McGowan v. Maryland
366 U.S. 420 (1961)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961)

McGowan v. Maryland

No. 8

Argued December 8, 1960

Decided May 29, 1961

366 U.S. 420

Syllabus

Appellants, employees of a large department store on a highway in Anne Arundel County, Md., were convicted and fined in a Maryland State Court for selling on Sunday a loose-leaf binder, a can of floor wax, a stapler, staples and a toy, in violation of Md.Ann.Code, Art. 27, § 521, which generally prohibits the sale on Sunday of all merchandise except the retail sale of tobacco products, confectioneries, milk, bread, fruit, gasoline, oils, greases, drugs, medicines, newspapers and periodicals. Recent amendments now except from the prohibition the retail sale in Anne Arundel County of all foodstuffs, automobile and boating accessories, flowers, toilet goods, hospital supplies and souvenirs, and exempt entirely any retail establishment in that County which employs not more than one person other than the owner. There are many other Maryland laws which prohibit specific activities on Sundays or limit them to certain hours, places or conditions.

Held: Art. 27, § 521 does not violate the Equal Protection or Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or constitute a law respecting an establishment of religion, within the meaning of the First Amendment, which is made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 366 U. S. 422-453.

1. Art. 27, § 521 does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 366 U. S. 425-428.

(a) On the record in this case, it cannot be said that the classifications made by the statute are without rational and substantial relation to the objects of the legislation, so as to exceed the wide discretion permitted the States in enacting laws which affect some groups of citizens differently from others. Pp. 366 U. S. 425-427.

(b) Provisions of the statute which permit only certain Anne Arundel County retailers to sell merchandise essential to, or customarily sold at, or incidental to, the operation of bathing beaches, amusement parks, etc., do not discriminate invidiously against retailers in other Maryland counties. P. 366 U. S. 427.

(c) The Equal Protection Clause is not violated by Art . 27, § 509, which permits only certain merchants in Anne Arundel County (operators of bathing beaches, amusement parks, etc.)

Page 366 U. S. 421

to sell merchandise customarily sold at such places while forbidding its sale by other vendors, such as appellants' employer. Pp. 366 U. S. 427-428.

2. Art. 27, § 509, which exempts retail sales of "merchandise essential to, or customarily sold at, or incidental to, the operation of" bathing beaches, amusement parks, etc., is not so vague as to violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 366 U. S. 428-429.

3. Art. 27, § 521 is not a law respecting an establishment of religion, within the meaning of the First Amendment. Pp. 366 U. S. 429-453.

(a) Since appellants allege only economic injury to themselves, and do not allege any infringement of their own religious freedoms, they have no standing to raise the question whether the statute prohibits the free exercise of religion, contrary to the First Amendment. Pp. 366 U. S. 429-430.

(b) Since appellants have suffered direct economic injury, allegedly due to the imposition on them of the tenets of the Christian religion, they have standing to complain that the statute is a law respecting an establishment of religion. Pp. 366 U. S. 430-431.

(c) In the light of the evolution of our Sunday Closing Laws through the centuries, and of their more or less recent emphasis upon secular considerations, it is concluded that, as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular, rather than of a religious, character, and that presently they bear no relationship to establishment of religion, as those words are used in the Constitution of the United States. Pp. 366 U. S. 431-444.

(d) The present purpose and effect of most of our Sunday Closing Laws is to provide a uniform day of rest for all citizens, and the fact that this day is Sunday, a day of particular significance for the dominant Christian sects, does not bar the State from achieving its secular goals. Pp. 366 U. S. 444-445.

(e) After engaging in the close scrutiny demanded of it when First Amendment liberties are at issue, this Court accepts the determination of the State Supreme Court that the present purpose and effect of the statute here involved is not to aid religion, but to set aside a day of rest and recreation. Pp. 366 U. S. 445-449.

(f) This Court rejects appellants' contention that the State has other means at its disposal to accomplish its secular purpose that would not even remotely or incidentally give state aid to religion. Pp. 366 U. S. 449-453.

220 Md. 117, 151 A.2d 156, affirmed.

Page 366 U. S. 422

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