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Although Sunday sales are of frequent occurrence, only one case has been found reported in which the broker's right to commissions has been disputed, although unsuccessfully, on the ground that the sale was made on Sunday.1 Cases involving criminal prosecution for selling goods or merchandise on Sunday are numerous, and an occasional prosecution for selling land on Sunday may also be found.2
The justification and non-justification of Sunday sales will not be discussed. It is only the legal aspect, and not the moral aspect, which is to be presented.
Sunday ordinarily commences at twelve o'clock on the night between Saturday and Sunday and ends twenty-four hours thereafter. In Connecticut, it legally begins at sunsetting on Saturday and ends at the same time on the next day.3
The common law did not prohibit business on Sunday.4 And so, the common law never prohibited the making of contracts on Sunday.5 Yet it is said that Sunday is among the most ancient institutions of the Christian religion, and the Christian system of religion is recognized as constituting part of the common law.6
"At the common law, the fact that a contract was executed on Sunday did not vitiate or affect it; but in many of the American states statutes, have been adopted which have been construed by their courts as having the effect of annulling any contract executed and delivered on Sunday, on the ground that such statutes prohibit the making of contracts on that day, and that all contracts made on said day were in violation of such statutes, and were therefore null and void. All the authorities agree that whether or not a contract is affected by the fact of having been executed on Sunday depends upon the terms and provisions of .the state statute on the subject." 7
1See Sec. 235d.
2See Sec. 235d.
3 Finn v. Donahue. 35 Conn. 216.
4 37 Cvc. 545.
5 Shuman v. Shuman. 27 Penn. St. 90 (1856).
6 Shaver v. State. 10 Ark. 259.
Most of the statutes specifically allow the sale of articles such as milk, tobacco, confections, etc., and many give express sanction to the running of railroads, ferries, operation of power plants, etc., and to the printing and publication of newspapers on Sunday.
The general rule is that a contract which is completed on a secular day is not void because negotiations therefor have been conducted on Sunday.8
The authorities, for the most part, hold that the mere fact that the terms of a sale were agreed upon on Sunday will not invalidate a contract, where the delivery and payment took place on a secular day, it being generally held that delivery and payment in themselves were sufficient to constitute a complete contract regardless of what may have taken place on Sunday.9
In some states the Sunday laws, being enacted as penal statutes, are strictly construed.10
In New York, the Sunday laws are incorporated principally in the Penal Law.11 It is provided by the New York Penal Law itself that, "the rule that a penal statute is to be strictly construed does not apply to" the Penal Law, "or any of the provisions thereof, but all such provisions must be construed according to the fair import of their terms, to promote justice and effect the objects of the law."12 When one speaks of construing a penal statute strictly, it is not intended thereby to suggest a strict enforcement of the law but rather a strict construction of the law in favor of the accused.
"While questions have been raised as to noiseless and inoffensive occupations that can be carried on by one individual without requiring the services of others, as well as to persons who observe the seventh instead of the first day of the week, still the rule is believed to be general throughout the Union, although not generally enforced, that the ordinary business of life shall be suspended on Sunday in order that thereby the physical and moral well-being of the people may be advanced. The inconvenience to some is not regarded as as argument against the constitutionality of the statute, as that is an incident to all general laws. Sunday statutes have been sustained as constitutional almost without exception..... While-works of charity and necessity have usually been excepted from the effect of laws relating to the Sabbath, and sometimes, also; those persons who keep another day of the week, still quiet pursuits have not, even when they can be carried on without the labor of others. because general respect and observance of the day, so far as practicable, have been deemed essential to the interest of the public, including as a part thereof those who prefer not to keep the day, as their health and morals are entitled to protection, even against their will, the same as those of any other class in the community. According to the common judgment of civilized men, public economy requires, for sanitary reasons, a day of general rest from labor, and the day naturally selected is that regarded as sacred by the greatest number of citizens, as this causes the least inconvenience through interference with business."13
7 Hooks v. State. 58 Fla. 57; 50 So. 586 (1909).
8 See note in 20 A. & E. Ann. Cases 36, to Burr v. Nivison, 73 X. J. Eq. 241; 72 All. 72 (1909).
9See note in 20 L. R. A. (X. S.) 86, to King v. Graef, 136 Wisc. 54S; 117 X. W. 1058 (1908).
10Hooks v. State, 58 Fla. 57; 50 So. 586 (1909), construing Sec. 3565, Fla. Gen. St. 1906.
11 Sec. 2140 et seq.
12 Sec. 21. X. Y. Penal Law.