North Dakota mulls lifting its Sunday morning shopping ban

North Dakota legislators are considering lifting the longstanding ban on Sunday morning shopping, a move that critics worry would erode time to rest. 

Ernest Scheyder/Reuters/File
Baristas prepare for the grand opening of the Lantern Coffee Company in Williston, North Dakota, in February 2015.

North Dakota residents might soon be legally allowed to shop on Sunday mornings. 

On Monday, state legislators began considering a proposal asking to strike North Dakota's Sunday morning sales ban from the books. Advocates hope that lifting the ban, which is rooted in religious tradition, will help increase local retailers' competitiveness.

Citing tax revenue, lawmakers who oppose the so-called blue laws believe ending this prohibition will also bring more jobs.

"I'm annoyed that I have to wait until Sunday afternoon to shop," state Rep. Pam Anderson (D) of Fargo, who has introduced legislation to abolish the shopping restrictions, told the Associated Press.

Though still in the process of consideration by a House committee, the new bill aims to lift the prohibition on most sales on Sundays, while leaving in place North Dakota’s all-day ban on vehicle sales and its half-day ban on alcohol sales. 

While North Dakota has relaxed its blue laws over the years – until 1991, the state required most businesses to stay closed all day on Sundays – the new legislation is proposed mainly to increase opportunities for local retailers to retain their shoppers. 

Proponents of the new bill believe that opening late puts cities that border other states at a disadvantage, similar to arguments used to back the proposal to allow alcohol sales at restaurants and bars after 11 a.m. on Sundays, which was passed in 2015. 

As North Dakota is the only state in the country that prohibits Sunday-morning shopping, supporters said such restrictions hurt business in the state, especially in the eastern cities of Fargo and Grand Forks, when shoppers can just go across the Minnesota border.

The proposed legislation would loosen restrictions that have existed since the state was formed in 1889, amidst worries that visiting a retail store on Sunday morning would compete with church, erode family values, and leave people with even less time to rest.

The purpose of the Sunday-closing law is "not to impose times of worship, nor is it to demand adherence to religious doctrine," North Dakota Catholic Conference director Christopher Dodson told lawmakers. 

"It is to provide a common period of rest and relaxation to the benefit of families and communities," he said. 

The state Supreme Court has twice upheld the ban: first in the mid-1960s and again in the early 1990s. 

But Anderson believes allowing Sunday morning shopping would not impact the number of people in the pews, calling it a "falsehood." Other advocates also think it simply impacted their freedom to choose.  

"North Dakota doesn't dictate to farmers when to farm, hospitals when to practice medicine, or restaurants when to feed people," Brandon Mendenwald, who owns a software company in Fargo, told lawmakers. "Allow people to choose how to spend their own time ... Why does the state government not trust people to make this decision for themselves?"

The story contains material from the Associated Press.

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