Ah, yes, the blue laws -- those rules and regulations imposed by New England's 17th-century Puritan theocrats to govern moral conduct and ensure proper observance of the Sabbath. The product of an era when ''witches" were hanged, blue laws dictated what people could wear, forbade travel on Sunday, and made it an offense to miss church. The Puritans ''carried their efforts to control private activities in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to extremes unknown elsewhere," notes the Family Encyclopedia of American History. For example, church doors were bolted during Sunday services to prevent restless congregants from leaving early.
It is hard to imagine how these laws could have survived the ratification of the Bill of Rights. But survive they did, some of them for centuries. In Massachusetts, Chapter 136 long barred most commercial activity on Sundays and legal holidays. Not even Cotton Mather would have been able to make sense of the anachronistic crazy quilt of definitions and loopholes that the law turned into over time. The same statute that barred shops and businesses from operating on ''common days of rest" also listed dozens of exceptions to the rule, including the sale of nitrogen, the operation of garden centers and public bathhouses, and the transportation of ice, bees, or Irish moss. Supermarkets weren't allowed to sell groceries, but convenience stores were. Buying a painting at an art gallery was OK. Buying paint at Home Depot was forbidden.
In 1994 Massachusetts voters finally made it lawful for all stores to open on Sunday and the summer holidays -- Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July. But the old restrictions, as illogical as ever, still apply on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
''Thanksgiving is not like any other day," Reilly insists. ''It's been the one day when people didn't have to work. People should be allowed to be off that one day, to have a day to spend with their family. This is one of those issues where tradition wins over for me."
Tradition is a fine thing, and Thanksgiving is suffused with it. But what Reilly is defending is not tradition but coercion. Americans are able to decide for themselves how to spend Thanksgiving. Given a choice, some will opt for family and turkey. Others will grab the chance to go to work for double pay. It isn't for the attorney general of Massachusetts, or any other state official, to make that choice for them.
The blue laws are and always have been obnoxious deprivations of liberty.