German Court Upholds Sunday-Closing Law

Berlin can no longer allow stores to stay open for business on the four Sundays before Christmas, a German constitutional court ruled.

Since 2006, the German capital has allowed stores to open on ten Sundays and holidays each year, sparking a constitutional challenge by Protestant and Catholic churches that want to see their Sabbath remain sacred.

A provision of the German constitution dating back to 1919 declares Sunday to be a “legally protected day of rest from work,” which is why the court ruled Berlin’s practice is unconstitutional. The justices said that Sunday had a special protected status, ensuring Germans could rest and spiritually rejuvenate.

“A simple economic interest of merchants and the daily shopping interest of potential consumers are not fundamentally enough to justify exceptions for opening stores on these days,” the court’s president, Judge Hans-Jurgen Papier said.

Katrin Goring-Eckardt, head of Germany’s main Protestant organization, called the ruling a “gift to society from Christians.”

But the Berlin policy’s supporters felt the ruling was a step backward and did not consider modern lifestyles.

“We didn’t force anyone to open, and we didn’t force anyone to go shopping,” said Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. “Shall we recognize the changing reality of life or will we ignore it?”

The Berlin shops will be allowed to stick to their Sunday-opening plans this year but the new policy will have to go into effect next year.