Shopping at this time of year has become a ritual of our culture, with its own high holy day– Black Friday. Religion in the Balance was pleased to discover the continuing existence of “blue laws” that, in some places, restrict retail hours on Thanksgiving Day (article excerpt below). Might the continuing existence of “blue laws” mean that commerce has not yet won total victory and become the highest good, and sum total, of our public life together?
To hope that the answer to the above question is “yes,” is to accede to the idea that a government’s interest may not always coincide with economic interest. There’s money to be spent and money to be made, if it were legal for big stores to be open in Rhode Island on Thanksgiving– so why wouldn’t the government of the state of Rhode Island make it legal to do so? Because, hopefully, the government of Rhode Island maintains a definition of the common good that doesn’t end with the lazy-minded identification of the common good with what’s good for business. They’re not identical.
A time of rest, at least in Western culture, has its roots in the Jewish practice of sabbath. While this practice of sabbath was tied directly to the proper way of worshiping the God of Abraham, in a modern pluralistic society “blue laws” need no such justification– in fact, of course, they CANNOT have such a justification. In a modern pluralistic society, enforced periods of economic rest must have a secular, not a religious, purpose. The secular justification for “blue laws” is easy: a people will not govern themselves well for long, if their common life amounts to shopping (and football). It’s good for us to have laws that force us to take a break from consuming.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Shoppers won’t be lining up for Thanksgiving Day deals at stores in Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts. They can’t.
It’s the legacy of so-called “blue laws,” which prohibit large supermarkets, big box stores and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving. Some business groups complain, but many shoppers, workers and even retailers say they’re satisfied with a one-day reprieve from work and holiday shopping.
Some business groups complain it’s an unnecessary barrier during an era of 24-hour online shopping, and there have been some recent failed legislative attempts to change things. But many shoppers, workers and even retailers say they’re satisfied with the status quo: a one-day reprieve from work and holiday shopping.
“I shop all year. People need to be with their families on Thanksgiving,” said Debra Wall, of Pawtucket, R.I., who will remain quite happily at home Thursday, cooking a meal for 10.
The holiday shopping frenzy has crept deeper than ever into Thanksgiving this year. Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Staples will open on Thanksgiving for the first time. Toys R Us will open at 5 p.m., and Wal-Mart, already open 24 hours in many locations, will start holiday deals at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than last year. In recent years, some retail employees and their supporters have started online petitions to protest stores that open on Thanksgiving — but shoppers keep coming.