mardis mug

Bill Mardis

Did you know it is against the law to work on Sundays? KRS 436.160, Kentucky’s Blue Law, not enforced for more than half a century, is still in effect. The Legislative Research Commission this week confirmed the law is still on the books.

Heavy traffic and large crowds on Sunday converging on Somerset’s big-city-like shopping districts and along Restaurant Row is a starkly different scene from the mid-1960s when a sitting circuit judge, at least for a Sunday or two, enforced Kentucky’s Blue Law in Pulaski County. Blue laws, also known as Sunday laws, are laws designed to restrict or ban some or all Sunday activities for religious reasons, particularly to promote the observance of a day of worship or rest.

The late Pulaski Circuit Judge R.C. Tartar enforced the Blue Law during an era of Sunday driving; when automobiles were air conditioned by opening windows and picking up speed; when regular grade gasoline was 31 cents a gallon at the pump; when Sunday was a day of Biblical rest. Remembering Blue Laws is a walk down memory lane.

Dagley’s Market on Ogden Street was the only grocery store open on Sundays in Somerset during the 1960s. All other retail stores, including most service stations, were closed. Oftentimes, police officers and first responders filled their tanks at dusk because there was nowhere to purchase gasoline at night.

Judge Tartar, encouraged by a local minister and a grocery store operator who closed his business on Sundays, cited employees of Dagley’s Market at their workplace on a Sunday afternoon. Whether the employees appeared in court or paid a fine is lost in memory.

Kentucky’s Blue Law says:

(1) Any person who works on Sunday at his own or at any other occupation or employs any other person, in labor or other business, whether for profit or amusement, unless his work or the employment of others is in the course of ordinary household duties, work of necessity or charity or work required in the maintenance or operation of a public service or public utility plant or system, shall be fined not less than two dollars ($2) nor more than fifty dollars ($50). The employment of every person employed in violation of this subsection shall be deemed a separate offense.

(2) Persons who are members of a religious society which observes as a Sabbath any other day in the week than Sunday shall not be liable to the penalty prescribed in subsection (1) of this section, if they observe as a Sabbath one (1) day in each seven (7).

(3) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to amateur sports, athletic games, or operation of grocery stores whose principal business is the sale of groceries and related food items, drug stores whose principal business is the sale of drugs and related drug items, gift shops, souvenir shops, fishing tackle shops and bait shops, moving picture shows, chautauquas, filling stations or opera. (This subsection must have been added in a 1978 amendment because Judge Tartar, a stickler for letter of the law, would not have cited grocery store employees).

(4) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to employers using continuous work scheduling provided that such scheduling permits at least one (1) day of rest each calendar week for each employee.

Judge Tartar’s enforcement of the Blue Law upset chamber of commerce types who were promoting the tourism industry as Lake Cumberland was attracting the Ohio Navy to Pulaski County on weekends. For some reason, after a week or so, Blue Law enforcement ceased in Somerset.