KNOCKING BLUE LAWS off the books takes far longer than a month of Sundays -- but it's more than about time Maryland got with it. Last month, at the opening of the holiday shopping season, some stores were deliberately defying local bans on Sunday sales, and the Maryland Court of Appeals was reviewing decisions upholding restrictions in Baltimore County.Then, on the night before Christmas (or, if you prefer, the day after the last Sunday shopping), more clatter arose when the Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of local blue laws. The result is that, once again, the whole silly mess will be dumped on the state legislature.

There is new talk of an old "compromise" plan that would allow unrestricted sales in the Christmas season but would establish even tougher penalties for violators during the rest of the year -- in effect adding still more church to this confused state of marketing. As it now stands, four counties have no prohibitions, two prohibit only car dealers from operating on Sundays, and others have a variety of do's and don'ts. The result is that merchants -- and their customers -- are being penalized unfairly around the state.

Many people strongly object to Sunday sales and their views are entitled to respect. But the lifting of blue laws wouldn't compel anyone to buy on a Sunday. Besides, how many people seriously object to all sales on Sundays? How about gasoline? Newspapers?Meals? Fuses and light bulbs? No matter how they are written, the restrictions are artificial and illogical. While it's true that competition may push some reluctant merchants into Sunday hours, laws protecting them from this competition are not a good answer. A better approach is to protect employees from being forced to work on the day they consider their sabbath.

Instead of wasting any more of the legislature's time on this matter, state and local lawmakers should repeal the blue laws and let the energies of prosecutors be spent on more productive law-enforcement efforts.