Blue Laws and Religious Freedom
This is a list of significant court cases related to blue laws and religious freedom. The establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibits any law “respecting the establishment of religion.” By designating Sunday as a Sabbath and by restricting activities of individuals on that day, states with Sunday blue laws have arguably favored Christianity over religions that celebrate different Sabbaths. Litigation over blue laws were common throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century.
In Ex Parte Newman, the California Supreme Court in 1858 issued what is
believed to be the only 19th-century case in the U.S. that overturned a law
designed to protect the observance of Sunday, regarded as the Christian
A Massachusetts law required supermarkets to remain closed on Sundays. A
kosher supermarket appealed the law, but the court ruled that the law was
Hennington v. Georgia (1896) upheld a state law forbidding trains from
running on Sundays. Later “Sunday blue laws” were challenged on First
In McGowan v. Maryland (1961) the Court found that the law limiting
business operations on Sundays did not violate the establishment clause of
the First Amendment.
Two Guys from Harrison-Allentown, Inc. v. McGinley (1960) ruled that Sunday
blue laws did not violate the the establishment clause of the First
Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) ruled that a state law that required retail
businesses to close on Sunday did not violate the First Amendment’s free
In 1817, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a fine against a Jewish man
who worked on a Sunday in violation of the state’s law prohibiting work on
the Christian Sabbath.