Mero Moment: Such Inhospitality

This week I want to talk about Utah’s inhospitable hospitality industry. The Utah Hospitality Association has filed a lawsuit against the state of Utah for its alcohol and beverage control law and for a recent alcohol-related law passed by the 2011 state Legislature. This new legislation eliminates discount pricing in the sales of liquor and ties new liquor licenses to the number of public safety workers, not just population.

The complaints against Utah’s liquor statute are long and distinguished and, frankly, boring. The dispute is clear to anyone who has lived in Utah for even a short period of time: People who drink, and businesses that want to sell liquor to people who drink, seek unlimited and unrestricted markets in which to consume and sell booze – like rebellious teenagers, they rant that they’re adults and no one can tell them what to do. On the other side of the equation is Utah’s large Mormon population who, by and large, don’t drink liquor and who see the familial and personal damage caused by liquor as a social and cultural train wreck.

Utah’s Hospitality Association has amended their lawsuit to now include a provision asking the court to bar The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from speaking publicly against the sale and consumption of liquor. In other words, the liquor industry wants to silence the LDS Church in Utah. It wants to limit the church’s First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

The UHA, in its own words, “was established in 1993 to promote tourism within the state of Utah, effect changes in Utah\\\’s liquor laws, and to help curb excessive drinking, including drinking under the influence.” Stop for a second to consider that mission statement. The UHA exists to promote tourism by liberalizing liquor laws while attempting to control excessive liquor consumption. How is accomplishing that mission even possible? I understand how they might think that liberal liquor laws will make tourists think Utah is a little less weird than they already think. But how in the world does promoting liquor sales and consumption “help to curb excessive drinking, including drinking under the influence”? It doesn’t. And this is one of the huge problems in Utah’s liquor debate.

I think my side’s pretty clear about where we stand: While we understand the quest for Utahns to self-medicate from life’s problems and stresses, we at least acknowledge that’s what’s really going on in our liquor culture. We’re not deluded into thinking that liquor consumption is some patriotic duty and bellwether for the Utah economy.

As liquor relaxes us from our stresses, it also impairs our judgments. And, yes, I’m well aware of all of the food and drink consumption comparisons for us teetotalers. But I’ll say it again: I’ve never heard of a man who eats a doughnut or drinks a Mountain Dew who turns around and beats his wife and kids or who then hops in his F-350 and drives into a tree.

That debate will continue. What shouldn’t continue is this ridiculous lawsuit against the state and the LDS Church. The new wrinkle of bigotry in this UHA lawsuit is hard to imagine in this day and age. The same people who want their rights to sell and consume liquor also want to deny other people the right to speak against the sale and consumption of liquor. Imagine what the liquor crowd would say if they were told they couldn’t hire lobbyists to influence the state Legislature.

Think what you want about Utah’s liquor laws – which, by the way, are modest compared to the prohibitions that exists in other parts of our country – but this recent action by Utah’s hospitality industry is not only inhospitable, it’s un-American. Not only does it thumb its nose at the health and welfare of Utah families, it reveals that the industry doesn’t really care about actual civil rights.

This lawsuit only reinforces the perception that many Utahns have of the liquor crowd: It’s immature, irresponsible, and utterly and completely selfish.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero