Mormonism to Influence State Liquor Laws? Utah Group Calls for Division of Faith and State

A group representing Utah bars and restaurants is asking lawmakers to ban Mormons from influencing state liquor laws.

The Utah Hospitality Association filed a lawsuit with the state last week, contending that to let religious morals influence law is to violate the separation of church and state.

“We all know the Church is a big, heavy influence in the state in everything and most particularly alcohol,” Kenneth Wynn, the association board spokesman, told ABC4. “We’re pretty convinced that the Church had a pretty heavy hand in this legislation.”

The formal complaint issued by the organization asks that policymakers don’t “[consider] the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in making alcohol policies during all future legislative sessions.”

Utah’s population is over half Mormon. The dissenting board cites the freedom of the remaining population and the approximately 20 million tourists that visit the state yearly in arguing against the influence.

Mormon lifestyle famously prohibits the consumption of drugs, including caffeine, and alcohol.

The issue is yet another case in the greater debate of what constitutes church involvement in state affairs.

Though Mormons are not cited as the defendants of the lawsuit, those in the retail industry have complained that the largely Mormon state government unfairly biases legislation.

The lawsuit also claimed that Mormon lobbyists threatened “repercussions” if the church was not granted its demands.

In June, the hospitality group filed a lawsuit against Senate Bill 314, which not only banned daily drink specials, but based liquor license approvals on local populations and the number of police.

Mormon real estate owners, however, do not usually restrict the acquisition of liquor licenses in the businesses to which they leased buildings.

Mormonism in Utah provides a unique case in the church vs. state debate. However, other states have long upheld laws restricting alcohol sales.

Blue laws affect nearly half the states in the U.S. by mandating the suspension of some commercial activities. Many prohibit the sale of alcohol in bars or in retail stores on Sunday, in open observance of religion. Some prohibit gambling and sales of other goods.

Lawsuits against such laws-including a Supreme Court case, McGowan vs. Maryland, in 1961 – have often failed to reverse action in favor of retailers.

Critics said because such restrictions are rooted in religion – indeed many were intended to promote attendance at Sunday church – that the laws are unconstitutional.

Lawmakers, including the Supreme Court, say that though laws may have started as a religious tool, many serve a different, better purpose today. Blue laws, for example, promote a non-secular day of rest.