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Let there be barbering: NY takes Sunday shave law off the books

Striking the old blue law from the statutes Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called it “the very definition of an archaic and meaningless law.”

(CN) — Over a century ago, more than one barber was left with a $5 fine and a customer wiping lather from a half-shaved face after the law found them out.

The crime?

The misdemeanor of practicing the craft of barbering on the Lord’s Day. Shavin’ on a Sunday.

The prohibition on shaves and haircuts was law in the state of New York until Thursday, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that repealed the old statute.

Noting the law currently is “not routinely enforced,” the Democratic governor said its repeal would allow barbershops and salons to set their own days when they would open.

“This is the very definition of an archaic and meaningless law that makes little to no sense in the 21st century," Cuomo said in a statement.

The Sunday barbering prohibition, along with restrictions on purchases of alcohol for instance, made up a plethora of blue laws, or regulations meant to restrict commerce on Sundays. Besides New York, states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts and Missouri once passed laws forbidding Sabbath trims.  

In May 1926, then-Governor Alfred Smith signed New York’s law that prohibited Sunday barbering in Saratoga Springs and New York City – the last two places in the state that weren’t subject to the state’s regulation against Sunday barbering, which had sat at the time on the state’s books for more than two decades.

The New York Times reported that Smith said, while signing the legislation, that the first day of the week “has been set aside by law as a day of religious worship,” and “all work by law has been suspended on that day, unless it can be shown that the work is one of necessity.”

State Senator Joseph Griffo, a Republican, introduced the legislation striking the Sunday barbering prohibition after his staff, looking for ways to assist businesses during the pandemic, came across the old law that wasn’t really enforced.

“We just felt that they still technically would be in violation and once they were allowed to reopen, I thought they should have the option and the flexibility to be able to do what they wanted to do,” Griffo said.

Griffo sees the legislation as a step in cleaning up the state statutes, to reexamine the reason for them. While the old law may have been passed to preserve the sanctity of the sabbath, different faiths consider different days sacred, Griffo said, and the updated law is “more of a reflection, too, of the mosaic of our society now.”

The law comes as the cosmetology and barbering industries are crawling back for facing restrictions thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Arthur Rubinoff, founder of the NYC Barber Shop Museum, said the industry that has been around since 3000 B.C. has been hit hard by the pandemic. Besides showcasing Rubinoff’s collection of barbering equipment, the museum also offers barbing services. It has only been since July 1 that barbers like Rubinoff, a fourth-generation barber, in New York City have been able to open at 100% capacity — gone are the tourists, the elderly with thinning hair, the people only looking for a buzz cut.

For barber shops and hair salons, Saturday and Sunday are “the most busiest days because people are off,” Rubinoff said. In fact, he knows some barbers who only work those two days.

Laura Embleton, national government relations director for Associated Hair Professionals, was surprised that the New York law was just now being struck, though hearing of it come off the books is a relief.

“I'm glad that somebody saw this and thought that it was a good thing to get rid of,” she said.

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Categories / Law, Politics, Religion

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