shoppingBelfast has a brand new shopping centre called Victoria Square and my wife and I went to see it last Sunday. What an amazing piece of architecture, absolutely state of the art and modern. In light of this new development local commentators have been babbling on about how Belfast is now a truly modern European city, and has left behind its dark past for good. By and large that analysis is correct (although not because we have a new shopping centre) but there’s still an element that’s far from modern at all. My wife and I arrived at Victoria Square, as did hundreds of other people, before 1pm and all the shops were closed. The reason? Because shops here have limited opening hours on a Sunday – six hours straight is the limit before you have to close your doors.

The fundamental reason is an old religious hang-up about working on “the Sabbath.” Sunday, it is argued, is a “day of rest.” Even Big G needed to take a break from all that creating he did; obviously standing in the cosmos shouting “let there be light” takes it out of you.

The issue isn’t really days of rest at all, but rather the entire population being forced to take some specific day off because others deem it to have religious significance. I’m all for having a break from work, but what I’m against is having to live according to the diktats of others who want to lecture us about when we shouldn’t work. There is an organisation in Britain which campaigns for Sunday to be a special day. It’s the rather imaginatively titled “Keep Sunday Special Campaign.” They give five arguments why we should shut up shop on a Sunday.

(1) To Protect Relationships

This argument goes: for shops to open people must work and therefore cannot spend the time with their friends and families, and it’s important that we get shared time off.

OK, so calling this an argument is stretching it a little, but let’s run with it. The thing is, I don’t rely on a Sunday to spend time with family and friends. I have evenings, Saturdays and holidays for that too. Moreover, when I spend time with my family and friends we often like to do something, even if it’s just sitting in a coffee shop, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a coffee shop must be open for it to be enjoyed.

It’s true that it’s good for people to spend time with their family and friends, few would dispute that in principle, but it’s a long way from justifying forcing a weekly religious holiday on everyone. Some people rely on working on a Sunday: some small businesses, students, people on low income, part-time workers. So, once more it seems much preferable to allow people to choose how they spend their time, who to spend it with and what to do with it. The KSSC argues that for one person to be free to shop on a Sunday someone else must lose their freedom because they have to work. But that’s brain-addled nonsense. You might as well apply the same argument to any other day of the week. It simply isn’t the case at all that for one person to have the freedom to shop someone else loses their freedom. In fact, most people who work choose to do so because it helps fund their lives and activities.

The KSSC adds here that “What’s more, do [we] really need to go shopping on a Sunday… perhaps there are better things to do with our day off. Make the most of Sundays and go have some fun with your family and friends!” Well, some people might need to go shopping. But in any event you could ask the same question about any other day of the week. You don’t need to go shopping on a Monday – you could go on Tuesday. But Monday is simply one day to do it, as is a Sunday.

(2) To Preserve community

This argument was even more stupid than the first so I didn’t bother to include it. If you’re curious see the website of the KSSC.

(3) To Save Local Businesses

The KSSC shrewdly observes that the real motivation for big stores wanting to open longer on a Sunday is to make more money. (In case any of us thought businesses existed for any other reason). The argument continues: there is a limited amount of money available to spend, and since small stores usually don’t open on a Sunday more money ends up going to big stores and small stores close.

The argument here is typical anti-big business mush. You could use a similar argument to call for big stores to be banned from selling goods cheaper than smaller stores, or for big stores to be banned from selling better goods, giving better service, more choice, added convenience and so on and so forth. The argument is fundamentally anti-progress and anti-success. If there is a market for Sunday trading – and there certainly is – why should some businesses be handicapped and prevented from meeting those needs on the basis that other stores can’t do the same?

4. To Respect Faith

I nearly didn’t bother including this argument either since it’s as bad as the second, but I’m including it for one reason: it’s the main reason, if not the only genuine reason, why the Keep Sunday Special Campaign exists. As the KSSC website says, “For many people in this country, Sunday has a particular religious significance as a day set aside for worship and a day that’s different from the rest of the week. Of course it’s a view that’s not shared by everyone in our multicultural Britain, but it’s a view that we should respect.”

It’s interesting that they put this argument in at number four – perhaps trying to conceal their true mindset. Anyhow, we should congratulate them for finding one of the world’s thinnest arguments. Of course we could say the same thing for Friday or Saturday, the holy days of Muslims and Jews respectively. Furthermore, the KSSC never says why we should respect this view, and it isn’t obvious that we should. Nor do they admit the rather obvious fact that if I happen to go shopping on a Sunday it simply doesn’t interfere with the right of Fundamentalist Fred to attend his church, worship his God, read his Bible, and put his feet up and watch God TV. No one will force Fred to shop, and no one will force him to work either. Perhaps this might rule Fred out from taking certain jobs but the blunt fact is that is Fred’s problem. If a religious persuasion or any other worldview puts restrictions on a person’s life then that’s their own choice, and it’s indefensible to force the rest of us to bend to accommodate them. As a libertarian I refuse to take certain public sector jobs. That’s my choice, a self-limitation, and it’s not something I’m going to start bitching about.

5. To Rest

Our lives are busy these days: that much is true, and so it is indeed a good idea to get some down time. But why Sunday? Moreover, why just one day? Or maybe a half day? I agree in principle with the KSSC on this one, since I’m all for having time during the week where I sit on my fat ass doing so little that quadriplegics put me to shame. But, where I part company with the KSSC is when they argue that one day a week – Sunday – should be forced on everyone whether they like it – or need it – or not.

As noble as the KSSC pretends to be in reality it’s nothing other than a jumped-up cry for more religious control over people’s lives. It smacks of gross arrogance that these people take it upon themselves to micro-manage each of our lives in ways such as dictating our work and rest patterns to mirror some supposed divine model.

When the seventh day came God missed a wonderful opportunity to say: “Let there be rationality, good sense, and freedom.”