A local grocery store long known for keeping its doors closed on Sunday has decided to open in select locations on a day considered sacred within numerous Christian traditions, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper.
While many expressed disappointment in the private company’s decision, what’s remarkable is there are many businesses in today’s secularized environment that still shut their doors on Saturday — the Jewish Sabbath — or Sunday.
Private companies are certainly entitled to make these decisions in order to compete for customers. For example, at the media companies like the Deseret News, round-the-clock news coverage demands a certain number of people are working to stay current and relevant and to deliver a morning report to your phone, computer or doorstep on Sunday and Monday. And the sacrifices of our emergency personnel as well as those who care for the infirm or less fortunate allow for others to enjoy this day of respite.
That’s why it’s all the more remarkable when companies put ethical and moral considerations above pure maximization of profits. Those companies should be commended. RC Willey Home Furnishings, for example, famously negotiated with a boss as big as Warren Buffett to keep its doors closed in Utah and elsewhere on Sundays. The famously family-friendly Maddox Ranch House in Perry, Utah, not only stays closed on Sunday but doesn't serve alcohol.
Utah, of course, is a diverse state, and not everyone shares Latter-day Saint values or a religious conception of the Sabbath. Indeed, long gone are most of America’s so-called blue laws — or Sunday laws — that restricted certain activities on Sunday. But that’s not to say that a societal day of rest is no longer needed.
In the famous Supreme Court case McGowan v. Maryland, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in defense of Maryland's "blue law" prohibiting commerce on Sunday.
“The state’s purpose is not merely to provide a one-day-seven work stoppage,” he wrote. "The State seeks to set one day apart from all others as a day of rest, repose, recreation and tranquility — a day which all members of the family and community have the opportunity to spend and enjoy together, a day on which there exists relative quiet and disassociation from the everyday intensity of commercial activities, a day on which people may visit friends and relative who are not available during working days."
We don’t advocate for a return to blue laws. But, in an age of digital devices and constant consumerism, the secular case couldn't be stronger for a day during which society takes a break from earning a buck and buying a widget. Now, more than ever, communities yearn for fellow residents to take one day to look at each other first as friends and fellow human beings before neighbors once again become customers and cashiers come Monday morning.
No one should shame a local grocer for its private business decisions — after all, for the better part of a century they sacrificed to stay closed on Sunday when their competition remained open. What’s more, they are still continuing to stay closed on Sunday in many locations throughout the state.
But, we concur with former Sen. Joe Lieberman, who writes: “The Sabbath is an old but beautiful idea that, in our frantically harried and meaning-starved culture, cries out to be rediscovered and enjoyed by people of all faiths” or, we would add, none at all.