North Dakota Catholic Conference says 'Sunday law' benefits all people

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The North Dakota Catholic Conference has responded to criticism of a law restricting Sunday hours for businesses, saying the regulation benefits the whole of society.

“The purpose of North Dakota’s Sunday closing law is not to impose times of worship. Nor is it to demand adherence to religious doctrine. The purpose of the law is to preserve the common good by ensuring that society is not overtaken by work and profit,” wrote Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, in a July 12 article.

A July 5 editorial in the Fargo-Moorhead Forum criticized “all those North Dakotans who cling to the myth that partial Sunday opening somehow honors a Sabbath day.”

“Let’s get honest: Merchants should be able to open their doors whenever they choose. North Dakotans who don’t want to shop on Sunday – morning or any other time on that day – can stay home or in church,” the editorial said. “Others will want to shop. It should be their choice, not the state’s.”

In his response, Dodson said that the newspaper’s argument showed a “misunderstanding of the law’s purpose,” and of the relationship between government, business, and local community.

“Courts upholding Sunday closing laws have recognized what the Forum does not,” Dodson explained, noting that the laws “serve a secular, not religious purpose.” He said that all people need periods of rest and free time for the sake of their families, social lives and religious activities.

“Only when communities set aside time devoted to these functions can human persons prosper and develop,” he observed.

Economic forces, Dodson noted, can become enslaving for society in the absence of any regulation. He pointed out that individuals, families and communities can experience negative consequences if they do not have common periods of rest.

“Rather than restricting individual freedom,” the conference director said, “closing laws liberate and free people from the antisocial degeneration of human work.” He noted that economic freedom can only grow in healthy societies, not those which put profits above the values of family and community.

Dodson quoted the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which describes public authorities' duty “to ensure that, for reasons of economic productivity, citizens are not denied time for rest and divine worship.”

“Sunday closing laws are not about honoring the Sabbath day,” Dodson said. “They are about honoring people and families.”

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