LDS Church says Utah alcohol laws benefit all residents

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22 2014 5:10 a.m. MST

"Some have supposed that the church takes a position on alcohol regulation in Utah because it wants to impose its beliefs or practices on other people," Elder Christofferson said, "but there's really no point in that. That wouldn't benefit us in any way."

The church's political neutrality policy states the church is "neutral in matters of party politics." However, it reiterated Tuesday that it reserves the right to speak out on broader moral and community issues separate from party politics.

"Our default position as regards legislative issues is to not take a position," Elder Christofferson said, "but when there are moral issues we feel are significant or matters that may affect our ability to function, we are as entitled as anyone to weigh in and to make our voice and position heard."

Last year, the church released a whiteboard video animation that illustrated the policy and the difference between remaining neutral in party politics and engaging in discussions on moral issues.

In the video, the narrator asks: "What about speaking out on community and moral issues if they're not about party politics? Of course that's OK. It's the long-held right of all religions to have a place in the public square. Like many of those faiths, the church may choose from time to time to join the discussion on moral issues that it believes could impact society."

Allowing churches and faith organizations to give voice to their views is important, said Matthew Franck, director of the Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution, at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.

"Churches are in the morality business," Franck said. "We tread on dangerous ground for religious freedom if we say to church leaders, 'Go away, you're trying to impose your religious beliefs,' when in fact they are making moral arguments.

"Whether they're right or they're wrong, the church has every right to be in the public square."

Franck said the church's effort to build a public policy case for its support of Utah's alcohol laws is wise.

"The church is perfectly free to make arguments about this in the public square as a moral and practical matter," he said. "And it's fine to rely on a frankly religious point of view or religious language. But some who aren't LDS won't listen to that, so it's smarter for the church to not make arguments based on the Doctrine and Covenants but on arguments about public health ramifications and public transportation ramifications."

Effective strategy

Both Elder Christofferson and the whiteboard video rejected the idea that Utah's laws are "weird" and should be "normalized." The whiteboard video specifically named nine states with tougher alcohol restrictions than Utah or alcohol laws unique to their state histories and cultures.

In 2010, the CDC published a guide called "Reducing the harms from drinking too much by limiting access to alcohol." The guide relied on the independent U.S. Task Force on Community Preventive Services, which found effective strategies like increasing alcohol excise taxes, limiting the days or hours alcohol can be sold and regulating alcohol outlet density reduced excessive drinking and cost related to it.

Elder Christofferson said the apparently strong outcomes from Utah's alcohol laws are worth any criticism.

"So what if we're fodder for a few jokes and ridicule on late-night TV?" he said. "To me that's a very small price to pay for one less family that lost their wife and mother in a drunk-driving accident, or one less teenager who's become addicted to alcohol and all the poor decisions and problems that flow from that."

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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