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Why does Massachusetts still have blue laws?

Question Everything: Why does Massachusetts still have blue laws?
Question Everything: Why does Massachusetts still have blue laws? 03:30

BOSTON - "Blue laws" are alive and well in Massachusetts and have been on the books since John Winthrop was governor in 1630. Peter Drummey at the Massachusetts Historical Society says the laws were established to make sure people went to church and observed the Sabbath.

The original "Blue Laws of New Haven Colony" contains at least 35 blue laws, a color associated with high morality, that include no food or lodging be afforded a Quaker, and no one "shall travel, make beds, sweep house, cut hair or shave on the Sabbath."

These days blue laws basically refer to which businesses can legally open on Sundays and holidays but have their roots in the colonial era. "Somewhere, someone is having fun and we're going to stop it," said Drummey.

There are three categories of blue laws still on the books in Massachusetts. 

Businesses don't need a permit to operate on Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, Patriots Day and Bunker Hill Day. 

There's no permit necessary but employers can't require their employees to work on New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, and Fourth of July.

And though largely unenforced, a police permit is required to open on Columbus Day before noon and Veterans Day before 1 p.m. As for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Massachusetts is one of only three states prohibiting stores from opening on those days.

"Sometimes it's easier for politicians to take a walk and not act rather than update laws, particularly if not a whole lot of pressure to do that," said Jon Hurst of the Massachusetts Retailers Association. He says the pressure has recently been off, for example, to get stores open on Thanksgiving night to get a head start on Black Friday shopping because anyone can jump on their computer or cellphone and shop 24/7.

Liquor sales were prohibited on Sundays in Massachusetts for two centuries, and then allowed in 2014 to open as early as 10:00 a.m. because tailgating Patriots fans pressured Beacon Hill.

There are also still what seem like archaic blue laws that go beyond Sundays and holidays such as making it illegal to frighten pigeons and prohibiting the making or selling of candy that contains more than one percent alcohol. "A lot of these laws are still on the books because no one wants to promote something that even a small part of the population might hold dear or think is important," said Drummey.

Jocelyn Mitchell of Dion's Fine Wines says she supports the blue laws that have her closed on Thanksgiving for one simple reason. "We're talking two days a year. We care about our employees and their social and emotional wellbeing," said Mitchell.

It may seem inconsistent or archaic, but people preparing to travel this week should make sure they don't need more than a fill-up on Thanksgiving. "It's not great public policy, but it's public policy that went back decades, hundreds of years and it's very hard to change that," said Hurst. 

If you have a question you'd like us to look into, please email   

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