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Why Are Car Dealerships Closed on Sundays in Colorado?

(Part IV: Odd Laws in Colorado)

Have you ever tried to go shopping for a new car on the weekend, only to find that all of the dealerships are closed on your day off? It's because, by law, it's actually a crime for a car dealership to be open on Sundays in Colorado.

Why are car dealerships closed on Sundays in Colorado?

Colorado Revised Statute section 44-20-302 (2020) says:

No person, firm, or corporation, whether owner, proprietor, agent, or employee, shall keep open, operate, or assist in keeping open or operating any place or premises or residences, whether open or closed, for the purpose of selling, bartering, or exchanging or offering for sale, barter, or exchange any motor vehicle, whether new, used, or secondhand, on the first day of the week commonly called Sunday.

Anyone who violates this law is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, and the potential revocation of their motor vehicle dealer's license. C.R.S. § 44-20-303 (2020).

The stated purpose for such Sunday car sales bans is to give workers a day off. Because car sales employees tend to work long hours, having Sundays off is a way to ensure they get a break and have time to spend with their families.

(However, this Sunday ban specifically does not apply to businesses that repair cars, or that sell motor vehicle parts, or that buy sell or trade boats, snowmobiles, or motor vehicle trailers… so, does the state legislature think those employees just don't work as hard? Or that they want less time with their families?)

Such Sunday bans on business have their ideological roots, not in the welfare of workers, but in America's puritanical colonial past.

Often called "Blue Laws," or simply "Sunday Laws," these restrictions were originally meant to enforce religious beliefs and restrict certain activities during periods in which people were expected to attend church services. Such laws were prevalent throughout the founding of the nation, what with the colonies full of pilgrims and settlers who found the churches in Europe too liberal for their liking.

The first such "Sunday Law" in America was enacted in 1610 by the colony of Virginia, which punished failure to regularly attend church twice on Sunday by the death penalty.

By the early 1800s, the secular conveniences of urban life, such as mail, newspapers, and barber services were all starting to encroach on the sanctity of "the Lord's Day."

By 1834, the first trains began to run on Sundays, and the clergy protested bitterly against this new, modern desecration of the American Sabbath.

State legislatures responded.

In 1896, the United States Supreme Court, in Hennington v. Georgia, 163 U.S. 299 (1896), upheld the conviction of the superintendent of transportation for the Alabama Great Southern Railroad company for unlawfully running a train on the Sabbath, in violation of an 1850 Georgia law - itself, the Court noted, an extension of a colonial prohibition from 1762 banning any "labor, business or work" "upon the Lord's day."

A few years later, the Supreme Court provided a more rational, less religious, and more workers'-welfare-focused reasoning for not striking down these sorts of "Sunday Laws."

In Petit v. the State of Minnesota, 177 U.S. 164 (1900), the United States Supreme Court upheld an 1894 Minnesota statute that prohibited any person from keeping open a barbershop on Sunday, saying "the object mainly was to protect the employees by insuring them a day of rest; and said: `Courts will take judicial notice of the fact that, in view of the custom to keep barbershops open in the evening as well as in the day, the employees in the shops work more, and during later, hours than those engaged in most other occupations, and that this is especially true on Saturday afternoons and evenings; also that, owing to the habit of so many men to postpone getting shaved until Sunday, if such shops were to be permitted to be kept open on Sunday, the employees would ordinarily be deprived of rest during half of that day.'"

Fifty years later, in 1955, Colorado enacted for the first time a law, C.R.S. §§ 13-20-1 et seq., that made it illegal for any person to keep open any business that bought, sold, or traded motor vehicles "on the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday."

The penalty for violating this law was a potential fine of up to $1,000 (which would be more like $10,000 in today's dollars), up to six months in jail, and the potential revocation of the motor vehicle dealer's license.

The Colorado Supreme Court upheld this law in Mosko v. Dunbar, 309 P.2d 581 (Colo. 1957), under the premise that, as the United States Supreme Court decided in the Minnesota barbershop case, such a law was for the good of the public welfare and because (however seemingly contradictorily,) it actually reinforced the First Amendment doctrine of freedom from religion.

Odd Laws in Colorado

This new regulation on car dealers hardly stretched back to the founding of the nation. Rather, it came about as a result of a resurgent wave of conservative Christian fervor during the 1950s.

Despite this being the only such statute to ban business on Sunday, in its opinion, the Colorado Supreme Court made a special point of noting that "It has been the policy of this commonwealth [of Colorado] since 1868 to inhibit all labor on Sunday, works of charity and necessity excepted."

Explaining that, "Sunday laws are 'essentially civil and not religious" ordinances, and that the judicial branch should "assist 'the mild voice of Christianity to secure the due observance of Sunday as a day of rest" because doing so would actually uphold religious freedom - such a law does not require anyone to worship any particular deity, after all, it merely requires the employees to take a day off.

Such a day off, the Court wrote, would save those employees - if not the whole of society - from the rising tide of divorce and juvenile delinquency.

Since a non-working spouse "has a natural right to the society and companionship of the working spouse," and "the children have a natural right to the society and companionship of the working parent," the Court explained that this particular Sunday Law was not only good but necessary for the welfare of society, as, "one of the important causes for divorce is the lack of companionship between husband and wife, resulting in the spouses almost being total strangers to each other. Parents who have working and social engagements to keep to the extent that their children are left to shift for themselves create a condition conducive to juvenile delinquency. This court should be the first to fortify the family against widening the wedge by which causes for divorce or delinquency may be given additional impetus to reach flood stage."

This decision remains the law of the land to this day.

The original statute preventing car dealerships from selling cars on Sunday was updated and replaced by the state legislature in 2018. C.R.S. § 44-20-300 et seq.

And for those reasons, you cannot buy a car from a dealership on Sundays in Colorado.