January 11, 2007
In a surprising turn, new legislation in Georgia has made it illegal to sell meat on Fridays during Lent. While it has been seen as an unchangeable practice for years to ban Sunday sales of alcohol, Georgia has now become the first state to expand the practice to non-alcohol goods.
The move is a surprise to most people, both in Georgia and around the country. No other states have suggested plans to follow suit, but analysts expect a ripple throughout the South as other evangelical-dominated states consider similar legislation.
The justification for the law, by the legislators, seems unclear. Most have taken a silent approach when asked, but it is largely thought that a small minority of Christians convinced Georgia’s legislators that it was their role to enforce dietary rules of religious observance. Pastor Bobby Smith, of the New Life Church of Atlanta, did suggest that the rules were not intended to bind people to religious observance, but purely as a restriction of commerce:
“I’m not saying that people can’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent,” Smith said, “I just think that we as a society should not be encouraging it. If they want to buy their meat on Thursday, and eat it on Friday, that’s just fine. This isn’t an infringement on anyone’s rights. After all, we’re not making it illegal every day during Lent, just on Fridays. But America was founded on Christian ideals, and I think we should respect the Lord’s wishes on our observance of his laws.”
The new law has drawn ire from many sides. The ACLU issued a joint statement with the American Atheists, threatening lawsuits based on the separation of church and state. Most alcohol-related blue laws have survived such challenges based on the 21st Amendment, but it’s unclear whether the measure will have other legal cover. One Georgia legislator, though, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested that the court may be the only option to fight this law:
“We’ve learned from the unpopularity of blue laws that very few people are in favor of the law. However, it’s not enough of an imposition that they take the energy to fight the law. The supporters, however, are rabid, and will withhold their vote, as a group, from any politician who endorses the end of blue laws.”
Yes, in case you’re wondering, I’ve made all this up.
Sadly, this appears to be the entire justification for the continuation of blue laws. Many politicians fear the end of these laws simply because they’re afraid to upset a core group of rabid constituents. It doesn’t matter that the laws are hypocritical (as in legalizing the sale of “immoral” alcohol but restricting it only one day of the week, unless you’re in a restaurant, in which case it’s okay). Nor does it matter that it’s an infringement upon the rights of people to engage in commerce. It doesn’t even matter that most people don’t support the laws. Nobody in the legislature has the courage to stand up and strike them down.
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