Mendenhall: LDS Church Influences State Liquor Laws Once Again


Justin Prather

The Utah State liquor store on July 11, 2018. (Photo by Justin Prather | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Addison Mendenhall


Several changes were made to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control during Utah’s last legislative session. The most recent change in liquor laws occurred on June 1 of this year. These included a name change of the DABC (now Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services) as well as laws pertaining to alcohol to go and how to identify certain drinks. And now grocery stores cannot sell many hard seltzer brands, as most hard seltzers’ ABV lay right around the 5% mark – Utah’s maximum limit.

Since Utah is a predominantly Mormon state, our laws regarding alcohol tend to be stricter than those of surrounding states, a failure to separate church and state in deciding liquor laws.

Utah is an alcoholic beverage control state, meaning the state has  complete authority over selling beverages like wine, beer and cocktails. And while we don’t see tons of direct lobbying from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 86% of Utah lawmakers are Mormon.

Former Sen. Jim Dabakis once reported to the Salt Lake Tribune that a House leader refused to vote against the church which was in favor of a bill that, if passed, would lower the legal blood alcohol level, even though the House leader was “not thrilled about it.” Failing to vote separately from one’s religious beliefs clearly violates separation of church and state, where the government is required to stay neutral no matter its religious affiliation. As a resident of Utah, I see the influence that the LDS church has on communities throughout the state. And their influence on changes to our liquor laws is no different.

I reached out to liquor lawyer Tanner S. Lenart to help provide additional clarity surrounding Utah’s constantly changing liquor laws. According to her profile on Christensen & Jensen Attorneys, she “focuses her practice on regulatory matters before state and local governments, including the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and city councils.”

When I asked Lenart about her feelings towards this issue, she shared a few thoughts with me. She first explained that “It would be disingenuous to think that the dominant religion in the state, which does not approve of alcohol consumption, doesn’t affect the liquor laws.” She followed up with, “I do get very frustrated when I feel like they vote as a block. You know, as opposed to thinking about it.” With Lenart raising a valid point, I have felt that residing in a state with such a dominant religion has made it nearly impossible to elect lawmakers who have views separate from the LDS church.

I also asked Lenart how Utah’s implementation of nine new bar licenses will better serve our local businesses. She said, “There wasn’t an industry push to have more licenses available. But technically, all that happened was they said, okay, we’re gonna give out more resort licenses. And you guys, you guys who are all resorts, when you switch over to getting this new resort license … all of their bar licenses are coming back into the pool. Really kind of a sneaky way.” 

Essentially, the legislature’s changes don’t make much of a positive impact on businesses seeking bar licenses. To properly educate ourselves on all policies and regulations surrounding alcohol, our government should do a better job of advocating for the public and listening to our needs. We can’t understand or follow such regulations if our laws are confusing and hard to understand.

Our lawmakers’ religious stances influence decisions that must remain secular. These lawmakers are people that we look to in providing comprehension and rules surrounding laws. We cannot fully respect their authority if they allow religious views to cloud their judgment. If we don’t call out our authority figures now, they will continue to toe the line in the future and push the boundaries of a non-secular state government.


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