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Philadelphia Rabbis Challenge Pennsylvania Sunday Law in Court

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The challenge to Pennsylvania’s Sunday-closing law took on added significance today when the Philadelphia Rabbinical Association and the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis, representing Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis here, filed a Joint “friend of the court” brief in support of five local Jewish merchants who seek to upset the state’s newly-stiffened “blue” laws.

The latest brief was submitted to a Federal District Court here in what looms as a major test case affecting separation of church and state. It was signed by Leo Pfeffer, associate general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, and Jacob Richman, president of the Pennsylvania State Region of the AJC, who are serving without fee for the two rabbinical groups.

Their brief brought to six the number of “amicus curiae” briefs already submitted in the case–five attacking the Sunday law and one in favor. Seeking to upset the law are the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council, the Delaware Valley Council of the American Jewish Congress and the two Philadelphia rabbinical groups. Supporting the measure is the Pennsylvania Retailers Association.

At a hearing before the court last month, the Jewish merchants charged that the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution by interfering with the free exercise of religion. They said they closed their stores in observance of the Jewish Sabbath and were unduly penalized because the law requires them to close on Sunday as well. The five Jewish storekeepers are being represented without fee by attorneys active in the American Jewish Congress.

Recently, Pennsylvania strengthened the penalties for violations of its Sunday-closing law based on a statute dating back to 1794. The new law specifically bans the sale of certain items on Sunday and increases the penalty for violations from a maximum of four dollars to $200, plus jail terms of 30 days for each sale.

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