Liquor suit seeks to muzzle LDS Church

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 2 2011 7:50 a.m. MDT

Valentine, however, doesn't think the church should have to stay silent on the topic of alcohol. "I think that it's very misplaced to think you can prohibit a person from redressing their government," Valentine said. "During the last number of legislative sessions The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been very active in the liquor debates, but they are not the only party who is at the table. They had a say just like anybody else did."

Joni Jones, Assistant Utah Attorney General said when the UHA first brought the lawsuit it didn't include any issues of the LDS Church consulting with the legislature. The claims focused on how the SB314 prohibitions violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. "We felt confident that those claims didn't have a basis in law," she said. "I think it is safe to say that we will evaluate the new claims and if they also don't have a legal basis we would file a motion to dismiss, but we haven't had an opportunity to review the allegations and review the law yet."

Michael W. McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board didn't have specific knowledge of the UHA complaint, but strongly emphasized that, like other nonprofit organizations, churches are permitted to reasonably lobby legislators.

"This is not a contested question," McConnell said. "There are limits in the tax code, applicable to all nonprofit organizations, limiting the amount of lobbying they can do and forbidding grass-roots lobbying and electioneering. There are some differences in detail about how these tax rules apply to churches, but they do not affect the big picture."

Gedicks at BYU said churches have a right to lobby the legislature just like anybody else. "Problems only arise if there is no conceivable secular purpose for the legislation that results," he said. "And there are plenty of secular reasons to discourage the consumption of alcohol. That's just obvious. The fact the church lobbies for restrictive alcohol laws doesn't render those laws religious or some violation of the establishment clause or a union of church and state. My guess is Mothers Against Drunk Driving is not on the side of Utah Hospitality Association either."

University of Utah law professor Wayne McCormack's analysis supports Gedicks.

"I don't see how anyone could try to muzzle a church," McCormack said. "It would not be permissible to turn over mechanisms of state government to a church but surely nobody could prevent them from engaging in the political process."

According to Jones, the state's response to the complaint is due in about two months.

Meanwhile, the front page of the UHA website makes a plea for support: "This is not a case about drinking. It is about taking our government back. So make it happen."

Wynn with UHA, however, was somewhat philosophical, if not ironic, about the case.

"We know the church will never butt out," Wynn said, "but if they are going to be involved in it, at least talk to us and get our side of the liquor issue in this state. They are only getting one side. Nobody will talk to us."

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