Utah may end ‘membership’ requirement to get a drink

I’ll never forget the first time I went to Utah as an adult. This was before I was a Church member, and when I used to occasionally go to bars. So, I went to a bar in Trolley Square. I had to pay a $1 “membership fee” and fill out a card with my name and address before I could order a drink. Quaint.

Apparently, Utah may be ending this practice soon. Take a look at this Wall Street Journal article here.

Now that I am a Church member, I am of two minds about this law.

The first is that, of course, such a law is out-dated, doesn’t prevent drinking, is judgmental, a Prohibition-era stipulation that embarrasses the entire state. This is probably what about 90 percent of the people who hang around and comment in the Bloggernacle are likely to think. And it’s difficult to disagree with them.

But another part of me likes the idea that Utah is different than the rest of the country. I like hearing comments from people like, “can you believe I went to Utah and had to pay a membership fee to get a drink?” It sets us apart and reminds people that we are a bit different, that we take our religion seriously. You can still get a drink, but it’s a bit tougher than elsewhere. I have to admit I kind of like that.

It will be interesting to see what happens to this law as it wends its way through the legislative process. Will the Church make a public pronouncement on it? I’ll guess we’ll find out. Meanwhile, I’m going to go get a drink…of water.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

32 thoughts on “Utah may end ‘membership’ requirement to get a drink

  1. It’s not just Mormons. There are a lot of dry counties out there, mostly in the old South (where the Mormon influence doesn’t account for much), and their restrictions are in many cases more baffling than Utah’s. See this site, for some examples.

    So, someone may go to Utah and come out saying something like: Man, you Mormons are as weird as backwoods Southern Baptists.

    I haven’t heard any talk about the costs of increased drinking (or about whether relaxing the laws would in fact increase the amount of drinking).

    If drinking increases, the social costs of drinking will surely go up. In one measure of those costs: the latest statistics for deaths from accidents where drunk driving was involved (see this site) show that that percentage of Utah traffic accident fatalities is 1/2 that of the next lowest state (Iowa) and 1/3 the national average.

    I would hate to be the governor (or a state legislator) and have to explain to the families of the people who died. I know there’s no way to prove causation (If thou hadst not passed that law, my brother had not died), but tell that to the tabloids.

  2. I live in a dry town in Maryland. We have a couple grocery stores and a few restaurants, but if you want a drink, you’ll need to drive a few miles out of town to one of the four liquor stores along the highway north, south, east, and west of here. Pennsylvania, not far to my north, has state liquor stores just like Utah. Laws about liquor sales and DUI blood levels are something that are argued over everywhere. This season our legislature was debating whether wine coolers and alcoholic lemonade are a special hazard to children that needs to be regulated like spirits instead of like beer. There was some issue that this would be an inconvenience for women, who are the principal consumers of this type of beverage.

  3. It’s long, long overdue.

    There is absolutely zero rational reason to allow folks to buy alcohol from state liquor stores or even 7-11 and then have arcane silly rules about going into a night club.

  4. So the real solution is to move to a system like the one in Ontario where outside of restaurants and bars, liquor can only be obtained through the state-owned “Beer Store” and “LCBO.” (“Liquor Control Board of Ontario.”) Also, everyone who serves, sells or handles alcohol, is in a management position over those who do, or works as door-staff or security MUST (as in there are inspections and fines involved) be certified under a specially designed program.

    Me, I like the “membership” idea — it used to be a good way to ensure that the drinking community was limited and monitored by the simple expedients of the staff knowing the patrons and only people with money to waste being able to access the alcohol. Unfortunately, I think with population size and mobility the way it is now, (and nominal at best “member fees”) it just doesn’t work any more.

  5. The making of the WofW into four don’ts and making those four don’ts a requirement is probably the dumbest thing about the LDS church we haven’t ditched yet. Utah’s booze laws are even dumber. Thanks HJG. Pres Monson, please save the church from this stupidity.

  6. Geoff: this post reminds me of what President Joseph F. Smith said:

    The liquor interests–the enemy of the race–are again making keen efforts to restore the former low-down conditions. In some places, we understand, enough petitioners have already been obtained and the names filed with the commissioners requesting an election this June. With all good people we join in hoping that these efforts may utterly fail to restore the saloon. This should be the desire of all Latter-day Saints, and their prayers should be supported by their works and votes. In these elections the wives, mothers and sisters have their golden opportunity with fathers and brothers to arise and utterly crush the cursed traffic in drink for which so many have suffered in sweat, and pain, and tears.–Improvement Era, Vol. 16, 1912-13, p. 824.

    Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1999, pp. 240-241.

  7. As usual, you have a thought-provoking post.

    I’ve been reading Br. Nibley’s Approaching Zion recently, and it’s made me begin thinking about what tendencies of ours contribute to establishing Zion and which are from our desire to be like the world and to be liked by the world. I’m sure an analysis along those lines can be done here.

  8. I would like to remind Steve EM once again that this particular site is for building up the Church and its leaders, not tearing it down. If you would like to comment here, I would ask you to abide by our comments policy. Thanks.

  9. Geoff, just one question in all seriousness:

    Why, as an active LDS, should I care?

    I’m serious- what social, economic, political reasons should cause me to give this law a second thought?

  10. I’m also of two minds about this. One is, the sound and fury (on both sides) in Utah is funny; as others pointed out, lots of places in the U.S. have strange, sometimes draconian liquor laws. (Since I don’t drink, of course, I don’t know them really well, but I seem them around.) In Virginia, it looked like you could get beer and wine at the grocery store, but any other alcohol only at special stores.

    Here in New York, if a restaurant doesn’t have its liquor license yet, they often have a bring-your-own policy. And my wife, who grew up in South Carolina, has told me about some of the strange laws down south. So, in spite of the WoW, weird laws governing alcohol aren’t a particularly Utah or a particularly Mormon thing.

    On the other hand, I’m really not sure what good such laws do, besides upping the cost and difficulty of getting alcohol. Which may be a good thing in itself.

    Ultimately, though, as neither a Utahn nor a drinker, I don’t especially care.

  11. And Tossman, it depends on whether you live in Utah or not. If you don’t, there’s no particular reason. If you do, on the other hand, I would be unsurprised (although I don’t know for sure) if draconian liquor laws affect tourism negatively. On the other hand, making it harder to drink makes it harder, theoretically, to drive drunk (at least if you’re in the middle of the state; if you’re within an easy drive of, for example, bars in Nevada, it may cause drunk drivers to drive further).

    Alcohol consumption probably contributes to the state tax base, and the costs of dealing with alcohol-related problems probably has external costs (police, ambulance, hospitals, etc.) that you pay (again, assuming you’re in Utah).

    And then, fair or not, there is some popular correspondence between Utah and Mormonism; whether Utah’s liquor laws reflect positively or negatively on the Church, I certainly do not know, but they probably reflect on the Church.

    Ultimately, I don’t know if the costs of the laws outweigh the benefits or vice versa, but whatever the alcohol laws are or are not, they probably translate into real costs and real benefits to you personally (provided you’re in Utah), and perception costs or benefits to you (as a Mormon).

  12. Sam B., I do live in Utah, but I came here from the south, where the laws are even stranger. I don’t particularly care if Utah’s laws impact tourism negatively. Nor do I lose sleep over the possibility that goofy liquor laws might hurt the Church’s image. If that’s what you’re basing your opinion of the church on, I’m not sure I value it at all.

  13. Tossman,
    You asked for economic reasons to care; I don’t know a whole lot about Utah’s economy, but I do know that they push tourism pretty hard. You may not lose sleep over tourism, but it does impact you personally. That is, tourists increase both the economic prosperity of businesses that sell to them, and the businesses that service people in that business, etc. In addition, they increase Utah’s tax base, meaning that either they subsidize lower taxes for you or make more services available in Utah. (I may get irritated in the summer as I walk through throngs of Times Square tourists after work to get to the subway to get home, but they help the New York economy which, in turn, helps me.)

    In other words, you may not care about your state’s liquor laws, but they do affect you economically, although for better or worse, I don’t know (although if you were so trained and so desired, you could undoubtedly to a statistical/economic analysis and come to a reasonable conclusion).

    That doesn’t mean you have to care–there’s a lot of stuff that impacts me economically that I don’t really care about–just to say that the laws do impact you, even as an active, practicing LDS.

  14. So the upside to the law is we can be different and remind people that we’re religious Geoff? Why not pass a law that requires Utah residents to stand on their heads while they wait for the light to change at a crosswalk? And is there any single person in the United States that doesn’t think “Mormon” the minute they hear the word Utah? I prefer laws that actually accomplish something, and I’m not convinced this one does. Make the state dry (good luck), or get rid of these useless requirements.

  15. Jjohnsen, as I said in the original post, it’s tough to defend such laws on a practical basis. Some others here have brought up some interesting points on preventing drunk driving and the social costs involved. Perhaps the solution is to make the state dry? Not gonna happen.

  16. If folks want to stop drinking then make the state dry. It’s the double standards that really bug me. I mean you can get rip roaring drunk from a 7-11 but put the exact same stuff in a club playing music and you have all these arcane restrictions? Further the restrictions don’t stop anyone from drinking. They just put a burden on going into the club. It’s kind of insane.

    While I oppose the smoking bans (simply because I think people should be free to associate doing legal acts even if it’s incredibly stupid what they are doing) I can stomach those a bit more than these drinking restrictions.

  17. As libertarian as I lean, I must admit I find it satisfyingly hilarious when I see some idiot freezing outside in the winter because they just gotta have that cigarette. Having to fill out dumb membership cards almost equally amuses me.

  18. Tossman, you asked what reason you’d have to care. What about this?

    the latest statistics for deaths from accidents where drunk driving was involved (see this site) show that that percentage of Utah traffic accident fatalities is 1/2 that of the next lowest state (Iowa) and 1/3 the national average.

    I’ve heard alcohol referred to as a “human right.” What about my aunt’s rights? She was killed by a drunk driver. The politicians who succeed in loosening Utah’s liquor laws will preside over a wave of death. I know I said earlier that the membership thing doesn’t necessarily work anymore, but don’t see how anyone can countenance a change, given the guaranteed outcome.

  19. Hey, how am I tearing down the church pointing out a barrier to entry that originated w/ HJG, not a current leadder, when supposedly such barriers, like circumcision, were done away with in the ancient church? We have a long tradition of modern leaders dropping the erroneous teachings of a past leader. What’s wrong w/ me hoping for reform sooner rather than later? How am I tearing down the church by criticizing a Utah law (the law of a secular state) as dumb?

  20. We believe that the Word of Wisdom, as practiced and as we are instructed to practice it, is the commandment, law, and will of the Lord.

    When the Lord revealed the practice of the Word of Wisdom (first to the Prophet Joseph Smith then in greater force under President Brigham Young) to His servants, we are obligated to sustain, uphold, and obey these commandments. Although from the mouth of His prophets, they are as if from His own mouth. D&C 1:38:

    What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

    Furthermore, doing away with the Word of Wisdom simply because it is a barrier to entry is no good reason whatsoever to do it. We cannot set aside the commandments of God in order to please the world or make obedience easy. If His children will obey Him, they will join His Church and obey His commandments. If they will not obey Him, they will not join His Church and they will not obey His commandments. The Lord has spoken: the onus is on us whether we will listen and obey or not. It is not up to the Church to make it easy or attractive to be a member. As Saints of the Lord, we must do what He says, no matter how inconvenient it may be.

    Finally, the tone of your comments, and forgive me if I am wrong in perceiving this, is that President Heber J. Grant was in error, and every president thereafter has been in error, with regard to the Word of Wisdom. This is the opposite of sustaining and upholding the Brethren. It is evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed. It is attempting to steady the Ark, which we are commanded not to do.

    From what Wilford Woodruff said after issuing the 1890 Manifesto, found after Official Declaration 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants:

    The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.

    And so we listen and obey, or ought to, what the prophets are saying and have commanded.

  21. Does Utah have a “no open container” law? New York does, which is why the guys with open beer cans keep them in a paper bag–to fool the cops who spend so much of their time chasing down drinkers.

    The point, however, is this: go to a bar or a restaurant with a liquor license, and buy a drink. But you gotta drink it there–no drinking in the streets, on the subways, etc. (By the way, London just banned drinking in the Tube–look it up yourselves, I’m too lazy.) Or go to the 7-11/grocery/liquor store, buy a six-pack or a bottle of booze, and theoretically you have to take it somewhere and drink there–not while hanging out in the streets.

    Does it work–seems unlikely–although people who tend to be law-abiding also tend to obey laws even if they cannot come up with a logical explanation for them.

    If Utah’s concerned with the tourist business, why not “card” everyone entering the bar, and require memberships only of people with Utah drivers licenses. An out-of-state license gets you in for free.

    (I can hear the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth already.)

  22. My family moved to Utah in 1970 (I was 10), and my earliest memory of the bizarre liquor laws was when we went to Beefeater for dinner. When Dad ordered his cocktail, the waitress made him get up and follow her to the bar to get the mini-bottle and walk it back to our table. He felt like an idiot (I think that was the intended effect).

    I wonder, is it still impossible to buy beer in Provo on Sunday?

    I agree with you that part of me likes the idea of Utah’s tough laws. It provided me with great memories of rum-running to Evanston.

  23. David, it is still impossible to buy beer on Sunday in Provo but you can drive a few miles down to Springville.

    Mark Utah (and I believe most states) have no open container laws with a relatively big fine.

    Muslihoon, I don’t see the connection. No one is saying Mormons should drink. The issue is non-Mormons. The prophets also command we pay tithing. Are you saying the Utah legislature should try and require all non-Mormons also pay tithing?

  24. Mr. Goble: Sorry for not clarifying the intent of my comment. It was a response to Steve EM’s comments criticizing the Word of Wisdom, as we practice it, as Church policy for Church members. I did not have non-members in mind at all.

  25. Mushlihoon,

    So if IMHO, HJG’s four don’ts as a requirement (I won’t say the WofW, because we never made it in its entirety a requirement.)is a mistake à la the priesthood ban, to be reformed by a future leader, and I hope for that reform sooner rather than later, then I’m speaking evil of our leaders? Hooey! Besides, the WofW allows beer, yet that somehow got included in the don’ts. Maybe I’d feel differently if HJG put his own section in the D&C and called it something else besides JS’s WofW, but that’s not what happened. All I know is in the TR interview when asked about the WofW, we’re not being asked about sect. 89 but HJG’s 4 don’ts, and I wonder why so much emphasis on something we haven’t bothered to canonize?

    There’s all kinds of things in the church long over due for reform, like the silly prohibition in many units of women saying opening prayer in Sac. meeting. Members aren’t allowed to speak there mind on such things w/o being shut down w/ a “speaking evil……..” charge?

    For the record, I pray everyday for the health of Pres Monson, even though I was dissapointed he picked another white apostle. So I don’t appreciate your speaking evil charge, when I’m just speaking my G-d-given mind.

  26. Brother, beware the sin of trying to steady the ark. You’re veering too close to it. More than this I shall not say, for I do not wish to bring in the spirit of contention.

  27. The great majority of drinkers are responsible citizens. An increasing minority of miscreants mix their alcohol with driving. The solution is much harsher punishments for these scoundrels, some of whom get out of jail and return to their old habits, killing and maiming multiple times.

    Somehow in this country we have completely irrational law enforcement priorities, jailing poor and minority marijuana users for many years for a single offense, destroying their lives, while at the same time, being relatively lenient with drunk drivers who go on to destroy other lives.

  28. Ray,

    300 years it took Enoch to bring Zion.

    I kinda say this to myself like a mantra.


  29. The social and economic costs of drinking far outweight the state’s income that comes from taxing alcohol.

    That “small minority” of problem drinkers (and I would argue that it’s not all that small, probably closer to 50%), don’t just cause damage from drunk driving, but all sorts of crime, injuries, broken families (which in turn incur more welfare costs), unemployment, absenteeism, lower productivity, loss of (or lower rate of) savings which causes the state to spend more in the support of an elderly person who drank it all away, diabetes, liver disease, other illnesses, etc.

    Oh, and fetal alcohol syndrome, too. Each FAS baby usually costs society well over 1/2 million dollars during its lifetime.

    All those things far outweigh a state’s tax revenue from taxing alcoholic beverages.

    Don’t let the allegedly normal “social drinkers” fool you. All it takes is one problem drinker to totally wipe out the economic benefits of hundreds of “social drinkers.”

    I’m all for Utah making it hard to drink and hard to start drinking. Many people will drink regardless of the hoops they have to jump through. But I would bet that the hoops prevent a large number from starting to drink.

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