December 3, 2009
BERLIN (RNS) -- Constitutional provisions that declare Sunday a day of rest mean German merchants will have to significantly rein in the number of days they are open for business, Germany's highest court ruled Tuesday (Dec. 1).
The ruling was prompted by protests from Catholic and Protestant churches in Berlin over laws enacted in 2006 that gave German states greater freedoms in determining store opening hours.
The Berlin city-state was one of the most enthusiastic adopters of the policy, allowing stores to operate for 10 Sundays a year, including the four Sundays of Advent leading up to the Christmas holiday. Other states had opted for fewer shopping Sundays; heavily Catholic Bavaria had opted for none.
In its ruling, the German Constitutional Court noted that the guarantee of Sunday as a day of rest was not only based in Christian tradition, but also served a vital societal function by giving workers a day off and giving families more chances to spend time together.
"A simple economic interest in profits by merchants and a general interest in shopping by potential customers are generally not enough to justify exceptions to the clear constitutional protections for breaks from work and the possibility of spiritual enlightenment on Sundays and holidays," the court said.
The Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Germany welcomed the decision, noting that it was a blow against commerce and for Sunday as a day of rest.
However, the court ruling does not entirely ban Sunday store openings. The ruling laid out prescriptions for Berlin to open stores on four Sundays a year, including two Advent Sundays, albeit with shorter hours. Additionally, Advent Sunday shopping will be allowed to continue for the remaining three Advent Sundays of 2009.
The Constitutional Court is the highest judicial body in Germany.
Lawmakers could try to craft new legislation that does not contradict the constitutional protections.
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