Ban on Sunday Hunting in Pennsylvania Upheld
(CN) - Pennsylvania need not face claims that its ban against hunting on Sundays is unconstitutionally religious based, a federal judge ruled.
The dispute stems from a section of the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code that makes it "unlawful for any person to hunt for any furbearer or game on Sunday."
Hunters United for Sunday Hunting (HUSH), a nonprofit, and its director Kathy Davis sued the Pennsylvania Game Commission, its executive director Carl Roe, and state Attorney General Kathleen Kane last year over the law.
Covered by the restriction are big game like white-tailed deer, black bear, elk and wild turkey, and small game like woodcock, rabbit, pheasant, northern bobwhite, quail, ruffled grouse, groundhog and squirrel, according to the complaint.
While Pennsylvanians may hunt furbearer or game during established seasons, they cannot do so on Sundays, except on noncommercial hunting grounds, the law states.
The law does carry an exception for the Sunday hunting of foxes, coyotes, crows and feral hog.
HUSH calls the restriction "a blue law, enacted for secular [sic] reasons, which is without rational and substantial relation to the intent of the legislation in modern times."
Those who violate the Sunday rule may face prosecution of a summary offense of the fifth degree, and adverse administrative action against his or her hunting license, according to the complaint.
Pennsylvania moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, failure to state a claim and 11th Amendment immunity. It also said AG Kane is not a proper party to the case.
Chief U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane dismissed the amended complaint on June 18, finding "no legal support for plaintiffs' argument that Second Amendment protections extend to recreational hunting."
HUSH and Davis also failed to "discredit defendants' assertion that the 'state legislature rationally could believe that, for reasons related to conservation or game management, certain wildlife may be hunted seven days a week and others should not'; and, that '[t]he General Assembly reasonably could believe that more weekend hunting days would result in a greater harvest of certain wildlife for the simple reason that more hunters would be afield on two-day weekends,'" the decision states. "Balancing these straightforward justifications against plaintiffs' conclusory allegation that Section 2303(a) is without rational basis, the court finds that plaintiffs fail to state an equal protection claim."
The hunters lack standing to pursue their First Amendment claim, according to the ruling.
"Plaintiffs' complaint does not contain any factual allegations concerning the ways in which the ban on hunting violates their religious beliefs or coerces them to participate in any state religion in violation of the First Amendment," Judge Kane wrote.
She added: "Assuming arguendo that plaintiffs take the position that Section 2303(a) effectively forces them to observe predominant Christian religions by forbidding hunting on Sundays, the Supreme Court rejected a similar argument more than 50 years ago."
Kane rejected the claim that the prohibition on Sunday hunting has a religious basis.
"Because plaintiffs do not supply any factual allegations supporting this assertion, the court need not credit it," the judge concluded.
A state court may still hear the state-law claims advanced by the challengers, according to the ruling.