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Dateline Sunday U. S. A.


Warren L. Johns

Issued with the author's permission


Chapter 15.                                 SUNDAY




California's sons played key roles in the Sunday conflict in the nineteenth century. In 1858 David S. Terry was instrumental in creating the first state supreme court finding that Sunday laws violated religious liberty. His antagonist, Stephen J. Field, fostered the dissenting view that Sunday laws had a valid secular purpose which justified their existence under the police power of the state. Field successfully planted this philosophy in opinions of the United States Supreme Court.

By the year 1887 the Sunday-law issue was being contested again, with the American Sabbath Union and the Lord's Day Alliance confidently predicting victory for a state Sunday-law measure. Edward Thompson, Pacific Coast spokesman, boasted, "The American Sabbath Union has never lost a campaign yet, and we are not going to lose this one. We have given ourselves three years to conquer California."1

That year the legislature was flooded with petitions inspired by the union and their Prohibitionist allies demanding restraint of "Sunday traffic and work, as well as all coarse and noisy amusements."2

Petitioners carefully emphasized the civil-regulation phrases which Stephen J. Field, in his legal opinions, had suggested. [176] A blue-law spokesman writing on February 19, 1890, acknowledged "how cautious we have to be in wording of this petition, "for as we have no state law recognizing the Sabbath day, we have no hope of closing the saloon on that day except as a municipal and police arrangement in the interest of sobriety, morality, law, and order." He candidly admitted:

If we would undertake to close the saloons because the Sabbath is a day sacred by divine authority, we would be met at once, both by the council and by the courts, with the declaration: The state of California knows no religious Sabbath – no Sunday except a holiday. Thus we would be defeated at the very beginning.3

The legislature ignored the petitions and pressures. However, in 1893 it did act to protect the laboring man through a measure guaranteeing one day's rest in seven for employees, with the choice of the day left to the discretion of the employer. A "civil regulation" designed to protect the health and welfare of an individual rather than a day, the revolutionary concept cleared the assembly by a vote of 56 to 4 and the senate 29 to 0.4

But Sunday-law enthusiasts could not cheerfully accept mere health and welfare measures. In a thinly veiled warning to the 1895 legislature, they suggested that "legislators who make good laws in favor of Sabbath observance are the best friends of the state."5 But the most they could wheedle from the California government was a Sunday-closing law which singled out barbers.

Why barbers? Perhaps it was the "nose of the camel" approach. Whatever the cause, the statute was too weak to survive. The next year, the California supreme court junked it as unconstitutional "class" legislation:

When any one such class is singled out and put under the criminal ban of a law such as this, the law not only is special, unjust, and unreasonable in its operation, but it works an invasion of individual liberty, the liberty of the free labor which it pretends to protect. 6

[177] Sunday-law promoters lost, but they also learned! They bounced back in 1909 with a proposal to incorporate coerced Sunday observance into the California constitution, beyond the reach of the legislature. C. L. Tufts, one of the active spokesmen for the proposal, met with Northern California clergymen to map a new strategy. He urged formation of an organization which would allow ministers to pull the strings from the background, while business leaders, "not necessarily members of the church," would front to the public. He feared that otherwise citizens "would recognize at once the ministerial aspect, and the object for which we are laboring would be defeated."7 The Tufts plan called for cooperation of Catholic priests wherever possible. In a concerted effort, proponents would initiate an attack on gambling followed by a push for midnight closing of saloons, then on to a Sunday ban on bars, and finally the bluelaw amendment to the constitution.

These ambitious maneuvers were met head on by J. O. Corliss of the Seventh-day Adventist Religious Liberty Association. The association had gathered 38,000 signatures of voters opposed to the "criminal-for-a-day" law.

Noting that the most spirited resistance came from the small Adventist denomination, W. H. G. Temple offered some intemperate remarks to one legislative committee: "This is a Christian nation," and "we have the right to demand that the alien in religion shall conform outwardly to our customs. When one branch of the Christian church, so small it is insignificant, takes another day for Sunday, we have a right to make that sect conform to our practice."8

However, the legislature voted down the Sunday law, and its defeated advocates were bitter. In 1912, one of them, the California State Superintendent of the Sunday Rest Proposition, suggested to a San Jose audience that the minority opposition be banished to some never-never land outside the United States: "Those who are not loyal enough to the American Government to observe its American sabbath should find a spot in some othe part of the world where they can go and spend their time as they wish."9

[178] This utterance came on the heels of a 1911 brush with the Religious Liberty Association. "Having been creditably informed that preparation for a strong effort to secure a Sunday-rest law at the forthcoming legislature of 1911 was being made by religious leaders, the Pacific Religious Liberty Association secured in a month's time more than sixty-eight thousand signatures of voters to petitions against any religious legislation."10

The association needn't have worried. Blue-law advocates failed to find a legislator willing to sponsor their measure.

Faced with an unfriendly legislature, Sunday proponents next tried the initiative to give the choice to California voters in 1914. The language of the 1893 "one-day-in-seven" rest law was lifted, and the specific designation of Sunday slipped in as the mandatory rest period. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce branded it "discriminatory," but Senator William Kehoe threw his political prestige on the line behind the proposal. He insisted that Sunday laws were not enforced as religious measures by any state: "None has been so bold, as to claim" that in the enforcement of Sunday observance in other states religious or blue laws are being forced upon the people."11

The Kehoe message failed to get through to the people. Initiative measure No. 45 went down to oblivion by a margin of 457,890 to 290,679.

Sunday-law lobbyists turned back to the California legislature in 1917 and again in 1919. They brought along some labor-union support, hoping to impress the state representatives. But the legislature again turned them down.

Rebuffed by an adamant legislature, the Sabbath Union dropped out of sight for a decade and then reappeared in 1929. [179] A zealot by the name of Harold P. Malcolm, president of the American Sabbath Day Enforcement League, toured the state, boasting of plans "to ask Congress at its next session to enact Sunday-enforcement laws with teeth in them." He talked confidently of plans to clear the state's highways of Sunday traffic "as part of a nationwide campaign to compel Sunday observance."12

Sunday laws "savor too much of unwarranted interference with personal liberty," groaned a representative of the California Oil and Gasoline Association. He challenged the proposal as an effort "to impose religious ideas upon the citizenry . . . in the guise of public welfare or economic progress."13

Warned the Palo Alto Times:

Out here in liberal-minded California, we laugh at those funny states "back East," that have Sunday blue laws. But if we don't watch out we will be making a beginning in blue legislation ourselves. . . .

[This] will be giving the grandest sort of encouragement to the professional blue law promoters to try at the next election to put over laws forbidding Sunday baseball, Sunday movies, Sunday motoring, Sunday cigar selling, and everything else except Sunday church attendance. 14

The Sacramento Union declared:

The churches cannot legislate themselves into popularity by closing everything else on the Sabbath. . . . When we try to shove religious differences into politics, into fraternal life, and into things where they have no place, we get into trouble.15

Quipped a Los Angeles Record column:

If this idiotic law is ever passed, "Yours truly" would just as soon spend every Sunday in the county jail as under all the blue restrictions of this puritanical proposal.16

In the November, 1930, election, 214,533 Californians voted for coerced Sunday closing, but more than a million voted No! Initiative measure No. 26 went the way of other California bluezlaw proposals.

[180] Three more decades passed, while diverse religious cultures and persuasions continued to enjoy unparalleled prosperity in the Golden State, despite the lack of a general Sunday-observance law on the books for nearly a century. Then the shock wave emanating from the 1961 United States Supreme Court decision reached westward to California, about to become the most populous state in the Union.

On Monday, March 4, 1963, State Senator Joseph Rattigan of Sonoma, California, launched an attack against the alleged "moral, social, and economic damage caused by Sunday selling." The antidote, he urged, was Senate Bill 845, a general Sunday closing law for the state.

Malcolm in 1929 had tried to make it a crime to drive a car on the public highway on Sunday. Assemblyman Tom Carrell, San Fernando Valley auto dealer, suggested to a new generation in 1959 and 1961 that it should be a crime to sell a car on Sunday. Twice his proposal cleared the assembly but died in the senate. Three decades had passed since the 1930 debacle, and Carrell's Sunday-law proposals fared no better.

The Religious Liberty Association again went to bat and opposed both the 1959 and 1961 proposals as a vestige of Puritan-inspired blue laws. A brief sent to the legislature in 1961 questioned:

If the state can force a store to close on Sunday, conversely can the state force a store to open on Sunday or Saturday? If the state can tell when to sell can it also tell what to sell, where to sell, and who to sell to?

The problem of classifying what can or cannot be sold on Sunday results in an acutely arbitrary result. . . . While some merchants would be denied the privilege of selling automobiles on Sunday, neighboring merchants would still be free to sell auto accessories and parts such as seat covers, fan belts, tires, batteries, headlights, land] floor mats, [as well as] gasoline, and oil. [181] While a father would not be free to buy an automobile for use on the highway, he would still be allowed to purchase a motor-driven midget-sized auto for his son's use in the backyard.

A dealer denied the right to sell an automobile on Sunday might nevertheless be free to sell a bicycle., boat, airplane, or service to cars previously sold. . . .

Although AB 289 would prevent the sale of automobiles on Sunday, it would presumably leave the door open to Sunday rental or leasing of cars. . . . Except in a legal sense, is a rental any more or less a commercial transaction than a sale of a motor vehicle?17

Californians still liked the smell of free air in the 1960's. With their votes they subscribed to the views of an editorial in the Pasadena Star-News:

Sunday blue laws, in general, prevent the operation of stores and sometimes of amusement enterprises. . . . This procedure might be explainable under an authoritarian government having an established church, but it hardly accords with principles of democracy or of protection of the rights of minorities. . . . The observance, if any, of a religious holiday is a question for the individual to decide."18

The century-old San Rafael Independent-Journal remarked that AB 289 "strikes us as a step backward. . . . A blue law is in effect a kind of Infringement on a person's religious freedom. A law prohibiting the Sunday operation of one business seems to us poor legislation."

According to the Garden Grove News:

Many will share the high aim of the bill as a means of implementing the Fourth Commandment, [but] we have general misgivings about legislation to enforce a religious edict on which public opinion has not arrived at a consensus.

Even from the viewpoint of those who prefer businesses to close on Sunday, the legislation is unnecessary. Our American heritage is that the form of society originates from moral conviction in the hearts of individual men, not the other way around.19

[182] Henry C. MacArthur, Sacramento columnist, writing on the "Affairs of State," saw the issue as commercial rather than religious, and said, "Once again, the California state legislature is twiddling its fingers in private business, and voting to enact laws which violate the rights of citizens and businessmen to operate their business as they choose."

Small-volume auto dealers felt the threat of large-volume sales organizations which offered a night-and-day seven-days-a-week sales pitch. They saw AB 289 as a means to stifle the competition.

Though the 1959 bill failed to get through the senate, Assemblyman Carrell successfully enlisted the support of many of his colleagues as cosponsors of his 1961 efforts. In California's eighty-member assembly, forty-one votes were needed to pass a bill; on April 6, 1961, Carrell got exactly forty-one.

It was a nonpartisan verdict. Assemblymen from both sides of the aisle gave support, and the members voting "no" represented both Democrats and Republicans.

Assemblyman Howard J. Thelin hit hard at the proposal: "It is easy to condemn religious and racial discrimination when a vandal scrawls swastikas on a synagogue, but here we see it in more subtle form. If we believe in a free economy, how can we say one group of businessmen must close on Sunday?'20

"This little gem has been with us before," added Assemblyman Walter Dahl, who eyed it as "only a starter."21

Tom Carrell was either unaware of the facts or he was misquoted, when he claimed he did not know "of any Jew or Seventh-day Adventist who closes his business on Saturday."22 Earlier in the year, when he had introduced AB 289, Carrell was quoted as saying, "The Adventists say that if we have this type of legislation, they want us to include Saturday."23 The Adventists had, in fact, made it plain that their church opposed coerced observance of any day.

[183] With the slim assembly majority on record in support of his measure, Carrell then faced the formidable senate hurdle. Kern County Senator Walter W. Stiern asked some pointblank questions:

Is it morally justifiable to make a man a criminal for keeping his business open on Sunday? . . . Suppose a dealer doesn't sell cars on Sunday, but demonstrates them and keeps his business open for the public to look at cars on Sunday. If this is not a violation of the law, has the bill accomplished anything? . . . Why should the legislature select the automobile dealer as the object of a Sundayclosing law? Why not other businesses? . . . Why close the dealers on Sunday rather than on some other day of the week? . . . If it is the purpose of the bill to give people a holiday on their religious holy day, why not pass a law which does that rather than pass this bill?24

Proponents failed to answer these and other questions to the satisfaction of the senate committee studying the measure, and AB 289 joined the growing discard heap of California blue-law proposals.

No sooner had Tom Carrell's effort met with senate rebuff than a "Citizens Advisory Committee" in Los Angeles began to raise a million-dollar war chest to put Sunday closing back on the ballot in initiative form. Committee coordinator Haskel N. Grubbs admitted that a survey showed 90 percent of Californians interviewed said they would not support a Sunday-closing law. However, he said he hoped citizen interest in the possibility of saving money through Sunday closing might be the key to victory.25

Grubbs had reason to fear public sentiment. In a privately sponsored interview program, 2,600 Californians were given a list of typical Sunday activities and asked if they favored making these activities illegal on the first day of the week. Only 14 percent approved the criminal-for-a-day concept even for the most patently "secular" activity. Thus a plurality of six to one opposed coerced Sunday observance.26

[184] The Field Research Company released a survey in March, 1963, which showed that 60 percent of the public opposed Sun day-closing laws and 35 percent favored them.27

The widely heralded initiative did not appear on the California ballot in 1962, but "Californians Against Commercializing Sunday" picked up the banner and carried it to the 1963 legislature on the wings of Senator Rattigan's SB 845.

Encouraged by the green light flashed to "secular" blue laws by the United States Supreme Court, some California retailers pooled their resources and tried to sell their employees on a massive letter-writing campaign directed to the legislature. Dire warnings, bordered in black, of threats to community economy and family welfare were printed in a brochure headlined "Sunday Blight."

Senator Rattigan and his backers sought to avoid the religious implication by arguing that the bill did not "affect religion."

Retorted the Religious Liberty Association:

While arguments are heard that "this is not a 'Blue Law'" and that "it does not affect religion," proponents warn of "moral" damage stemming from Sunday business and that unless Sunday selling is restricted "a sizable percentage of our citizenry will be observing Sunday, not as a day of rest but as just another working day." An introductory statement within the bill itself refers to the "preservation of Sunday as a day free from work" to permit, among other things specified, "religious worship if and as desired by any person."28

Cree Sandefur, spokesman for 20,000 Seventh-day Adventists in the Los Angeles area, asked, "What possible 'moral' damage could result from selling on Sunday an item which on six days of the week it is considered perfectly moral to sell, unless a purely religious factor is attached?"29

[185] As proposed, SB 845 would have made Sunday sales of clothing, furniture, appliances, television sets, radios, cameras, jewelry, and, of course, automobiles a crime. So-called "essential" items which could be sold as usual without penal sanctions were drugs, gasoline, auto supplies, food, real estate, newspapers, souvenirs, and novelty items.

The legal status of the nonessential sales would also depend on the scene of the action. Area classifications based upon population size and geographic location were incorporated, creating what opponents charged was an enforcement crazy quilt with which an already harassed and undermanned police force would be left to cope.

The Los Angeles Times asked in amazement, "How is purchase of real property rated essential, and a car purchase nonessential?" The "premise that retail sales personnel are deprived of a day of rest by Sunday selling doesn't stand examination. Virtually all retailing help gets two days a week off. Many prefer weekdays off, to avoid resort crowds and Sunday traffic on their rest days." With reference to allegations of Senator Rattigan, the bill's sponsor, the Times continued:

Despite his statement that this is not a "blue" law, and does not affect religion, the moral issue is injected. The scare word "wide-open" is applied to Sunday selling, to conjure up visions of profligacy and debauch associated with the "wide-open" towns of the frontier.

Advocates of the measure carefully avoid the key issue, which is public convenience. For hundreds of thousands of families, with husband and wife both working, the weekend is the only period available for joint shopping.30

Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty expressed concern for minorities. Said the mayor, "I cannot see that it's fair to say that everybody must close on Sunday when everybody does not observe Sunday as the Sabbath."31

Robert D. Wood, speaking for television station KNXT, asked:

[186] Why is the sale of a house and lot on Sunday essential to public health and welfare, but not the sale of a new or used automobile? Where is the logic to the sale of a bottle of whiskey on Sunday, but not the sale of a lawn mower?

And what about the supermarkets under the provisions of this proposed Sunday-selling Law? They could sell you a loaf of bread, a jar of pickles, or a can of corn, but on Sunday they would be required to hide the kitchen knives, the flashlight batteries, the electric light bulbs, and the fly swatters.

And the super drugstores. . . . They could fill your prescription or sell you a bottle of aspirin on Sunday, but to escape being arrested, they would make you put back a pocket comb, a bottle of nail polish, or a toy balloon and tell you to come back on Monday. . . .

KNXT feels strongly the free enterprise system should not be subjected to excessive restrictions by government. KNXT also feels very strongly that under our free-enterprise system, the police power of the state is used properly to enforce competition, not to restrain it.32

In reviewing the argument of SB 845 backers that "it ensures a leisurely Sunday for store clerks and 'protects' people of the state from 'moral, social, and economic damage,'" columnist Ridgeley Cummings suggested it "will be news to policemen, firemen, newspaper reporters, restaurant workers, hotel clerks, filling station operators, soda Jerkers, and thousands of others who work on Sunday that they need this 'Moral protection.'"33 The proposal had not extended its "protective" mantle to these working groups.

The Glendale Chamber of Commerce lent its official backing to the Rattigan proposal, but Glendale News Press Editor Carroll N. Parcher took a dim view of the bill, as to the issues of both religious freedom and free enterprise. Said he, "Dangers of regulating business by legislation should be especially apparent to retailers already faced with a myriad of regulatory decrees. And once the door is opened on this type of legislation, there is no end in sight."34

[187] Blue-law opponents stumbled on a new ally in 1963. When the California Retailers Association backed Sunday closing to control competition, discount-house competitors bristled in reaction. In a biting attack published in its monthly advertiser circulated to customers, one of the large discount houses, Unimart, chided:

Californians are now witnessing the sorry spectacle of a group of frightened department-store owners milling around Sacramento attempting to pass legislation which would force competition – the membership store or discount store – to close Sundays. . . . The same men who attend service clubs and public meetings to preach free enterprise, risk capital, and rugged individualism, are now in Sacramento trying to injure competition by passing an obviously vague and unconstitutional law which would close certain parts of certain stores in certain towns on certain days – namely Sundays. As it stands now, if the law passes you can buy a six-pack at our store on Sundays but you can't buy an opener."35

The Religious Liberty Association of the Seventh-day Adventists distributed newspaper advertising attacking the incongruity of a "one-day-criminal" law; and State Chairman Philip Corvin, of "Californians Against Commercializing Sunday" immediately countered with a seventeen-page mimeographed throwaway accusing, "It is an economic interest, not one of religion, which motivates their opposition to this bill."36 Ignoring the moral arguments advanced by Senator Rattigan, Corvin declared, "The bill is not morality-oriented."

But the tide of California opinion which had been mounting for eighty years could not be washed away by a last-minute attack against a religious minority. In April, Senator Rattigan himself announced that he was withdrawing the measure from further consideration for lack of support, explaining that support on the senate floor for SB 845, the Sunday-selling bill, while substantial, was not sufficient to gain its passage. [188] In his announcement he hopefully predicted that someday a reasonable regulation of Sunday selling in California might become a reality.

Since SB 845 had included a ban on Sunday auto sales, those concerned with this special interest had not bothered to introduce the customary blue law applicable only to cars. But when SB 845 was discarded, auto-closing proponents resorted to desperate stratagems. On January 10, Tom Carrell had offered the assembly a simple seven-line proposal which would revise the speed limit for passenger cars pulling trailers on state highways. It was printed as Assembly Bill 82, and in its original form had nothing to do with Sunday laws.

No sooner had Senator Rattigan dropped Senate Bill 845 than Tom Carrell threw Assembly Bill 2893 into the hopper, the Sunday-closing measure applicable to auto dealers. But the problem with AB 2893 was its number. Introduced long after the legislature had opened for business, it lacked priority. Stuck with an April birthday and high number, there was little chance that a packed legislative schedule would give way to the attention essential for passage.

Then came some sensational legislative surgery! On April 29, 1963, Tom Carrell offered an amendment to AB 82, in which the original wording was discarded, with the exception of the desired high-priority number, AB 82. In place of the original speed-law language, the complete contents of what had been AB 2893 appeared, lock, stock, and-blue law.

The new SB 82, the automobile sales prohibition bill for 1963, was diluted by a May 9 amendment which limited its application to specific counties. And in that form the assembly gave its blessing, but not before there was considerable flurry in the legislative hallways in an effort to corral enough "aye" votes to send it on to the senate.

The procedure did not slip by unnoticed!

[189] "This measure, according to information received, was amended from a proposal dealing with auto speeds to the closing of auto dealers on Sunday in such a way that it could slip onto the assembly floor with little or no public scrutiny," chided Cree Sandefur, Southern California Adventist leader, in a message to the press May 13. "When the measure came to the assembly floor it lacked enough votes to assure its passage. Its proponents had to beat the legislative bushes for additional assemblymen and then call a roll-call vote to finally see it pass the lower house."

However, the senate ignored the patched-up AB 82, and the 1963 legislative session ended without a Sunday blue law on the books. No one bothered to come back with any more "one-day-criminal" offering during the next general session of the legislature in 1965.

The voice of a free California public had been heard!

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Edward Thompson, quoted by W. N. Green, "The Sunday-law Program," Signs of the Times, Vol. 16 (1890), No. 46, p. 565.




Christian Statesman, March 13, 1930.


California Assembly, 1893, 30th Session, page 481; and California Senate, 1893, 30th Session, page 365.


Journal of California Senate, 1895, 31st Session, page 548.


Ex Parte Jentzsch, 112 California 468 (1896).




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