calvina Chubb, as "chief lieutenants" in the so-called "Avenging Angel Division" of the Little Rock Police Department.

The city rescinded its confusing, and largely unenforceable, blue laws in 1973. In the end, drug store owner and city board of directors member George Wimberly cast the only vote in opposition to rescinding the blue laws. Yet into the early 1980s many local businesses continued to follow state law and persisted in their Sunday practices. Customers and business owners reported that stores sold cigarettes, but not matches; camera film, but not cameras; cokes, but not baby food; gasoline, but not toilet bowl plungers; paint thinner but not paint; razor blades but not razors; hamburgers, but not spatulas; pre-packaged snacks, but not loaves of bread. In 1981 three stores in Conway found themselves in court for selling socks and t-shirts to a policeman working undercover. That same year, Pulaski County authorities determined that stores could sell dog collars but not diapers, and a storekeeper could not sell an American flag to a veteran without the supervision of police and local officials.

Jack Garner of Discount Records attempted in December 1980 to get the blue laws repealed in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but failed. A state Supreme Court challenge led to the striking down of all Sunday blue laws enumerated under Act 135 of 1965. Mechanics Lumber Company owner Eugene Pfeifer III filed a complaint against hardware chain Handy Dan for violating the Sunday closing laws. Handy Dan and other businesses, including Skaggs Alpha Beta, Kroger, Safeway, and 84 Lumber Company responded by battling to get the act repealed. Sunday shopping became legal on June 1, 1982. A 1987 change in state law allowed the Sunday sale of liquor in hotels and restaurants in four Arkansas cities: Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs, and Weiderkehr Village.

Many acts have amended the ability to sell, distribute, and otherwise obtain intoxicating liquor. Most laws limit the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption to 7 am to 10 pm on weekdays, on-premise consumption sale is not allowed from 1 am to 7 am, and prohibit any sale of alcohol on Sundays (except by special permission with permit for on-premise consumption under a separate license sold by the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board). Citizens found guilty of selling alcohol at any prohibited time may be found guilty of misdemeanor.


  • Charles Allbright, "Blue Laws Prove Some Rules were Meant to Break You Up," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 10, 1991.
  • Richard Allin, "'Never on Sunday' Not So Anymore," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 2, 1989.
  • Richard Allin, "Original Blue Laws Regulated Puritan Sabbath Day Activities, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 2, 1989.
  • Richard Allin, "Our Town: A Fond Farewell," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 23, 2003.
  • Richard Allin, "Sincere Disagreements Abound on Blue Laws," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette April 2, 1989.
  • "Arkansas, Inc.," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 14, 1988.
  • Leroy Donald, "Business," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 18, 1996.
  • "Focus on Stores," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 2, 1989.
  • Nancy Caver, "Singing the Sunday Blues," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 28, 2001.
  • Eric E. Harrison, "Never on Sunday? That's No Longer the Case for LR and NLR Diners and Drinkers," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 5, 2004.

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