How would you feel if Mississippi law prohibited hunting and fishing on Sundays? Or what would you do if all the businesses closed on Sunday?
When I was a child in the 1970s, my parents had a strange habit of prohibiting many activities on Sundays. I didn’t go to the movies, I didn’t play ball games, and I stayed home. This cultural phenomenon was universal in my hometown of McComb. After church, I couldn’t walk to the corner store and buy comics or baseball cards. The place was always closed on Sundays. Mom always said that the Lord’s day was to rest and that any type of work was prohibited. At home, the term “work” was defined broadly and included mowing the bermudagrass in my front yard, which seemed to grow an inch taller on Monday. I remember feeling guilty if I went out with friends on Sundays apart from church fellowship. Sunday, for me, was a day of prohibitions.
Years later, I learned that these traditions went back many generations and were so prevalent that state legislatures passed laws, known as blue laws, prohibiting all types of business and recreation. Mississippi was no exception. A hundred years ago, if anyone in Mississippi “worked at his own trade” on Sunday, that conduct was considered a crime and the offender had to pay a fine of not more than twenty dollars. When I came into the world, that law had been repealed, but it was the law of the land in my neck of the woods.
The old blue laws now seem like a farce. If you bought a horse on Sunday, the sale is void. Businesses were required to close or face a fine of no more than twenty dollars. One particularly strange Mississippi law was that a person would be fined no more than fifty dollars for juggling or performing magic tricks on Sunday. The statute prohibited unique hobbies. If some poor soul was caught doing “feats of dexterity” or “body agility” on Sunday, they better have their wallet ready. Cockfighting was perfectly legal every other day except Sunday, and bullfighting was a wholesome and accepted family affair Monday through Saturday. Bear baits were all the rage, but Mississippians had to hide the bait on Sundays. These laws seem silly now, but they were in keeping with well-established Judeo-Christian traditions.
Which brings me to my 15th birthday when Dad wouldn’t let me go squirrel hunting after church. This was a game, not a job! I promised to give thanks for Mother Earth and collect empty shotgun shells! No. None of that worked. And I never knew why. Until now. Two generations before me, a law in Mississippi stated that “if a person hunts with a gun or with dogs, or fishes in any way on Sunday,” he will be guilty of a crime and pay a fine of five dollars. Slings, bows and arrows somehow escaped the wrath of the Lord and the Legislature. So the next time you’re sneaking out after church to your shot house, doing a line on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or heading to Lowe’s for some weekend warrior gardening, be thankful you’re not stuck at home feeling “Blue”.
Clark Hicks is a lawyer who lives in Hattiesburg. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.