Blue Laws: Easing Up on Sunday Liquor Sales

Throwing out Prohibition-era laws means more revenue for states.

Employee Eli Hughes stocks bottles of wine in the Applejack Liquor Store in the west Denver suburb of Wheat Ridge, Colo., Feb. 13, 2008.

Employee Eli Hughes stocks bottles of wine in the Applejack Liquor Store in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

By + More

The disappearance of the last of the blue laws has drawn a surprisingly muted response, meanwhile, from the religious community. A recent paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that in states where blue laws have been repealed, there has been a 15 percent decline in attendance among weekly churchgoers, along with a nearly 25 percent drop in donations. "I'm surprised [religious conservatives] haven't picked up on this," says Jonathan Gruber, coauthor of the study and a professor of economics at MIT. "Just like people switch cars when gas goes up, this is a change in the price of going to church; you've got an opportunity cost, you can do something else instead, and that has changed behavior."

Some evangelical groups did oppose changing the law in Colorado, saying it would increase alcohol-related problems like drunk driving. But proponents of repeal pointed out that alcohol was already available in restaurants and bars, that there was no evidence drunk-driving rates had increased in other states, and—most important—that the law would bring millions to the state. The bill passed by more than a 2-to-1 majority. "All of these repeal efforts are related to economics now," says David Laband, author of Blue Laws: The History, Economics, and Politics of Sunday-Closing Laws. "There's no vestige of a religious component anymore."

Cheri Jahn predicts that the number of states with blue laws on the books will continue to dwindle. Already, as many as four other states—West Virginia, Alabama, Minnesota, and Georgia—are said to be reconsidering their Sunday sales restrictions. "I think one by one, they are going to keep chipping them away," she says. "Consumers have a way of getting what they want." It can take some time, but voters, it seems, eventually do, too.