blue law

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A colloquial term for state statute or ordinance that forbids or regulates entertainment and commercial activities (ex. sale of liquor) on Sundays or religious holidays. Blue laws can also be referred to as Sunday closing laws, Sabbath laws, and uniform day of rest laws.

Originating in England, blue laws were enacted through colonial America in an effort to protect Christian Sabbath as mandated by the Fourth Commandment and despite centuries of change remain in effect in many states even today.

Blue laws frequently have been challenged as unconstitutional establishments of religion in violation of the First Amendment and while Supreme Court has acknowledged the overtly religious origins of blue laws in McGowan v. Maryland it upheld them as advancing the secular purpose of creating a uniform day of rest.

[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]