Should Towns Decide on Blue Laws?

What if Bergen County towns could opt out of Sunday shopping restrictions?

Bergen County towns should be able to opt in or out of the county's Sunday shopping restrictions known as Blue Laws, Teaneck Councilman Elie Y. Katz wrote in an op-ed published Monday.

"There have not till now been enough politicians with the political will power to take on this sacred cow because the supporters of removing Blue Laws are a silent majority while those who are against any changes to the rules are a very vocal minority. If state politicians do change or alter the rules, they should allow each municipality to dictate their own situation and opt in or out on an individual basis," Katz wrote. 

Meanwhile, Westwood resident Rosemary Shashoua has started an effort called "Modernize Bergen County" to repeal the Blue Laws. 

Blue Laws supporters, including Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera, are fighting to keep the blue laws. He called the argument to repeal the laws "ridiculous."

What do you think? Should individual towns decide on Blue Laws? Why or why not? 


  • Op-Ed: Towns Should Dictate Blue Laws
  • Paramus Mayor Calls Blue Laws Repeal Argument 'Ridiculous'
JeffO February 17, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Mr. Ruckhaus, I realize that the well-known and long-used phrase "separation of church and state" has come under fire over the last couple decades by those who (despite their claims to be "strict constructionists") are unhappy with decisions that have taken a strict constructionist view of the First Amendment's establishment clause. However, the phrase is derived from Thomas Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall of separation" between church in state, which he used in a letter to a group of Baptists, who at the time feared discriminatory treatment by an Anglican majority. And while no one has ever claimed that the phrase appears in the Constitution, most people other than social conservatives continue to see it as a useful and accurate description of the First Amendment's forbidding of laws "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." "Original intent" seems to be another principle that is often honored in the breach. If the blue law "may have had something to do with religion a while back," does it matter if there are now some not-so-religious people who also like the blue law? Even today, there are still some other religious people for whom this law has a clearly negative and discriminatory effect, forcing them to choose between their religion's day of rest and an official government day of rest mandated by old dead Christians and perpetuated by people who are overwhelmingly of a Christian background, be they observant or nominal.
JeffO February 17, 2013 at 07:36 PM
Granted, the church-state issue has not been a major point of contention in this debate. And the courts (erroneously, in my view) have upheld the blue law, making it pretty moot. But I personally don't think the issue should be dismissed lightly. And I couldn't let the statement that "separation of church and state doesn't exist" pass without challenge.
KlmrTeaneck February 17, 2013 at 11:18 PM
I believe that each town should be able to decide whether or not they want to uphold the Blue Laws. If Paramus residents still want to keep those archaic Blue Laws, so be it, but the rest of the county should be able to get in step with the rest of the country! I feel that the leaders of the Borough of Paramus have encouraged a hysteria about the idea of Sunday shopping, frightening the residents about what would happen if the stores were open then. I do believe it would be anticlimactic - some of the current Saturday shoppers would switch to Sunday and there would be two weekend days that would be about equal, where traffic is concerned. Blue Laws have outlived whatever usefulness they might have had, and it is vitally important that county residents stay on top of this issue and make their opinions heard.
Alene February 18, 2013 at 04:36 AM
RE: guaranteed weekend day of rest/break - so restaurants, gas stations, bowling alleys, amusement parks etc. should be closed on Sundays to give all employees a day off? These businesses schedule employee's hours to give them a day off. Do you go to restaurants on Sunday? RE: No competition - How do you know big store "force" employees to work? There are small businesses that would like to be open on Sundays. They should have the freedom to. RE: Traffic - The rest of the country seems to be dealing with traffic issues. I am confident we can too. RE: Quiet & Peaceful Sundays - A suburb is a residential town next to a city or a large town. Families are quite busy on most Sundays. Rural is quiet and peaceful. You can find quiet and peaceful things to do and places to go on both days of the weekend in the suburbs. RE: All of the points about saving money and resources - Where is the data to back this up and why isn't the rest of the country complaining? RE: American work habits - It's a free country. You should be free not to shop or work on Sunday and others should be free to do so if they choose. RE: Bergen County towns make more money than other places in the nation. - It also costs more to live here.
Edge February 18, 2013 at 05:29 AM
Councilman Katz of Teaneck deserves great praise for having the courage to articulate a thoughtful response and inject a welcome dose of reason. Too many other politicians simply remain silent, rather than challenge the irrational fears, ignorance, and outright hysteria surrounding this issue.
Tee Smyth February 18, 2013 at 12:16 PM
Katz did nothing of the sort, and his response was sophomoric. If Katz is so concerned about a town's viability, why hasn't he ushered that same concern to Teaneck's dying Cedar Lane?
Esther Sandrof February 18, 2013 at 04:06 PM
The blue laws are a holdover to a time in which most households in Bergen County consisted of a husband who worked and a wife who stayed-at-home and could shop during the week at her convenience. Perhaps "Beth Rosenberg", is lucky enough to be in that minority. The rest of us have to scramble to do our shopping on the one day a week where we are home and the stores are open. No wonder the traffic is so terrible on Saturdays. People who can't shop on Saturdays, by dint of religious or personal preferences, have to get in their cars and export their buying power to jurisdictions outside of Bergen County.
Esther Sandrof February 18, 2013 at 04:14 PM
While I support the right of towns like Teaneck to opt out of the Blue Laws, I am also highly supportive of the right of towns like Paramus to retain their blue laws in full force. I hate the mall traffic as much as anybody. As long as Paramus retains their blue laws, allowing other towns to opt out of the blue laws is not likely to generate alot of traffic congestion ion Sundays. The biggest source of traffic congestion on Saturdays is due to the concentration of major retail outlets in Paramus. With towns opting out, Sunday traffic will be dispersed countywide, generally serving local rather than regional demand.
Dee Are February 18, 2013 at 04:27 PM
New idea - allow townships to vote on rescinding blue laws but require Paramus keep them. All traffic will be internal so rte 4 won't get clogged. And since the malls would HAVE to be closed, local towns' business districts will benefit.
JeffO February 18, 2013 at 04:53 PM
@Tee Smyth, we get it that you're against changing Bergen's blue laws in any way. But I don't think it's fair to say that Katz's op-ed response to a renewed call for repeal was "sophomoric" and to suggest that he "hasn't ushered that same concern" to Teaneck's Cedar Lane. In fact, Katz's call for letting individual towns opt out of blue laws could benefit local shopping areas in many towns but particularly in Teaneck, where there are a number of Orthodox-owned businesses that have to be closed on both Saturday and Sunday. And it's not a new proposal: As an assemblywoman in 2002, Loretta Weinberg introduced a bill that would have allowed such town-by-town opt-outs. Unfortunately, it raised a lot of hackles and seeing that it had no chance of passing, she eventually withdrew it. But things can change in 11 years -- as they can in 20 years, the last time there was a county-wide vote. It may be time to try again. Here's an interesting "brief history" of blue laws in NJ and Bergen County. The article also contains a number of other interesting links. http://www.nj.com/bergen/index.ssf/2012/11/by_the_numbers_a_brief_history_of_blue_laws_in_bergen_county.html
Tee Smyth February 18, 2013 at 08:47 PM
I called it sophomoric bc he attempted to bark up a Constitutional Tree for which he was obviously unprepared. Tis dangerous if not irresponsible. Here's the problem, Jeff. No one is going to Cedar Lane Monday-Friday. Businesses are closing at a rapid pace. What does the good councilman say? "Let's build out the old police HQ?"
Mark Ruckhaus February 19, 2013 at 02:32 PM
JeffO, I didn't bring up the "separation of church and state" argument. I merely clarified it. The other is, though the temperance crowd held sway for many years--enough to severely limit activities on the Christian sabbath and even to eliminate the right to drink alcohol under Prohibition and that the Bergen Co. Blue Laws are a vestige of that (though they have appeared to take on a different meaning around here over the years), the fact is that all houses of worship don't pay taxes and, therefore, should not have a say in the way the government is run. But, enough of that. IMO, The religious reason for eliminating the Blue Laws is a straw man argument as there probably aren't enough Orthodox Jews or devout Muslims to where the law truly affects that many people. And the money aspect is also a straw man argument as the malls and other stores in this area are highly successful and on six days. No doubt that the malls would love to open seven days a week. But, if the six days was truly a detriment, they'd be either bitching a lot more or have moved out of the area. And they haven't.
Mark Ruckhaus February 19, 2013 at 02:37 PM
JeffO, Just to wrap it up... I like the Sunday closings. It doesn't affect me a whole lot either way. But, knowing that more than a fair amount of people have a weekend day off with their families, many of whom have people who probably shlep to the city and work Monday-Friday, is kind of nice. Businesses, when left to their own devices, would probably open 24/7 and not give a crap about their workers, many of whom are at the "service" level--the low end of the totem pole. Shoppers, when left to their own devices, want to shop when they want to shop and let everyone else be damned. So, with two sides showing no ability to control themselves, maybe there's some basis for another entity (government and with a law validated at least twice by the populace) saying, "No."
Mark Ruckhaus February 19, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Zizi, Yes, Beth wrote it on a Saturday. But she wrote it at 10:55 PM, or long after sundown. I guess you don't understand even the most basic idea of the Jewish sabbath.
JeffO February 19, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Mark R., I understand that you didn't bring the "separation of church and state" argument. But you certainly didn't clarify it with that highly debatable, social conservative mantra that there is "no such thing" as separation of church and state. And now it appears you believe there is no such thing in America as minority rights that are not subject to the will of the majority. If a business owner observes the day of rest his or her religion mandates, why should he or she be forced to also observe the day of rest mandated by the government, thereby being closed all weekend long? And why on God's good earth would the fact that he or she might be in a small minority allow us to say that it therefore doesn't matter?
JeffO February 19, 2013 at 03:57 PM
As I have pointed out, there have been occasions in which "Beth Rosenberg" has posted on Friday evenings long after sundown. Which would certainly call into question his/her claim to be an Orthodox Jew. Add to this the fact that if you Google the search terms "Beth Rosenberg" and Teaneck, the only hits you get are Patch posts against changing the blue laws. Here is one such post in which "Beth Rosenberg" posted on a Friday night, while scurrilously accusing the woman leading the challenge to blue laws of being an anti-Christian Jew. You can also read my response to it. http://ramsey-nj.patch.com/articles/local-woman-seeks-repeal-of-bergen-blue-laws-3b407ca8 It's one thing to have a screen name in order to maintain your privacy. It's another thing to have a screen name from which to concoct a sustained lie.
Mark Ruckhaus February 20, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Jeff, Socially conservative? That ain't me--far from it. It's just that many people use the "separation of church and state" argument where there's none to be made. It doesn't exist in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence or any other Federal document. It's like many people interpreting the Second Amendment to say that they have the right to own a gun. Until SCOTUS came along and botched the decision in DC v. Heller (and which I'll accept because the decision was made), that amendment only had to do with a well-regulated militia. But enough of that. OK, you got me on something I wasn't really thinking in terms of. The business owner who observes his sabbath on something other than Sunday. Truth be told, I was thinking in terms of shoppers only. So, let's say a business owner is an Orthodox Jew. I agree, he should be allowed to open on Sunday. After all, he should be closed from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, so why should he be punished by Sunday? But that won't change the dynamic much if the attempt is to get stores to open anytime they want, Sunday included. Let's say some or all of the stores in Garden State Plaza were owned by Orthodox Jews or religious Muslims. They'd, sure as heck, be able to open Sundays. But they'd better darn well be closed on their sabbath. How does that work for you?
Mark Ruckhaus February 20, 2013 at 02:35 PM
Jeff, If that's the case, I'll agree with you wholeheartedly.
Vin Elias February 20, 2013 at 08:17 PM
Union Yankee-65 02/19/2013 For the record: The whole present issue is about commerce in Begen County-State of New Jersey state statues which allow or grant to the various counties and municiplities within the state in which, by referendum of the voters Sunday sales are prohibited, in my opinion discriminates against local business and corporations operations livelihood and sustainance. Thus, by the very act by the State of New Jersey legislating and the enactment of state statute 'Blue Laws' and to thereby constitute a direct of regulating intrastate activities per se is indicative of the regulation of commerce which would be a violation of federal law to which the federal government claims to regulate in-state commerce citing the "dorment" [Commerce Clause: {Article 01, Section 03, Clause 3, of the United States Constitution]] This present matter should prove very interesting since in my opinion, and I am nearly 100% sure, since that- the federal government trumps the state- Vinney-A concerned resident of the State of California-
Mark Ruckhaus February 21, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Vin, Except that Garden State Plaza, in Paramus, Bergen County, is the third most profitable mall in the country--and on only six days. And none of the other stores in the area, though I'm sure they'd love to open Sunday, aren't exactly crying over only being able to open six days. If the lack of Sunday shopping was truly a hindrance to their businesses, many would be running for the hills. And they're not, simple as that. So, it's very difficult to sell "hardship" on this one.
Vin Elias February 21, 2013 at 03:43 AM
02/20/13 From: Vin- To: Mark Ruckhaus- In reply-It is the principle and the law of the matter-This matter could pose serious adverse implications not only to the residents within the State of New Jersey and various municipalities and counties within the state but possibly to other states: This truly matter is a matter of immediate concern and brings the high possibility of judicial proceedings (a court of jurisdiction) being filed against the State of New Jersey. In my opinion the State of New Jersey granting through the enactment and legislation with respect to: state statute [Title 40A Municipalities and Counties-40A:64-1/Certain Sunday sales prohibited] 40A: 64-1/64-5] (Blue Law) various municipalities and counties within the state seems to be unlawful under federal law.The US Supreme Court finding that businesses done even at a purely local level could become part of a continuous "current" of commerce that involved the interstate movement pf goods and services. So, once again in my opinion-there is the possiblity that the state of New Jersey could be in the business of regulating intrastate activities? [Commerce Clause: {Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3}] of the United States Constitution. This matter, obviously is a matter requiring adjudication before the courts. (A court of jurisdiction.) Vin-
Mark Ruckhaus February 21, 2013 at 11:03 PM
Vin, Not sure if you're aware, but the Blue Laws have been put to a county-wide vote twice--1980 & 1993--and got voted down both times, the most recent by an even larger plurality than the first time. OK, it's been 20 years, so maybe it's time for another vote. But, at this stage, since this was all handled above board, starting at the County Executive's office, I don't think the courts will take this one on as this isn't a hardship issue but, rather, people who can't accept a vote who want their way anyway. --Mark
Vinney Elias February 22, 2013 at 12:33 AM
From: Vin- To: Mark- In my opinion: This matter is not about a choice about a referendum , either for ratification or rejection by the voters of the County of Bergen, but the unconstitutionality with respect to the state code. And no, I don't believe for a moment that this matter has to be a case of 'hardship' in order for it to heard before the courts. I believe that there will be standing in the matter-Once the plaintiff files a complaint with the New Jersey State Attorney Generals' Office I think you are going to see just the beginning of a long-waging court-proceeding-
Mark Ruckhaus February 22, 2013 at 03:09 AM
Vin, Let's put it this way: If what you say is correct, this should have been done years ago. And nobody's touched it. Which means that it works, albeit reluctantly for some. The plaintiff goes into court and claims what, exactly? We want to open Sunday. Well, there's a law in place, voted on twice by the populace in a legal referendum, and by a larger plurality the second time. So, what is it you're (the plaintiff) looking for? Is it a hardship? No, it's not a hardship. Some religious freedom thing--that Orthodox Jewish and religious Muslim business owners, people who celebrate the sabbath on other days, are getting the short end? Parenthetically, I can actually go with this one, providing those Jews and Muslims close on their sabbath. As far as the shopping part, those religious folks have places to go on Sunday--plenty within a half hour--and can shop online 24/7. So, why is it you want this law rescinded? The answer that will be skirted around by the plaintiff: "There's gold in them thar hills, especially on Sunday." Pure greed. Given the voting around here, Vin, the people have spoken. And, truth be told, this area is very congested and having one day where it all shuts down is a Godsend. But, again, if it's put to a vote and the law is rescinded, then so be it; the people have spoken. --Mark
Vin Elias February 22, 2013 at 02:06 PM
02/22/13 From Vin: To: Mark Should this matter proceed to juducial proceedings, and I highly think that this may be the case: It is only a matter of time in my belief-the standing on behalf of the plaintiff will be; (A) Unconstititutionality with respect to New Jersey state and/in violation to the United States Constitution. [Commerce Clause] (B) Violation of Religious liberties.- Obviously, this is a federal jurisdictional matter- It will be quite interesting once this case is filed in the courts and judicial proceedings commence to see the course of the outcome. I understand that there are other individuals presently in the County of Bergen and may God bless their efforts in doing so, attempting to secure enough votes for a referendum to repeal the municipal and county 'Blue Law' ordincances. However, I believe that route being utilized is somewhat impractical in that we are dealing with issues in conflict and in violation to the United States Constitution and need to be adjudicated before the courts. An illegal referendum procedure enactment by the State of new Jersey? Vin- :
Mark Ruckhaus February 22, 2013 at 07:22 PM
Vin, Illegal? It's been on the books for at least the last 60 years. And, it's not one of those ridiculous laws that some county or state legislature passed umptity-ump years ago and is archaic by today's standards, stuff like what kind of clothes you can wear and if farm animals can be paraded through the streets. What makes it not archaic is that this law has essentially been subsequently re-ratified twice by the populace. And, after all, there are other places in the country who have Blue Laws as there are places who are still "dry" on Sunday. So, it's not just Bergen. And, if you want to take your argument a step further, why stop at Sunday closings? Why not say that limited store hours, even 9:30 AM-10 PM, which are the hours for many mall stores around here, isn't enough? After all, many people do shift work and shopping in the middle of the night might actually be convenient for some folks, maybe as many as who are inconvenienced by the Blue Laws. But, obviously, they can't do it. Given the two votes, the majority has spoken, and more so the second time. Which makes any court case appear to come across as sour grapes--people who can't accept losing and who can't accept a fairly legislated and voted on majority opinion.
Vin Elias February 23, 2013 at 12:56 AM
02/22/13 From; Vin To:Mark I did submit to the County Executive of Bergen County a letter of concerning the State of New Jersey State Code [40A Municipalities and Counties-40A:64-1/Certain Sunday sales prohibited] (Blue Law) although with my understanding that with respect to the matter, it is beyond the scope and jurisdiction of the county in that it is the State of New Jersey that legislated the code to begin with and that any resolvement forthcoming would of course be directed through judicial proeedings against the state. The County of Bergen including the City of Paramus have only implemented such ordinances because the State of New Jersey to begin with sanctioned sanctioned such legislation. Therefore the state (and I know that these laws have that having been around for quite some time for and whatever reason that they were enacted) would justly and legally be held accountable. Not the municipalities or counties therein. These 'Blue Laws' are no doubt the result of antiquated Puritanical laws. The people of New Jersery should not under any circumstances have to submit to such state applied repressive measures when it comes down to having to deny a person or business means of livelihood. It doesn't matter how many days of the week or what day of the week. Civil and religious liberties here at stake! Vin
Mark Ruckhaus February 23, 2013 at 01:17 AM
Vin, I hate to ask you this as you're from California, but why do you care so much about what goes on 3,000 miles away? Forgive me, but are you from the ACLU? If so, what about my liberties, such as enjoying a quiet Sunday without all that nasty traffic? You've got 6 days; give me 1. That's more than fair. Though the laws are a result of antiquated puritanical laws (no disagreement with you there), that they're here NOW is another reason entirely. As memory serves me, it wasn't the temperance police who pushed for those two votes in '80 & '93 and the population of the county isn't exactly filled with them, either. Simply put, it appears people are quite content with a "closed" sign for most businesses on Sunday. If civil and religious liberties are at stake, I'm amenable to those folks who observe their sabbath on other days to close for those other days (which would be very profitable Friday, Friday night and Saturday) and open Sunday. How does that sound to you? And, about those shoppers who can't shop on Friday and Saturday? Tough. Why? Because, as traffic is generally so congested most of the week around here and Saturday is generally awful, too, to make a trip to a nearby mall outside of the county may take as much time, or even less, than navigating the roads around here on a normal day. You can burn the same amount of gas and time crawling along for five miles as you can driving 15-20 miles to Willowbrook or the Palisades Center on a much quieter Sunday.
Vin Elias February 23, 2013 at 09:09 PM
02/23/13 From: Vin- To: Mark- As a fellow American I am quite concerned about the current plight that the citizens of the County of Bergen as well as all municipalities concerned therein are experiencing with regards to the Blue Law ordinance enforement. American citizenry should not have to tolerate such repressive measures when a business owner or corporation primary means of livelihood (01) is obstructed from conducting normal business operations be it Sunday or givn day of the week. Opponents to the repeal of the these ordinances claim problems wth traffic congestion: Problems? Why not resolve the issue with traffic control merasures? Most municipalities and counties with the Union usually have no problem do so! But, to deprive a man of his livelihood, should he own a small or large business is on any given day of the week is unthinkable! Think about it squarely opponents- Vin-
Mark Ruckhaus February 24, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Vin, The "plight" not to be able to go shopping on Sunday? Come on, sir. And the "plight" about the third most profitable mall in this country not being able to open on Sunday. Oh, woe is me! If the Sunday thing is an issue for religious reasons for some folks, as I've said, I'm amenable for them to open Sunday in return for closing on their sabbath. Would that be a fair trade off for you? As far as traffic control, this isn't California with four- and five-lane freeways all over the place. The roads around here, specifically Routes 4 & 17, which slice through Paramus and where a lot of the big shopping is done in the county, were built in the 1920's & '30s. Fortunately, the bottleneck at the 4 & 17 intersection was fixed fifteen or so years ago, but the roads are still heavily congested. But if you have ideas for traffic control, I'm all ears. And, if one of those solutions involves limiting when and where people can drive at a given time, you can just throw that one out as it will be limiting their civil liberties, right? :-) Then again, maybe it'll take someone from 3,000 miles away to solve what you think are our problems. If you have solutions, other than taking two legal votes, the second with a larger plurality than the first, and dragging them into court, I'm, very willing to listen. Have at it!


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