‘Zion Curtain’ is a matter of culture

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations:

If you were to take a tour of my home, you would immediately notice the symbols of my family’s culture. Our living room is simple and uncluttered. On its walls hang artistic representations of our Mormon heritage and our six children. More family pictures line our hallways. In fact, our entire home is filled with the symbols of faith and family.

Of all of the things we could have chosen to decorate our home environment, we chose the symbols of faith and family. We could have chosen the symbols of other cultures. We could have chosen to decorate our home with pictures of Victoria’s Secret models or with beautiful people we don’t even know. Instead, when you walk into our home you know immediately that faith and family are at the center of our culture.

We believe that culture influences our lives. The symbols of life with which we surround ourselves are stark reminders of what’s important to us. I love my wife and I don’t need a picture of my wife to inform that love. But that picture reminds me of that love. More to the point, I don’t have pictures of strangers adorning my home precisely because they remind me of nothing. Culture matters.

The 2013 session of the Utah Legislature was quiet for the most part but the issue of Utah’s liquor laws threatened to disrupt the calm.

The House of Representatives passed a bill that would repeal the requirement for alcoholic drinks to be mixed separate and apart from dining customers in restaurants. These separated areas are often referred to derogatorily as “Zion Walls,” or the “Zion Curtain,” in describing how teetotalling Mormon culture governs our state liquor policies.

There are no scientific studies showing evidence that a Zion Curtain lessens liquor consumption – and no studies appear to be forthcoming for such a unique and isolated policy. Opponents of the Zion Curtain law argue that this lack of evidence should be reason enough for anyone to support the law’s repeal. These opponents also cite that such unreasonable liquor laws make Utah appear foolish to outsiders and, ultimately, inhibit economic development.

Those of us who support the Zion Curtain law argue that it disrupts a culture of drinking. To paraphrase, it’s the culture, stupid. A bar has a culture of drinking if it has culture at all. Children aren’t allowed in bars, and [recovering] alcoholics know to steer clear of bars. Utah’s Zion Curtain law applies to restaurants, not bars. Children attend restaurants, as do people struggling with alcohol addiction. By separating where alcoholic drinks are mixed from the diners, a culture of drinking is not confused with a culture of dining.

Research on the influence of culture in our lives is ubiquitous, and a culture of drinking is not excluded from this research. For instance, it’s quite clear that children who grow up within a culture of drinking in their homes will most likely become drinkers and are most often the children with drinking problems. In these cases, it’s as if those children lived in a bar exposed to free-flowing liquor. While that type of culture is a parental choice, society is perfectly within its bounds to rule it a poor choice and influence children from those homes to make different choices outside of their homes. Could it be, for those children, that a restaurant with a Zion Curtain might be the first time in a child’s life wherein a culture of drinking is downplayed? Could it be, for people struggling with alcohol addiction, that a restaurant with a Zion Curtain might be a public respite for lives otherwise inundated with a culture of drinking?

Critics of Utah’s Zion Curtain law can claim a lack of direct evidence in its support. What these critics can’t claim is that culture doesn’t matter.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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  • Cache Kid

    But what we critics CAN claim is a willingness, even a zeal, to force mandates on business owners and citizens based solely on the tenets of a religion.

    If a business wants to cater to a certain culture, they should be free to do so.

    If they don’t want to cater to a certain culture, they should be free NOT to.

    The HYPOCRISY shown by Sutherland and other fake conservatives on these issues is astounding.

    • Shoal Creek

      I agree with Cache Kid. I am a homeschooling LDS parent. People accuse me of sheltering my kids because I homeschool, yet my children recognize that people everywhere are different and have different beliefs. They understand that some like to drink beverages that can cause impairment. We have eaten in restaurants in other states where they have noticed that people often drink beer or wine with their meal. This led to discussions not only on drinking that were very productive. Furthermore, our children picked up that you don’t see drinking in restaurants in Utah and asked why. This led to discussions on the Zion Curtain and the proper role of government. My children, from the very beginning of the discussion, thought that the Utah law was really dumb.

  • Maggie

    Oh Paul,here we go again. First ,let me say I am not LDS,but I love and respect this state and I love living among you. I would not think of trying to change you all. It was my choice to move here. I do indeed want to live here more than I do where I moved from.
    I am not a drinker and my children were exposed to moderate to low drinking with friends and family. Our family priest enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner when he joined us.
    My children are adults ,and like my husband and myself,other than for special occasions and a glass of wine,we still do not drink as part of our daily lives.
    Utahs laws are not a problem for us,especially for me for I drink water when I dine at home or when we go out,my husband will on occasion have a beer or a glass of wine. However,we had friends visit from the east and went to a local restaurant that was crowded and we had to wait for a table.Two seats came open at the bar and like gentleman, our husbands offered the seats to we ladies and they stood behind us.We orderded three glasses of wine. The bartender said he could only serve wine to the two of us sitting , if we were going to have dinner and only one drink before dinner. The entire side of our bar got hysterical with laughter and because most folks were from out of the area and did indeed have a ball making fun of Utah. We just gave up and ordered water .No harm done to us but you are right. People do laugh.
    Sutherland is I believe not a supporter of a Nanny state ,however you are being Nanny on this one.
    Children ,I believe,need to be taught the values you and I have taught, but is it not better to have some exposure in order to discuss it with them at some time when they are living in you home? I believe that it does take more than hiding drinks when you mix them to help children understand the values involved with the teachings of your Church and my values. Children who come from homes without these values,the Zion curtain will not work as a substitute,especially if their parents are probably drinking at the table.

  • Hipmamag

    I am a single mom, raising a son, who is now 18. I am also a drinker, moderate by my calculations, a lush by my Mormon family. My son lives at home, working to save money for school and a car, a good responsible kid. He has been to some college parties where there is a lot of alcohol being consumed by underage kids. My son, has decided not to drink and instead make sure his buddies don’t drive. When I asked him if he was interested in drinking he told me he’d like to try it. I then asked, “what keeps you from trying it?” His reply? “Because I know you don’t want me to.” Trust parents to instill the values you hold so tightly. Kids care about what their parents think and will do the right thing.

  • Paul Mero

    A Nanny State cannot correctly be defined as any law that looks to mitigate individual choices with public consequences. A question every opponent of the “Zion Curtain” should ask is “what restrictions on liquor sales and consumption are appropriate?” If you have any, ask why? What I argue is that laws to mitigate liquor sales and consumption serve the common good and subordinate one’s personal liberty. I feel the same way about illicit narcotics. So ask yourself the basic question, “Should liquor be regulated?” And, if so, why or on what grounds? Then come back and chat with me.

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