Religious Issues in Sunday Hunting
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., January 7, 2006.)
Sunday hunting is illegal in Pennsylvania -- with a few exceptions -- but its legalization is inevitable. As hunters have less time to hunt, as they continue to see fewer deer, and as access to land becomes more difficult, Sunday hunting will become a hotter and hotter issue until Pennsylvania joins about 40 other states in legalizing it.
Is keeping the Sabbath motivated by spiritual legalism?
Jesus said that the Sabbath is made for man, not man
for the Sabbath. Is God honored when we keep the Sabbath
because we want to, or because we must?
Opposition to Sunday hunting is rooted in "blue laws," statutes intended to enforce keeping of the Sabbath. These laws originated in the 17th-century theocratic New Haven colony. They were called "blue laws" because of the blue paper on which they were printed. Blue laws forbade the Sunday sale of cigarettes, all unnecessary work on Sunday, and any activity that intruded on Sabbath keeping.
Pennsylvania, named for its Quaker founder William Penn, once had a strong religious culture, and its ban against Sunday hunting existed long before it was seriously enforced in the late 1800's.
Landowners were complaining that working people (many were new immigrants), whose only opportunity to hunt was on Sunday, were shooting up everything from game animals to songbirds in order to feed their impoverished families. The state legislature put a stop to that by reviving the blue law as a game law, partly to protect wildlife and partly under pressure from landowners.
Today landowners are still one of the main voices against Sunday hunting. Farmers have the biggest organized voice and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau lobbies against Sunday hunting. Many have said that if Sunday hunting is legalized, they will close their land to public hunting. In other states, most who have said that have not done it.
I want to look at religious issues in Sunday hunting, but first let's look at some other issues. Are there biological reasons to prohibit Sunday hunting? Probably not. In the 40 states that allow it, Sunday hunting has not adversely affected wildlife populations.
Are there social reasons? Some groups claim that Sunday is the only day non-hunters can observe, photograph, and enjoy nature without worrying about guns being fired around them, but they are unconvincing. The reality is that non-hunters have plenty of opportunity outside of hunting seasons to venture into the woods.
Are there economic reasons? Opponents of Sunday hunting say that Wildlife Conservation Officers will be forced to work more overtime, which will have a negative impact on Game Commission budgets. But poachers don't take Sundays off, so WCO's already have the same responsibility to enforce game laws on Sunday as they do the other 6 days.
What about religious reasons? Pennsylvania no longer has a religious culture common to all, so it is difficult to make the case against Sunday hunting on consistent religious grounds.
Laws do not prohibit other activities. Even fishing has been legal in Pennsylvania for over 50 years, so it isn't consistent to permit one outdoor activity while banning another. Are we keeping the Sabbath when we fish, but not when we hunt on Sunday? What about golf? Shopping? Movies? Skiing? Football? Some hunters fear that a ban on Sunday hunting sends a message that hunting is less honorable than other forms of recreation, a view that can play into the hands of animal rights activists.
Among Christians, whether an activity is religiously acceptable on Sunday has additional considerations: (1.) Does keeping the Sabbath mean a perfunctory hour in a church pew before heading out for recreational pursuits? Is that all it takes to honor God? He set the example himself by resting from the labor of creation, and commanded us to likewise observe a day of rest, not an hour of half-hearted worship.
(2.) Do we worship the Creator, or merely his creation? We don't think much about idolatry in our society, but we have countless objects of worship today. Many hunters worship hunting.
(3.) Is keeping the Sabbath motivated by spiritual legalism? Jesus said that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Is God honored when we keep the Sabbath because we want to, or because we must? Does the law really have anything to do with keeping or breaking the Sabbath?
Limited Sunday hunting for foxes, coyotes, crows, and a few other animals is already legal in Pennsylvania. Why not all game animals? Perhaps a further compromise will be struck. For example, legislation could permit Sunday hunting on public land only.
About a million hunting licenses are sold and about a half million hunters are opposed to the ban on Sunday hunting. Like it or not, change is sure to come.