UK Christians defend Sunday business closure laws

By Kevin J. Jones

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A Closed Sunday sign. Credit: Jeremy Kunz (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

If the laws that restrict Sunday trading in England and Wales are relaxed, as is being proposed, opponents say the move could force poor Christians to work Sundays and negatively affect both church attendance and family life.

“Church attendance would likely be adversely affected, as church goers who work in retail may feel they need the extra money,” Peter Norris, communications officer with the London-based advocacy group Christian Concern, told EWTN News on Aug. 28.

“The people who are likely to be affected most by a change in the law are those who need the money most, i.e. the poor,” he added. “There is a serious danger that the poor would be exploited whilst the more well-off in society would not need to work on a Sunday.”

At present, the law in England and Wales allows shops 3,000 square feet or larger to open for a maximum of six hours on Sunday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The laws have been temporarily relaxed during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Senior legislators in the U.K.’s governing Conservative Party are now discussing whether to ease the laws permanently. The move has drawn opposition from within their own party.

Norris said changes to the law could hurt Christian workers who are not willing to work on Sundays.

“We have already seen cases of Christians battling with employers to ensure that they do not have to work on Sundays,” he said. “One Christian employee recently lost her job because she refused to work on Sundays. An employment tribunal found against her, stating that Sunday as a day of worship was not a 'core' part of the Christian faith.”

The change could also adversely affect family life in a country where families suffer “alarming levels of breakdown,” Norris said. Some parents would “inevitably” feel pressure to work an extra day.

“A wealth of research shows that children do far better when their parents are able to spend time with them and without a protected day, children will suffer.”

Norris said Christian Concern believes that the Bible’s teaching on Sunday rest is “not just good for Christians but good for society as a whole.”

He noted that in the Old Testament Sunday rest applied to all levels of society, including slaves. Jesus affirmed the Sabbath in teaching “that it was made for the good of man.”

“Humans were made in the image of God,” Norris said. “This means that they are made to work but they are also made to rest as God did.”

But advocates of the change have said longer hours would stimulate the economy.

Norris said this is not yet supported by evidence. He contended the change could even be counterproductive.

“Research shows that people are more productive when they are given regular periods of rest,” he said. “If we want our economy to recover we cannot risk the burn-out of a sizeable portion of the nation's workforce.”

Many big retailers like the Walmart-owned grocery store Asda favor extending opening hours, though some retail executives like Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King have opposed the proposed changes.

The Church of England is opposed to the move. The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have said the present restrictions are a “bulwark against the tide of commercialism,” the British newspaper The Telegraph reports.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses the importance of refraining from Sunday work that hinders Christian worship. It also encourages a “common effort” to sanctify Sundays and other holy days.

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