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Blue Laws, Part One

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North Dakota used to have a number of restrictions affecting Sunday activities. These are known as Blue Laws. During the 1917 legislative session, bills were introduced to relax those laws, proposing that movie theaters be allowed to open, baseball games could be played, and shooting and hunting would be permitted.

But there were those who wanted to retain the Blue Laws, and another proposed bill would add a restriction, making it “unlawful for any person to contribute or solicit money on the first day of the week for charity or other purposes.” The Senator who proposed the bill admitted it would “prevent the passing of the collection plate on the Sabbath, but he felt the commercialization of the Sabbath should be prevented at any cost.”

While that bill didn’t pass, neither did most of the proposals to relax the Blue Laws. Baseball would be allowed on Sunday, but only if played in the afternoons and not within 500 feet of a church. The bill allowing movies did not pass, and the bill about hunting on Sundays passed the Senate, but not the House.

Despite the law against hunting on Sunday, shooting was still a regular Sunday event. Even as the bill was being deliberated, the secretary of the Mandan Gun Club, wrote in a letter to the Bismarck Tribune that “Forty thousand shooters and hunters … are asking to have the law changed so that they will not be state criminals as in the past.”

Many hunters likely gave the law little thought until Attorney General Langer announced renewed enforcement of the Sunday shooting law. Moreover, he claimed that the birding season, set to open on Sunday, September 16th, could not open before Monday, September 17th.

The fish and game board responded by saying: “We are inclined to believe that the bird season opens Sunday, September 16…. that the season chances to open on Sunday and that shooting is prohibited … are matters for the state’s attorneys and the sportsmen to consider.”

The state’s chief game warden stated further, “Attorney General Langer’s minions, the sheriffs and attorneys, must enforce the Sunday hunting ruling if he wants it enforced. Game wardens will enforce the general game and fish laws, but I am not instructing then to enforce Langer’s ruling …”

On this date, sportsmen celebrated a state supreme court ruling that hunting on Sundays was admissible. Come back tomorrow to hear the details!

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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