Washington voters adopt Initiative 229 to repeal Blue Law on November 8, 1966.

  • By Peter LeSourd
  • Posted 6/23/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9063

On November 8, 1966, in the Washington state general election, voters adopt Initiative 229, repealing Title 9, Chapter 76, Section .010 of the Revised Code of Washington, the so-called Blue Law, which had been enacted in 1909. This action legalizes the operations of thousands of businesses in the state that had been opening on Sunday in violation of that law, and eliminates the legal bias favoring religions whose day of worship was Sunday. It does not legalize but ultimately leads to the sale of liquor on Sunday in the state. 

Democrats, Republicans, and Seventh Day Adventists

In February 1966, the newly elected leaders of the Young Democrats of Washington State decided to seek repeal of the Blue Law. Its president, Seattle attorney Lem Howell (b. 1936), immediately sought political allies. He convinced Camden Hall (b. 1940), a Seattle attorney and the past president of the University of Washington Young Republicans club, to join the effort as co-coordinator with Howell. This union created a bipartisan initiative campaign.

Howell thought that the Seventh Day Adventist churches in Washington state might support the initiative and help collect enough signatures statewide to qualify for the November 1966 general election, despite the fact that Adventist doctrine preached complete abstinence from liquor consumption. The Blue Law arguably discriminated against that church because its day of worship and rest from labor was on Saturday, not Sunday.  

Howell met with Glenn Patterson, a Seventh Day Adventist from Olympia who was the Washington State representative of the International Religious Liberty Association. Howell pointed out that the State Liquor Control Board had broad powers to regulate all sales of alcoholic beverages, and arguably could continue its ban on Sunday liquor sales even if voters repealed the Blue Law.  

Patterson agreed, and successfully gained the endorsement of the initiative by the Washington Conference of Seventh Day Adventists. The Adventist pastors solicited initiative petition signatures door-to-door throughout the state. By the end of the signature collection campaign, they obtained at least 40 percent of the total turned in. In addition, more than a thousand restaurants around the state collected signatures. Supporters also solicited signatures at ferry terminals and outside of football games and other sporting events.

The initiative campaign organization ultimately turned in 187,463 valid signatures to the secretary of state. This was far more than the minimum needed to qualify the initiative for the ballot, and was the largest number collected to that date in the history of initiatives in the state.

A Tidal Wave of "Yes" 

On Election Day, November 8, 1966, a tidal wave of “yes” votes for Initiative 229 swept across the state. A majority in every county except Stevens voted in favor, totaling more than 64 percent of the votes cast statewide.  

The repeal of the Blue Law took effect on December 9, 1966. Nevertheless, no liquor sales occurred in the state on the following Sundays, because the Liquor Control Board’s regulation banning them still existed. Either the Board or the Legislature would have to change that rule.  

The Legislature took no action. Finally, 0n July 19, 1967, the Liquor Control Board unanimously announced the adoption of a new regulation allowing sales of liquor by all private licensees on Saturday nights until 2 a.m. on Sunday, and on Sundays from 2 to 10 p.m. In 1970, the board extended the Sunday sales hours to midnight, and in 1976, it opened Sunday sales to the same hours as for the remainder of the week.

Sources: Peter LeSourd interview with Lem Howell, February 16, 2008, Seattle; Peter LeSourd interview with Allan Munro, February 20, 2008, Seattle; “Howell Man To Watch In Future Politics”, Tacoma News Tribune, July 10, 1966, p. 85; “Memo: Progress Report #3” from Lem Howell and Camden M. Hall to Friends of Initiative 229, June 2, 1966, in possession of Peter LeSourd, Pasadena, California; text of Peter LeSourd’s speech for campaign speaking engagements, 1966, in possession of Peter LeSourd; “Index to Initiative and Referendum History and Statistics, 1914-2008”, State of Washington, Secretary of State website accessed June 2009 (www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/initiatives); Dale Nelson, “Board OK’s Sunday Liquor; Sales to Begin August 20,” The Seattle Times, July 19, 1967, front page; “Washington State Retail Liquor Sales Task Force Final Report -- December 2000,” State of Washington, Liquor Control Board website accessed June 2009 (www.liq.wa.gov).

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