Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lawsuit Seeks To Ban LDS Church From Giving Its Input On Utah Alcohol Laws

A lawsuit has been filed in Utah to prevent The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints from giving its input on new or proposed alchol laws:
A trade group for bars and restaurants is asking a federal judge to block Utah legislators from considering input from the Mormon church when drafting future liquor laws.

The Utah Hospitality Association contends that considering the views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unconstitutional under federal laws separating church and state.

The claim is part of an amended lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

"We know the LDS church wields a lot of influence with the Legislature, especially as to liquor policies in this state," association board spokesman Kenneth Wynn said on Tuesday. "I think we've felt this for a long time. The church ought to butt out of state business ... we're just bringing it to the forefront."

Hospitality association attorneys originally filed the lawsuit in June. It targets Senate Bill 314, which bans daily drink specials and ties the number of liquor licenses to population totals and the number of state-employed police officers.

Association attorneys say eliminating discount pricing for alcohol amounts to price-fixing that harms both consumers and businesses. They contend such limits on competition in liquor sales and distribution places an unfair restraint on trade that violates federal antitrust laws.

Passed by lawmakers earlier this year, most of the new laws became effective in July. The portion of the so-called "quota system" tied to the number of law enforcement officers takes effect July 1, 2012.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the state of Utah, the governor and the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission.

The Mormon church is not a defendant, but the lawsuit cites examples of the Utah-based church's influence with lawmakers, including remarks from Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who sponsored SB314, about the church's support for the bill.

The lawsuit also contends that a pair of church lobbyists had "warned" lawmakers that "there would be repercussions" if they disagreed with the church's position on the legislation. Court papers don't specify what those repercussions would be.
This is an interesting lawsuit and I'm interested in the outcome of this case. The LDS Church is free to give its opinion on laws and to lobby in support or opposition of a law just as much as any other organization is free to do. However, they are alleging that the LDS Church has a greater influence on laws crafted in Utah than most regular lobbying groups do. It will be interesting to see how the Plaintiffs prove that given that most of the members of Utah Legislature is LDS.

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