A New York statute targeting Chick-fil-A for its Christian faith turns American historyand Constitutional lawupside down. The Rest Stop Restaurant Act seeks to compel food service providers to stay open seven days a week in publicly-owned rest areas and other facilities, or be denied contracts to provide services. This is not merely an attack on the faith of a private business chain; it is an open war against fundamental constitutional liberties.
New York Blue Laws
Historically, American colonies widely implemented Blue Laws that forbade trade on the Sabbath daySundays. Blue Laws compelled days of rest: New York banned Sunday sales of goods in 1656, and enacted the first official state Sabbath law with the Statute for Suppressing Immorality of 1778. New York now seeks to compel businesses to sell goods on the Sabbath, a sort of Established Church of Mammon.
It is hard to imagine that courts will approve a government's power to compel business opening hours any more than compel speech (or abortion). Supreme Court precedent firmly holds the opposite: states can impose a day of tranquil rest. New York is flouting well-established law. In the 1961 seminal case of Braunfeld v. Brown, liberal Justice Earl Warren observed:
[W]e cannot find a State without power
to set one day of the week apart from the others as a day of rest, repose, recreation and tranquillity [sic] -- a day when the hectic tempo of everyday existence ceases and a more pleasant atmosphere is created, a day which all members of the family and community have the opportunity to spend and enjoy together, a day on which people may visit friends and relatives who are not available during working days, a day when the weekly laborer may best regenerate himself. This is particularly true in this day and age of increasing state concern with public welfare legislation.
Compelled to Work?
In contrast, New York Democrat Assemblymember Tony Simone argued that allowing a restaurant to be closed is just not in the public good and that not only does Chick-Fil-A have a long, shameful history of opposing LGBTQ rights, it simply makes no sense for them to be a provider of food services in busy travel plazas. This openly discriminatory statement follows a previous New York effort to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening facilities at these exact locations! Despite attacks on the chain by leftist extremists, it remains the most popular fast-food chain in the nation, favored for its outstanding customer service.
This fast-food statute perverts Justice Warrens concern for public welfare, advocating round-the-clock business over rest. Instead of boycotting Chick-fil-A for its Christian views, its attackers are demanding it open its doors and earn more profits. Chick-fil-A has observed the Sabbath since its 1946 founding so that employees can enjoy a day of rest, be with their families and loved ones, and worship if they choose.
This sounds much like the value upheld as a legitimate state interest by Justice Warren, who also warned of the potential for abuse:
[W]hen entering the area of religious freedom, we must be fully cognizant of the particular protection that the Constitution has accorded it. Abhorrence of religious persecution and intolerance is a basic part of our heritage.
If the purpose or effect of a law is to impede the observance of one or all religions, or is to discriminate invidiously between religions, that law is constitutionally invalid even though the burden may be characterized as being only indirect.
An Unconstitutional Effort
New Yorks insulting effort to compel Sunday openings is constitutionally dead on arrival as it collides headlong into solid legal precedent. Braunfeld and other precedents banned Jewish merchants from selling their goods on Sunday; now New York seeks to do the exact reverse. Justice Warren did not identify a state power to compel commerce, let alone in derogation of established religious practice. He did however roundly and specifically condemn precisely the kind of overt prejudice exhibited by the New York legislators supporting this discriminatory bill.