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To: Senate Political Subdivisions
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1097 - Repeal of Sunday Morning Law
Date: March 7, 2019

The North Dakota Catholic Conference opposes House Bill 1097.

Plato noted that when it comes to lawmaking prudence is chief among virtues. Every public policy proposal ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences and not merely its temporary advantage or popularity. Moreover, the presumption should rest in favor of retaining the wisdom of our predecessors while the purveyors of change should have the burden of making a compelling case for change.

So let us examine their case.

We have heard that the purpose of the current law is to impose times of worship and adherence to religious doctrine. Our courts, however, have repeatedly rejected this canard, holding that the “purpose of our Sunday closing statutes is, not to aid religion, but to set aside a day of rest and recreation.” (1)

We have heard that numerous exceptions already exist and some seem inconsistent. This is true, but it is not itself an argument for repeal any more than it is an argument for scaling back the exceptions. We should keep in mind the principle in lawmaking that the devil we know is preferable to the devil we don’t know.

We have heard that repealing the law can aid North Dakota's budget and economy. Maybe, but at what price? A truly healthy economy is not one that succumbs to an unbridled demand for private profit and government revenue. It is instead one that fosters the common good so that people can fully develop as human persons.

We have heard that the law gives bordering states an unfair economic advantage. That claim is spurious considering our strong economy. Nevertheless, even if it is true, a race to the bottom by every state is not a desirable outcome and defeats the very purpose of having states.

We have heard that the law hurts the economy and makes North Dakota undesirable as a place to live. According to U.S. News and World Report, North Dakotans enjoy the best quality of life in the nation. We have been one of the five fastest-growing states percentage-wise since 2010. North Dakota made the list of 10 Best States to Start a Business. Year-over-year taxable sales and purchases have increased every quarter since April 2017. (2)

We have heard that a repeal would merely allow those who wish to open to do so while permitting those who want to close to remain closed. This claim is so contradicted by the facts that it is difficult to take seriously. Two years ago I was told by Canadian reporters that the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce members wanted to stay closed Sunday mornings but that if North Dakota changed its law, they would have no choice but to change the province’s law to allow opening earlier. Go to any state that allows businesses to open Sunday morning and you will find nearly all businesses open. Two national chains are often cited as examples how a business can stay closed on Sunday if it chooses. But the fact that we can name just two out of the hundreds of thousands of businesses in the country indicates that they are the exception that proves the rule.

A free market is a good thing, but without reasonable parameters that place it at the service of the human person, the economy can become a powerful force that removes true choice and freedom. Most often it is the smallest businesses that hurt the most.

Humans and communities need periods of rest and free time that allow them to tend to family, cultural, social, and religious life. The people who helped make North Dakota the great state it is understood this. Their collective experience taught them that some things are more important than profit and convenience. We owe it to them and future generations to preserve this part of the North Dakota way of life.

We urge a Do Not Pass recommendation on House Bill 1097.

1. State v. Gamble Skogmo, Inc., 144 N.W.2d 749 (N.D. 1966) at 769; Best Products Co., Inc. v. Spaeth, 461 N.W.2d 91 (ND 1990); McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961) [quoting Justice Stephen Field: “In its enactment, the Legislature has given the sanction of law to a rule of conduct which the entire civilized world recognizes as essential to the physical and moral wellbeing of society. Upon no subject is there such a concurrence of opinion among philosophers, moralists and statesmen of all nations as on the necessity of periodical cessations from labor. One day in seven is the rule, founded in experience, and sustained by science. . . The prohibition of secular business on Sunday is advocated on the ground that, by it, the general welfare is advanced, labor protected, and the moral and physical wellbeing of society promoted.”]
2. 2019 State of the State Address, Governor Doug Burgum (
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The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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