Efforts to boot long-upheld blue laws in Maine have been unsuccessful for years, but hunters are fighting back with a lawsuit against the state. Joel and Virginia Parks of Readfield, members of the Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting Facebook group, filed the suit, claiming the ban violates the state's recently enacted right-to-food amendment and "the unalienable constitutional right to harvest food, superseding the old religious ban on Sunday hunting."
The amendment, which was the first of its kind in the United States, is broad in its wording:
"All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being, as long as an individual does not commit trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the harvesting, production or acquisition of food."
Thus, the lawsuit claims that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's ban on Sunday hunting "unconstitutionally infringes on and violates the rights of the plaintiffs, who seek to hunt on Sundays as a means of providing food for themselves and their family."
Jared Bornstein, a lobbyist in the state legislature as well as the executive director of Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, said the couple makes a strong case.
"This needs little exploration or explanation. It is common sense," he said. "For the majority of Mainers who choose to hunt, it is a spiritual, ancestral and economic necessity that they be afforded the most opportunity to be successful in their harvest. It is for this reason that the court will side decisively with the plaintiffs and invalidate the age-old statute banning the hunting of traditional food sources of Maine wildlife on Sunday."
The suit has taken many by surprise, including State Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, who also happens to be a hunter.
"I actually didn't see this coming," Faulkingham told the Portland Press Herald. "But I do think the Sunday hunting ban is denying people their inherent right to food and it stops people from harvesting food for arbitrary reasons. It is an unreasonable restriction to people's right to food. It's arbitrary, especially since children are in school and most people work during the week. So the weekend is the only time people can provide food, whether that's harvesting or hunting."
While several states such as Pennsylvania (which historically held similar bans) now allowing for some Sunday hunting, Maine and Massachusetts are the only two that completely prohibit it.
Opponents of Sunday hunting say a change would affect all outdoorsmen and women, not just hunters.
"Maine is more than 90 percent privately owned. Passing this bill will impact not only hunters but Maine's network of over 20,000 miles of snowmobile and ATV trails," Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody told the Legislature's Joint Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. "It will impact hikers and snowshoers, skiers and foragers, and many others. This bill is not simply a Sunday hunting issue but is a bill that impacts all outdoor recreation in Maine."
Many landowners are opposed to lifting the ban, and some are threatening to close off their land completely if the hunters have their way. But a recent poll indicated 64% of landowners who always allow access wouldn't make a change if the Sunday hunting ban were dropped.
Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting noted in a release that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is supposed to act based on the biology, and not on political pressure or religious tradition.
"What this means in practice is that Mainers have a right to hunt and harvest the game of their choosing so long as that game provides food for themselves and their families; so long as they are not taking more than their share, hunting outside of established seasons or trespassing on posted land. This amendment means that IF&W is empowered to regulate Maine's game species and Maine hunters on the basis of biology. What this amendment does not say is that Mainers cannot harvest game on arbitrarily established religious days," the release said.
Also backed by Hunter Nation, the lawsuit has been filed with the Maine Superior Court and is expected to generate a response from the state attorney general soon.
"The state's right-to-food amendment I think will uphold this. Just because a small percentage of landowners in southern Maine don't like it, that shouldn't dictate whether everyone else gets to hunt on Sunday," said Bornstein. "My sincere hope is that the attorney general and the department will see this and uphold the constitution, let the constitution win."
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