By Gudrun Schultz

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 15, 2006 ( – When laws against Sunday shopping are eliminated, church-goers begin to skip attendance and significantly increase their consumption of drugs and alcohol, a new study has found.

“[T]he gap in heavy drinking between religious and non religious individuals falls by about half after the laws are repealed,” said authors Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Daniel M. Hungerman of the University of Notre Dame. The report, entitled “The Church vs. the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?” was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.Â

Not only did church-goers show a marked increase in drug use and alcohol consumption, the Washington Post reported, with a parallel decline in Church attendance following the repeal of Sunday shopping restrictions, but the greatest behaviour change was found in those who had been the most faithful attendees of religious services.

“After the laws are repealed [church attendance] falls to 32 percent” in any given state, said Hungerman, from about 37 percent while the law was in place. That change was “not driven by declines in religiosity prior to the law change.”

Marijuana use increased by 11 percent among church-goers after the shopping laws changed, compared to those who never attended church. Cocaine use increased by almost 4 percent, and heavy alcohol consumption increased by about 5.5 percent. The more faithful people were beforehand, the more likely they were to indulge.

Hungerman suggest one possible reason for the behavior change is the increased time young people may spend in malls once the shopping ban is lifted.

“Instead of being in church, you’re working or shopping in the mall surrounded by ‘party animals,’” he said.

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