Va. legislator targets Sunday hunting ban

Thursday, January 20, 2011

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It will be lawful to hunt wild animals and birds on Sundays in Virginia if a
measure recently introduced in the General Assembly passes.

Legislator Mark L. Keam introduced H.B. 2442
on Jan. 19. It would eliminate the state law against hunting on Sunday.

The restriction of hunting on Sundays may seem odd, but there is a long
history of so-called “blue laws” in the United States. These laws have forbidden
all sorts of activities — including selling alcohol, engaging in commerce and
holding sporting events.

Courts have upheld many of these blue laws through the years. In 1898 the
Ohio Supreme Court ruled in State v. Powell that the state could prohibit
the playing of baseball games on Sundays without violating religious freedom or
other individual liberties. In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a series of
blue laws against challenges under the establishment and free-exercise clauses
of the First Amendment. In one of those cases, McGowan v. Maryland, the
high court upheld a Maryland law that prohibited the sale of most items other
than food on Sundays.

Many have argued that blue laws are unconstitutional on First Amendment
grounds because they were based on an impermissible religious motivations —
preserving the Christian Sabbath day. However, courts have often held that blue
laws have a secular purpose, such as providing a day of rest that benefits

“Any challenge based on either free exercise or establishment would almost
certainly be rejected” today owing to that group of 1961 rulings, said
Robert M. O’Neil, founder of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Thomas Jefferson
Center for the Protection of Free Expression. O'Neil said states occasionally
eliminate blue laws “without constitutional mandate,” and that “most states have
abolished most blue laws.”

“Virginia's hunting ban is apparently about the only survivor in the
Commonwealth — there are still lots of anomalies and loose ends,” he added.

Although constitutional challenges based on the First Amendment might fail,
there is a growing sense among legal observers that many blue laws are outmoded
and not reasonable in modern society. Virginia's Sunday hunting ban may prove as
antiquated as a Civil War musket.

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