Monday, 19 March 2012

Proposal to relax Sunday trading laws during Olympics prompts Christian complaints

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The Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, near the Olympic
part, could benefit from the influx of visitors
Yesterday, the Chancellor George Osborne revealed that he is to propose emergency legislation that would allow the relaxation of Sunday trading laws in England and Wales for eight weekends from 22 July, in order to avoid Britain being "closed for business" on Sundays during the period of the Olympic and Paralympic games.

While small shops are permitted to open whenever they like on Sundays, under the 1994 Sunday Trading Act larger stores (any covering more than 280 square metres) are restricted to opening between the hours of 10am to 6pm.

While Osborne argues that the move would be good for the economy, his plan has attracted Christian complaints. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries led the way, suggesting on Twitter that proposal may be part of a sinister attack on Christianity:
"Arrogant to impose without debate and vote of whole house.

"Is the coalition government secretly implementing an anti-Christian agenda. And if so, who is driving it, Cameron and Osborne or the LDs?"
Other complaints were more measured. The Keep Sunday Special campaign, which is backed by a number of Christian groups, actually steered clear of approaching the issue from a religious perspective, pointing instead to the effect the proposal may have on retail workers spending time with their families. This was echoed by a west-London vicar, Rev Sally Hitchiner, who offered a similar argument to the BBC:
"We're concerned it could become a precedent, we could lose some of the specialness of Sunday.

Sunday should be a time for relationships, a time when we put some boundaries on consumerism, so you can go to the park and play football with the kids, and take your mum breakfast in bed."
From a secular perspective, there are a couple of ways of looking at this. You could argue that shops should be able to open whenever they like, and certainly shouldn't be restricted from doing so on the basis of a religious Sabbath. But set aside the Christianity (and Nadine Dorries' take on Osborne's proposal) and it becomes harder to disagree with the religious campaigners. With six days a week of unfettered consumerism, surely we ought to take at least one day off?

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