Sunday trading law ‘discriminatory’

A Cabinet Minister said last week that Cayman’s law that forbids most businesses from opening on Sundays would most likely be considered discriminatory by a court if the country approves a bill of rights as part of its new constitution.

‘There’s no question in my mind that the Sunday Trading Law is discriminatory in nature,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said. ‘If we have a bill of rights along the lines that the government is proposing, I doubt whether the legislation would be able to stand up.’

The People’s Progressive Movement plans to insert what government officials have referred to as a ‘conscience clause’ in the bill of rights that would forbid public entities from discriminating on the basis of religion. The issue has sparked heated public debate over the last several months as government’s efforts to revise Cayman’s constitution have progressed.

At a Wednesday night meeting, members of the George Town Seventh-day Adventist Church questioned government ministers about the Sunday Trading Law. The Seventh-day Adventists mark Saturday as the Sabbath.

‘What about how the government forces people that they can’t operate certain businesses on Sunday?’ Mia Welds-Powell asked. ‘If I would like to open up a shop to sell food or whatever, I cannot open it.’

Mr. McLaughlin also pointed out that Seventh-day Adventists seeking a job that required their attendance on Saturday would either have to forego their Sabbath or simply not take the job.

Proposals to change the current Sunday Trading Law have been met with resistance from Christian ministers and church groups in the past.

Lawmakers have pointed out that there are inconsistencies in the legislation. For instance, gas stations are allowed to open on Sunday, but grocery stores are not.

Most tourism-related businesses in downtown George Town are not open on Sundays, except on the rare occasions when cruise ships come in on a Sunday. Some restaurants are also allowed to open on Sundays.

Mr. McLaughlin said the issue has long been one that is skirted around by elected officials who don’t want to offend Christian traditions.

‘If this question was raised in other churches who keep Sunday (as the Sabbath), the attitude would be very different,’ he told a group of about 150 people at the George Town Seventh-day Adventist church last week, the majority of whom were members of that church.

‘Governments will respond to…the majority view on these matters, otherwise you know what happens to them,’ Mr. McLaughlin added. ‘One of the benefits of a bill of rights…is it doesn’t matter what government thinks, you’re not allowed to discriminate.’

The PPM’s proposal for constitutional modernisation would only allow a court to advise lawmakers on whether any existing legislation was in violation of the bill of rights or the constitution. If the court ruled the law was in violation, it would be up to the Legislative Assembly to make a change.

However, Mr. McLaughlin said it would be a ‘bold government’ that would ignore the ruling of a court of law.

An on-line poll taken three years ago by the Caymanian Compass found nearly 70 per cent of respondents favoured making Sunday a full trading day. Twelve per cent of the respondents to the July 2005 poll said no trading should be allowed on Sunday.

Compass polls are only conducted on-line and are non-scientific. Respondents are not asked to give any information about their nationality or voting status.