LDS Apostle D. Todd Christofferson was the featured speaker in a church-made video that made headlines last week. “So what if we’re fodder for a few jokes on late night TV?” Christofferson said in reference to the way in which visitors view our rules. Liquor laws are one thing, but disregard for constitutional protections governing the separation of church and state make fodder for civil questions that are much greater than how and where people can purchase alcohol here.
The line of distinction between church control and state-elected governance in Utah is and has always been extremely blurry. State leaders have no qualms at making it blurry. But it was a little offensive to me when Christofferson, the Mormon leader who voiced the church’s arguments last week, offered the opening prayer as the Utah Senate came to order on its first day of business this year. Come on, really? Couldn’t there have been at least a little effort to take the church out of the state as the session dawned?
Up for debate this year as in last is Utah’s “Zion Curtain,” a physical wall that is required to be built in Utah restaurants to block from public view the area where alcoholic drinks are mixed. This barrier is designed to shield young eyes from seeing the forbidden potions be poured into glasses before they are carried out to imbibing patrons. It’s a wonder that there isn’t a law banning the use of pineapples and cherries or little umbrellas in said concoctions, because those fruits and decorations might make the drinks look even more appealing to young minds.
The church, in its preamble to this year’s legislative session, cited Utah’s low DUI arrest rate, low binge drinking rate, and low alcohol-related traffic fatality rate. Those are admirable statistics, and certainly factors to consider as lawmakers debate possible changes to the laws. But the merits should be decided on fact and not church edict.
Thousands of people crowded into downtown Salt Lake City last week for the hugely popular outdoor retailer show. I happened to be visiting a Minnesota friend who had a booth at the convention and was impressed by the vast array of people and products. But even more impressive was the traffic jam of cars double parked and idling around the state liquor store on 400 South Friday evening as conventioneers went to unconventional lengths to buy liquid spirits that in most of their home states could have been purchased in grocery stores or numerous and convenient privately operated liquor stores. Church and state leaders may be quite forthcoming about safety statistics that may or may not be tied to our onerous laws, but they aren’t quite so public about how much revenue Utah rakes in by having the corner on the liquor market.
This year’s legislative session is likely to see debate over the Zion Curtain rule, but the law is not likely to change because the Utah Senate, which last year shot down a measure that would have taken down the drapes, is comprised of nearly the same lawmakers. There will probably be some talk about whether our state-run stores should be privatized and whether more state stores should be approved. And in the end there are likely to be few if any changes.
My guess is that the church statement publicized last week is going to be the law of our land, and that the blurry lines of religious and state separation will not become any more clear in Utah any time soon.