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Maybe 'blue laws' weren't so bad

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Recall the political storms in the United States over lifting bans on opening stores on Sundays – the so-called "blue laws."

Christian ministers would point to Moses' fourth commandment: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." Owners of mom-and-pop retail shops would plead to keep a legal "day of rest" that prevented big stores from luring away business by staying open on Sundays.

But growing numbers of women worked outside the home and found it difficult to shop during the week. States hoped Sunday store hours would boost tax revenues.

Today, the battle is largely over. In most parts of the country, one can easily find stores open on Sunday. Over the past two or three decades, state blue laws limiting retailing on that day have been repealed or weakened.

What have been the consequences?

It may be no surprise that families took advantage of the changes to scoot to the mall on Sundays. Faced with such secular competition, attendance and donations at churches have fallen.

But there was unanticipated fallout as well. New research finds that many youths who had been classified as "religious" because of their church attendance succumbed to temptation after blue laws were repealed. They drank more alcohol and used other drugs.

Apparently, "religion truly affects behavior," says Daniel Hungerman, an economist at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., and an author of the study. "It really matters."

If teens and young adults attend church services or Sunday School, they will be less likely to drink heavily or use other drugs, he says.

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