A handful of state legislatures have declared it’s closing time for Sunday alcohol sales restrictions, saying an extra day of sales could give their foundering budgets a much-needed shot of revenue. Those states — Georgia, Connecticut, Texas, Alabama and Minnesota — enjoy overwhelming voter support for an extra day of sales, but face opposition from members of the Christian right, who say that selling on Sunday undermines safety and tears apart families. “During times of economic stress, our families are under enough pressure,” says Jim Beck, the president of the Georgia Christian Coalition. “I don’t think we need to add even more pressure to those families by passing this law.”
But proponents of Sunday sales argue that state budgets are under plenty of pressure too and that by allowing people to buy beer, wine or liquor on Sunday at grocery or package stores, states could reap millions of dollars in tax revenue. Besides, as President Roosevelt learned in the 1930s when he successfully repealed Prohibition, drinks have a way of keeping hopes high when things look bleak. In Johnathan Alter’s The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, the President recognized that legally-procured cocktails were the way to keep spirits high when Americans were trying to get used to putting their trust into the nation’s crumbling banking system again. And, it could be argued, the sales also helped stimulate the economy in the middle of the Great Depression. (See TIME’s “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis”)
“[Sunday sales legislation] always comes bubbling up when the economy goes south,” says David Laband, an Auburn University economics professor who authored Blue Laws: The History, Economics, and Politics of Sunday-Closing Laws. Blue laws, which restrict shopping of any kind on Sunday, date back to the colonial era, Laband says. However, those laws gradually died off as economic forces made some states realize that they could stand to gain by having stores open on Sunday. For example, the entry of women into the workforce in World War II made weekend shopping a necessity.