AUGUSTA — A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Augusta District Court contends that Maine’s new right-to-food constitutional amendment paves the way for hunting on Sundays.

The broadly worded amendment, the first of its kind in the nation, was passed by voters in a referendum in November.

Virginia Parker of Readfield filed the lawsuit against the state on behalf of herself and her husband, Joel, to end the Sunday hunting ban because of “the unalienable constitutional right to harvest food, superseding the old religious ban on Sunday hunting.”

Maine and Massachusetts are the only states that ban hunting on Sundays.

The couple belong to the 2,600-member Facebook group, “Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting.”

Virginia Parker was joined at a news conference by lobbyist Jared Bornstein, the group’s founder, and her attorney, Andrew Schmidt, after the lawsuit was filed at the courthouse Wednesday. Judy Camuso, commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is named as the defendant in the suit.

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The Parkers, hunters since 2011, want to teach their five children how to hunt, and Virginia Parker said that’s been made more difficult with only one weekend day to do so. 

“My husband works full time Monday to Friday. My children are in school full-time and have academic responsibilities,” Parker said. “That only gives us one day to go out hunting as a family, to help them learn to harvest an animal, or just enjoy the education. Though we do try to fill the freezer. Meat is so expensive now.”

‘DIDN’T SEE THIS COMING’

The lawsuit contends that because of the Sunday hunting ban, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife “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.”

Schmidt hopes the case will be heard over the summer and be settled in time for people to “plan their hunting trips.”

Bornstein said the plaintiffs have a strong case because the right-to-food constitutional amendment provides all individuals in Maine “the inherent and unalienable right to food – including wild game they harvest.”

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“This needs little exploration or explanation. It is common sense,” Bornstein 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.”

More than 400,000 voters cast a ballot on the referendum last fall. The question read, “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being?”

Opponents of the referendum argued that the wording of the referendum was too broad and even deceptively vague. The measure, however, passed 61 percent to 39 percent.

State Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, who advocated for the right-to-food amendment last year, was surprised by the lawsuit.

“I actually didn’t see this coming,” Faulkingham, a hunter, said in a phone interview. “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.”

The effort to end the ban or change the Sunday hunting law comes up in nearly every legislative session.

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The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has supported legislation aimed at allowing hunting on Sunday, but the hunting-advocacy group did not have a reaction to the lawsuit.

“This is in the courts. I haven’t been a part of this. We are in the dark. So I don’t have a comment,” David Trahan, the alliance’s director, said in a phone interview. “We have always supported Sunday hunting because in polling our membership supports Sunday hunting – but this is not the legislative process, it’s in the courts. Right now, we are just collecting information to see what their arguments will be.”

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife cannot comment on pending litigation, spokesperson Mark Latti said.

‘IMPACTS ALL OUTDOOR RECREATION’

The department typically has not taken a stand on bills to ban Sunday hunting. In March, however, the agency opposed one bill aimed at allowing Sunday hunting, with Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody testifying before lawmakers that a recent survey showed landowners would close their lands if hunting on Sundays was allowed.

“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,” Peabody testified before 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.”

“Sunday hunting is a social issue that as a state we have struggled with for years,” Peabody added.

Bornstein argued on Wednesday that such landowners represent a small minority of those willing to open their land to hunters and other outdoor users.

“The state’s right-to-food amendment I think will uphold this,” Bornstein said. “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. 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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