Our Opinion: Sunday hunting bans a poor policy from bad theology

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Neckties, pantsuits and lapel pins have replaced the flowing robes and tassels, but modern-day Pharisees are as comfortable in Raleigh as their predecessors ever were in Solomon’s temple.

Like the Jewish authorities who held sway in Jerusalem two millennia ago, North Carolina lawmakers are imposing their personal religious preferences on the public. The General Assembly relaxed, but didn’t rescind, blue laws that banned Sunday hunting and limited Sunday alcohol sales.

Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, introduced House Bill 559 to expand restricted hunting opportunities on Sundays. He deserves credit for adding more personal freedom to the state statutes, but the bill signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on July 25 was weakened in a curtsy to church custom.

Private lands are now open to hunters on Sundays, but shooting hours are unchanged — hunting with firearms is forbidden between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

On public lands, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and other management agencies may authorize Sunday hunting at their discretion, but the three-hour ban on firearm use remains in force.

The Christian Action League of North Carolina opposed HB 559 and lobbied lawmakers to keep the shooting ban in place. It’s no accident that 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. coincides with church service times for many congregations.

“Lawmakers certainly understand the necessity of legislation that creates a friendly business environment, but churches also need government to consider whether its actions are friendly to the ministries of houses of worship,” the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, wrote in a 2015 News & Observer guest column. “Each time we weaken the significance of the ‘Lord’s Day,’ we create a chasm that cannot be bridged.”

It should not be lawmakers’ job to encourage church attendance by mandating that all competing activities grind to a halt. Whether, where and when to attend a place of worship is a personal decision. Legislative interference here is no better than any other form of naked protectionism.

As for keeping the “Lord’s Day,” we note that Saturday, not Sunday, is the biblical Sabbath. The observance of Sunday as the day of rest stems from early Christian tradition. Schools of thought tie the switch to the day of Jesus’ resurrection, but Sunday sanctimony is merely a manmade custom.

That brings us back to the Pharisees, those hidebound Hebrew scholars who reveled in making rules, including strict prohibitions on Sabbath-day work.

In Matthew chapter 12, Jesus defends his hungry disciples from rebuke when Pharisees spot them picking grain on the Sabbath. We doubt he’d look kindly on laws that halt the gathering of food — whether grain from the field or deer from the forest.

Hunters who wish to live off the land and enjoy the tranquility of God’s creation should be free to do so on Sunday mornings. Yet North Carolina law says those who hunt with firearms during the prohibited hours can be found guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.

Blue laws enacted in the name of a Messiah who condemned legalism and called his free-will followers to voluntary obedience really throw us for a loop.