In defense of brunch

Should Ohio revisit its Sunday alcohol policy?

By Sarah Sidlow

Photo: Illustration by Dayton artist Jed Helmers. Reach him at See more at

Thing to know: “blue law”—as in, a law that prohibits certain types of activities on Sundays. Because, why would you want to buy a car (or a bottle of liquor) when you’re supposed to be worshipping? These laws have existed throughout American history, but are most commonly associated with the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

In Minnesota, the law banning Sunday liquor stores has been on the books for nearly 160 years. But last week, the Minnesota state Senate voted to repeal the law, finally allowing liquor stores to be open on Sundays. Even though there are a few more political hurdles to jump before supporters can raise their Sunday glasses, it’s looking more and more like Sunday liquor store hours are imminent, and may be a reality by July.

Minnesota was one of just 12 states that still prevented liquor stores from operating on consumers’ seven-day-a-week lifestyles. By now, you may be wondering how the Buckeye State stacks up. Let’s break it down.

According to Ohio Code 4301, liquor may only be sold on Sunday under authority of a permit that authorizes Sunday sale.

What are the benefits of getting rid of the ban? Supporters of the repeal are happy to say, “out with the old”—and hope the change will better reflect consumer tastes and expectations. In Minnesota, public opinion polls showed big majorities of the public wanted the change. Craft brewers and distillers, as well as major retail chains, also chimed in with support. (Like, a lot of support. Big-box store Total Wine & More alone spent $170,000 lobbying the legislature in 2014 and 2015.)

But the Sunday liquor sale ban has supporters, as well. And they long to return to the days of small business and small-town life. They fear raising restrictions will force mom-and-pop shops to compete in the world of big-box business. And that seems kind of hopeless. They argue that the historic blue laws are some of the last remaining remnants of days gone by, which we all sometimes wish we could get back. What’s the harm in keeping some of the charm?

Others view the ban as a way to reduce crime and encourage other activities. Research published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that after Virginia relaxed their Sunday sale policies, minor crime increased by 5 percent and alcohol-involved serious crime rose by 10 percent. (Fun fact: the study also found that the cost of the additional crime was comparable to Virginia’s revenue from increased liquor sales—but that’s not really the point, is it?)

Both sides argue that there are likely far more important issues toward which those governing the state should direct time and resources. This reasoning leads ban supporters to say, “just leave it alone” and repeal supporters to say, “just do it, already!”

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should Ohio repeal its Sunday liquor ban?

Thou shalt not infringe on liberty

The commandments of Protestant America are on their way out

By Don Hurst

The state should repeal the prohibition of selling liquor on Sundays. The ban is the last remaining survivor of the state’s “blue laws,” laws expressly implemented to curb sinful behavior and encourage citizens to participate in religious activities. Legislators believed if you had nothing better to do on Sunday you would go to church.

In 1809, Ohio lawmakers prohibited such unholy activities as gambling, hunting, shooting, dancing, drinking, sporting events, and “common labor.” If the state wants to outlaw my mowing the lawn on Sundays, then I would reconsider my stance on liquor.

At the time, these laws represented the will of the people, but our society has evolved to include more religious diversity. Some people hold Saturday as the most holy day of the week, while others don’t believe any day deserves more veneration. To elevate one day above the others with legislation is a violation of equal treatment of religions.

Not all Protestant morality is bad. All enduring religions and humanist philosophies share some common beliefs. You shouldn’t steal a Subaru (or anything else). Throwing a brick through your neighbor’s window is bad. Murder is also frowned upon.

Acts that harm others are definitely part of the government’s sphere of influence, but imposing subjective morality on us is not the government’s job. I’m a big boy, and I wear big boy pants. I can handle buying alcohol.

There’s a hypocrisy to these laws that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. (Gee, a shot of bourbon would wash that taste out.) Ohio says selling liquor on a Sunday is bad, unless you pay extra money for a special permit. Then it’s OK. You paid your way into morality. That doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s follow the logic of blue laws. Supporters don’t want people to sin on the Lord’s Day. We have to be nicer and more righteous on this arbitrary day of the week. If selling liquor is sinful, then what other activities should we outlaw? There is a lot of sin in the Bible.

For example, gluttony is a sin. On Sundays, it shall be unlawful for people eat unhealthfully. Instead of 24 hours, seven days a week, Bill’s Donuts will have to change the signs to 24 hours, six days a week. The Sunday tradition of standing in line in your pajamas for butter twists would be unlawful. No sugary goodness when you should be praying.

Cutting liquor and sweets on Sundays doesn’t go far enough. Often, when people drink, they dance. When you hold your partner too close, the devil is your chaperone. Stomping your feet to the Charleston and the Jitterbug, you might as well be boarding the Soul Train to Hell. No dancing on Sundays.

Liquor and dancing leads to even more sinful behavior, like sex. CVS and Wal-Mart can’t sell condoms on the Sabbath. We don’t need any sin babies. It’s a scientific fact that children conceived on Sundays grow up to be telemarketers. Keep your hands off each other by keeping your hands clasped in prayer.

No access to adult websites either. Ye Holy Web Blocker shall deny access to IP addresses of purveyors of carnal sin. Ladies, don’t sidestep these laws by watching copies of “Magic Mike” or “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Just to be safe, let’s shut down the Victoria’s Secret website on Sundays, as well.

There are too many sinful options for entertainment. Cable TV is a tool of the devil. Don’t believe me? Call customer support.  Shut all that down on Sundays. Netflix can only show that fireplace simulator that’s popular during Christmas. Nope. Never mind. Fire is too much like hell.

Instead all channels will air nothing but reruns of The Andy Griffith Show. Well, not all the reruns; some of those episodes are just too darn titillating. That time Andy held hands with Miss Helen during their picnic at Lake Myers is so hot that it scorches the virtue of nuns.

Some cling to these laws because they yearn for a simpler time when people were just better. That’s an illusion. The good old days weren’t any better than today. Peel back the years enough and it gets ugly. No liquor on Sundays, but deny black people service at a restaurant. No Sunday bourbon, but women can’t vote.

Blue laws place the government in a position where it dictates morality and infringes on personal liberty. Prohibiting the sale of liquor on a Sunday is not so egregious as to spark a revolution, but it is an example of the dangerous tendency to legislatively impose religion. We face a lot of challenges as a society. Thought rooted in 1809 norms will not help us.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at

Bring back Sunday

Instead of more commerce on Sunday, how about less?

By Victor DeLaine

To paraphrase Nietzsche, Sunday is dead. We killed it. You don’t need to be religious to regret its death. Religion may seem silly to us urban sophisticates, but one sane thing that religion gave us was Sunday. We are the worse, the less civilized, for its loss. And with what did we replace it? With a second Saturday, another day of driving, spending, consuming.

Sunday has not been dead long. Many reading these words will recall—and, I’ll wager, recall fondly—when all commercial activity, not just selling booze, was off-limits on Sunday. That meant no groceries, no gas stations, no soccer, no restaurants. You just stayed home and hung out with your family.

Ours wasn’t the only country that observed Sunday. You’d be surprised how many countries still do. On Sundays in Germany, most stores must remain closed, and trucks are banished from the roads. In Norway, all but gas stations and the smallest shops must take Sunday off. In Switzerland, only a few shops in tourist areas may open on Sunday. In some Australian states, whole categories of retail commerce are restricted on Sunday.

These places are not fundamentalist backwaters. They are advanced, secular, liberal democracies. In some of them, Christianity is practically extinct. To these societies, blue laws are a means not of enforcing religious discipline, but of mitigating the unrelenting rigors of capitalism, of giving the body politic a break from the manic imperative of nonstop consumption. It is for that reason—not to legislate religion—that such societies set one day in seven aside when King Commerce cannot hawk his wares, cannot separate us from our money, and cannot yoke hirelings to machines.

Bringing Sunday back to this country is not out of the question. We see something like the nostalgia for Sunday in the push to restore Thanksgiving as a day off, even for the hapless employees of Wal-Mart.

But if we can’t bring back Sunday, we can at least leave room for its one surviving remnant, Sunday restrictions on liquor sales. What little is left of those restrictions is barely noticeable. We have so curtailed those restrictions already that, if you sleep late on Sunday, you wouldn’t even notice them. Of all the ills facing this benighted republic, the scourge of liquor restrictions on Sunday would seem pretty low on the list.

Weigh the pros and cons. What are the awful horrors with which restrictions on Sunday liquor sales afflict us? The only argument against blue laws is the one you always hear from nerdy libertarians who think every law puts us onto a slippery slope to Stalinism. It’s less an argument than a sequence of push-button slogans about victimless crimes, separating church and state, and Big Brother, with lots of yammering about rights. When pressed to go beyond such abstractions, they just mumble. The most awful scenario that critics of blue laws can cite is the plight of beer drinkers who must stock their fridges on Saturday with enough beer to last until noon Sunday, when Kroger can sell it again.

If you lift Sunday liquor restrictions, by contrast, the bad results would be far less abstract. For one thing, more liquor sales would mean—duh!—more liquor consumption. You could then expect more of all the social ills that correlate with drinking, such as drunk driving, wife-beating, and crime. The Dayton City Paper tells us that the repeal of blue laws in Virginia prompted increases in crime that leave little doubt as to cause and effect.

But a graver downside of repeal concerns liquor’s role in distracting citizens from the real ills that afflict them. With all due respect to Marx, liquor, not religion, is the opiate of the masses. It is like the drug soma in Huxley’s “Brave New World,” dulling your critical intelligence just enough to make dystopia endurable. Booze makes sensible men want to kiss ugly women. It also makes sensible men accept a status quo that sentences them to underpaid drudgery on a corporate treadmill. The laws that took Sunday away were enacted, not because mobs of peasants with pitchforks demanded that their day of rest be taken away, but because Mammon wanted to do the same thing to you on Sunday that he does to you the other six days. And Mammon would like nothing more than to finish the job by plying you with liquor on Sunday, to keep you from getting any sober ideas.

But no matter how you feel about capitalism, abstract rights, and drunk driving, the best reason to tolerate blue laws is, simply, that they are tolerable. Tolerate them the way you tolerate the Amish, the Oregon District, or Wrigley Field, as a quaint vestige of a better way of life.


Reach DCP freelance writer Victor DeLaine at

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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