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SALT LAKE CITY — The Roman Catholic Church, along with trade unions and small business associations, is working to save Sundays by pushing for a ban on shopping in Italy.
Other countries, meanwhile, are already onboard.
Religion News Service reports that in an attempt to encourage economic growth, outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti supported a new law last December that allows shops to stay open on the Sabbath — a move that caused an uproar among religious and secular groups alike.
"Sunday traditions are strong in the European nation," RNS reports. In response to the proposed law, "an Italian shop owners association and the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference launched a campaign to 'free up Sundays.' They aim to gather the 50,000 signatures needed to try to repeal the liberalizing shop law."
Religion and economics are not the only forces at the core of the issue, which is being discussed all across Europe. Opponents of the shopping laws are calling for a unified day of rest. In Brussels, for example, RNS is reporting that "unions and business associations from 27 countries have formed the 'European Sunday Alliance' to lobby the European Union to keep Sunday as a continentwide day of rest, at least in principle."
“The broad consensus in opposing Sunday openings shows that having a common weekly day for rest is something that benefits everyone, not just believers,” Luca Diotallevi, a Catholic sociologist and adviser to Italy’s bishops, told RNS. “Sunday has not just a social value but a theological one too: Man needs to have a holy day.”
The debate rages across Europe, with some cities and countries honoring existing bans even as opposition rises. In the Netherlands, for example, according to Dutch law stores must still close on Sundays — though there are plenty of exceptions to the rule.
The broad consensus in opposing Sunday (store) openings shows that having a common weekly day for rest is something that benefits everyone, not just believers.
–Luca Diotallevi, Catholic sociologist
"Local councils can designate 12 Sundays a year on which shops are allowed to open. Shops with a late-night license ... are allowed to open every Sunday. And the same goes for shops in tourist areas, like the center of Amsterdam," reports Radio Netherlands Worldwide.
But the Sunday trading law has fierce opponents and supporters, according to Radio Netherlands: "Liberal parties think it should be up to shopkeepers whether they open on Sundays. The Christian parties, on the other hand, want to reduce the number of Sundays when shops can open. In their view, Sunday is a day of rest."
Those countries upholding such bans are more and more the exception rather than the rule — but citizens and even lawmakers are not overly enthused. Controversy erupted when France's parliament narrowly approved a law relaxing the rules on Sunday shopping in 2009. Such opposition came not just from the public but from other members of parliament.
"We have a real disagreement on this. We are defending the Sunday as a rest day, the only day people can relax with their families, play sports, express their spirituality," Jean-Marc Ayrault, a Socialist MP, told The Telegraph. Church leaders, right-wing traditionalists and most of the left, the paper reported, agreed.
Win or lose, the battle may not entirely be in vain. One unexpected byproduct of the Italian campaign is winning the Catholic Church some sympathy and even respect.