By Jonathon Van Maren:

Desire for a day of rest should find allies amongst labour, Christians

On April 24, 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Lord’s Day Act in R v Big M Drug Mart Ltd, nullifying centuries of tradition on the ironic basis that the Act contravened freedom of religion for the irreligious. According to Chief Justice Brian Dickson: “To the extent that it binds all to a sectarian Christian ideal, the Lord’s Day Act works a form of coercion inimical to the spirit of the Charter and the dignity of all non-Christians. It takes religious values rooted in Christian morality and, using the force of the state, translates them into a positive law binding on believers and non-believers alike.”

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the values of Western civilization itself are “rooted in Christian morality,” this decision did not merely have an impact on religious people, but on everyone. Canadian workers lost the right to a day of rest and gained the right to a day of work or consumption; large shopping chains could open on Sunday and call low-paid employees in for work while small businesses unable to afford it slowly bled revenue; people gained the freedom to buy and eat out and purchase entertainment while those serving them, in many cases, lost the freedom to a mandatory, once-a-week day off with their families.

In our hectic, “24/7” economy, even most Christians have accepted Sunday as a day of shopping and entertainment—there are few that realize this is the norm of decades over against centuries. My maternal grandfather ran a small bakery in Chilliwack, B.C., resolutely remained closed on Sundays, and joined the Canadian Lord’s Day Association. He did his best to patronize the shopping centres that chose to remain closed on Sunday even if it was inconvenient (getting groceries at the IGA instead of Safeway), but few others did the same. He lost customers to those who chose the convenience of the baking section in the grocery stores over his own (much better) bakery.

It is safe to say that the debate over Sabbatarianism is, in our libertine society that sees any restriction as stifling, dead. That is, until Sohrab Ahmari resurrected the discussion on “blue laws” in his essential 2021 book The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos, which contains a chapter making the powerful case for the Sabbath being a day set apart. In a Twitter exchange last month, I noted that blue laws are very pro-worker and pro-family, and that unions should back them—people don’t exist to serve markets. 

Ahmari responded by buttressing the point: “For much of the 19th century, the one arena of Sunday business U.S. Protestants couldn’t shutter was mail delivery. But they finally succeeded — in alliance with the nascent labor movement. You can’t get a better post-liberal realignment issue than: Give Us Our Weekend Back.”

Ahmari makes an essential point. There exists, in both the United States and Canada, the opportunity for an agenda that is socially conservative and pro-worker. Many will protest that they like shopping on Sundays, or eating out, or even working some hours. But I would argue that restricting these activities is a minor inconvenience to give workers, many of them making minimum wage, the guaranteed opportunity to spend a day with their family, at worship, or simply resting. 

The dirty little secret about “choice” is that it only exists for some people. The Walmart greeter at the door first thing Sunday morning likely doesn’t have much choice about when she works. She, like most people, is assigned her hours. Would she rather be there making meagre but necessary earnings rather than spending her time with her family or loved ones? Maybe, but I doubt it. To large corporations, Sundays are simply another day in which revenue must be accumulated, and thus people must show up for work. They do not have the same options as those who like to spend a Sunday afternoon browsing the aisles.

Ahmari made this point in The American Conservative, observing that Sunday shopping laws were “abolished in the name of freedom, but it turned out to be freedom for Jeff Bezos and other large employers. Not freedom for workers or families.” In short: It is not a radical proposal to suggest that Sunday should be a day of rest for all, Christians and non-Christians alike. As Jesus said in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

I recognize that there is an understandable cynicism about the ability of politicians to pass any legislation that overtly reflects religious values—despite all three major monotheistic religions holding to a day of rest, and no other major religion having any objection to it. I agree with Paul Tuns’ Twitter response to this: “Everyone said that it was not realistic to return to Sabbatarianism. It cannot be achieved if Christians are silent.” And that is especially true if Christians have forgotten their own traditions.

Jonathon Van Maren, whose writing has appeared in The American Conservative and Reformed Perspective, hosts, blogs for LifeSiteNews, is contributing editor to The European Conservative, and is the author of The Culture War among other books.