The Ironic Arkie: Demandin’ Personal Choice

9 Apr

 

Go ahead…and tread on me?

Ain’t it funny how the good folks here in Arkansas think the notion of government-promoted healthcare access as a fundamental right for all of our citizens is somehow an unconstitutional overreach by this president’s administration in dealing with state guidelines, yet have never (until recently) raised much stink about their completely acquiescence to state and local kingmakers in deeming them as lacking the personal responsibility and moral fiber required to let otherwise hard workin’ and tax payin’ Arkansans make the personal choices of whether or not they want to throw down some cash on a card game, purchase Arkansas’s Diamond Bear products freely, play up their southern bonafides by making their own mash at home, or simply drink on the state’s unofficial official deity’s Sunday holidays.

Of course, the sort of “Blue Laws” like we have in Arkansas are ones which restrict certain activities or sales of goods on Sunday, to accommodate the Christian Sabbath, in this case being the sale of liquor. The first Blue Law in the American colonies was enacted in Virginia in the early 1600s, which included required church attendance. Other early Blue Laws prohibited work, travel, recreation, and activities such as cooking, shaving, cutting hair, wearing either lace or precious metals, sweeping, making beds, kissing, and engaging in sexual intercourse.

Blue Laws have operated to protect Christian business owners from competition on their day of sabbath. However, they never sought to protect from competition those Jews and Muslims whose traditions call for Saturday worship, and thus have clearly established a double-standard to promote Christianity, which seems to me, even as a follower of Jesus in my own right, to run far more afoul of the U.S. Constitution than the legislation affectionately known as “Obamacare” could ever been seen as doing.

Although Blue Laws requiring Sunday church attendance disappeared in the 19th century because they so blatantly violated citizen’ rights to 1st Amendment religious freedoms, other such Sunday restrictions have continued to exist into the modern era, including in Texas, where such laws prohibited selling common housewares and washing machines on Sunday until 1985, and car dealerships in the state continue to operate under similar outdated prohibitions. Similarly, courts in New York and Connecticut have ruled that, because blue laws were created and propagated by religious groups for religious purposes, they are unconstitutional:

Buy Alcohol on Sunday? Connecticut Now Allows It

Gary Donaldson, left, Ben Schiano and Brooks Titcomb celebrating the Sunday sale of beer, wine and liquor in Connecticut.
By ELIZABETH MAKER
Published: May 20, 2012 in The New York Times

Nevertheless, we’re all too aware that Blue Laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays continue to exist and be enforced, especially among our fellow freedom lovin’ Southern brethren residing here in Arkansas and elsewhere in Ye Ol’ Confederacy.

The fact that ours remains one of only a handful of remaining states which still prohibit selling alcohol on Sunday — even as it is now the second busiest shopping day of the week — seem to make no sense in terms of economic losses for small business, statewide revenues from sales taxes, and most importantly, the fact that our state chooses to severely limit the personal freedoms of our adult population while their peers from freedom-hatin’ Lib’rul ‘Merica do not encounter the same government “overreach” that we do here in The Natural State. Indeed, as most Christians see little conflict in going to church in the morning, then watching a football game — maybe with the family, or maybe at a sports bar — in the afternoon, what is the remaining valid rationale for this Puritan ritual anyway?

Once again, we have here a severe case of The Ironic Arkie. (Look for more of these rants in the coming weeks.)

Check out some more local flavor on these broader issues from an earlier story by Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times:

City Wire has a good report on a federal lawsuit arising from the newly opened liquor market in Benton County. A prospective retailer has challenged the Arkansas law that prevents franchising of retail liquor stores and multiple ownerships as a burden on interstate commerce.

Macadoodles liquor chain sought to expand its presence in Arkansas in lawsuit, prior to more liquor law loosening seen in other locations after last election.

The plaintiff wants to run a Macadoodles, the retail chain that had to win a legal fight to open its store in Washington County and which has long enticed huge Arkansas business just across the Arkansas line in Missouri.

The link gives you lots more of the legal ins and outs.

Key points include that 1) there’s a grandfather clause in Arkansas law for related ownerships and 2) it’s well-known that there are families with related stores that already operate in Arkansas and, it is suspected, take advantage of combined buying power not readily available to single-permit owners.

Lurking in the background, too, is behemoth Walmart, whose heirs paid for the campaign to open Benton County to retail liquor stores and which is currently restricted to a single liquor outlet, on a nominally separate premises in Fayetteville. It took a long legal battle for Walmart to get that single outlet; it thirsts to sell more booze here. The situation exists because of Arkansas’s protectionist liquor laws. They are aimed, first, at protecting profit margins of wholesalers.

The interstate commerce clause is a mighty tool against state discrimination in commerce. Hard to see the compelling state interest in protecting wholesalers’ profit at the expense of higher retail prices for consumers. But lawyers are ready to explain.

And also don’t miss this 2012 piece from David Kinkade of The Arkansas Project.

A dedicated Arkansas Project reader sends along a link to this nifty map (pasted below) from those limey toffs at the BBC offering “a snapshot of wet and dry America.” They slipped out of their powdered wigs and put on their thinking caps to generate this graphic detailing the lingering effects of alcohol prohibition here in the U.S.

With 43 dry counties in red, Arkansas looks to be a national leader (?) on this front. I don’t think I realized how much of the nation lives in open territory when it comes to alcohol sales. I mean, geez, look at that vast swatch of liberatory bluish gray once you move west out of Oklahoma and Texas, and head north from Kansas. I also like that there’s “no data” on Georgia, so it’s grayed out like a medieval dragon preserve. That actually sounds about right.

This is really just an excuse to link to this masterly 2009 piece from the estimable Michael Tilley of the City Wire in Fort Smith, wherein he explored the “convoluted concoction of rules” that govern liquor sales in the Natural State—and lived to tell the shocking tale! A taste:

We have rules as to when and how alcohol can be sold from either a convenience store, grocery story or a bonafide liquor store; rules differentiating between sales of wine fermented in Arkansas and wine fermented outside the state. There are rules that say your local Chili’s or Applebee’s is simply a restaurant that can serve beer if built in a wet county, but is a special private club with a (wink, wink) membership policy to go along with food sales if it operates in a dry county.

There are rules on specific times hooch can be sold on the weekends because we’re all mindful of and in agreement with the seminal Harvard study proving that a beer sold at 9:59 a.m. on a Sunday morning leads to immediate and terrific societal destruction, whereas the same beer sold 61 seconds later is nothing more than a standard commercial exchange between consenting adults that results in a positive economic impact for the local economy and tax proceeds for state and local governments.

Not familiar with the Harvard study? Of course you’re not, because no such study exists. Which is something to keep in mind when considering dang near all Arkansas liquor laws and wondering if there is some pragmatic reason for their formulation — No Such Study Exists.

Do go revisit the whole thing and weep for the dearth of good sense that requires you to rush out and buy your Sunday beer supply at 11 p.m. Saturday.

MAP: U.S. Alcohol Sale Restrictions (BBC, 2012)

[Editor’s Note: Wait a minute…The Arkansas Project, you say? You just quoted and wholeheartedly agreed with them?!?

Yup. I’ve come to respect the heck out of Nic Horton and how he goes about his conducting his business, building his brand, and is willing to do the dirty work of research before public diatribes via keyboard, even when I might be well on the other side of the partisan fence on any given issue…this state needs more honest & open government crusaders, believe me.]

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