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Group Questions Faith of LDS Restaurant Owners Who Sell Booze

by Eric S. Peterson
- Posted // 2013-04-17 - The conservative think tank the Sutherland Institute posted a blog in defense of the Legislature’s recent decision to not remove Utah’s “Zion Walls”—the partitions that shield restaurant-goers from having to view the pouring of alcohol. Provo restaurant owner and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Blake Ballard was quoted on a website criticizing the wall and now is shocked by Sutherland Institute Director Paul Mero’s post that seems to question the faith of LDS restaurant owners simply for allowing the sale of alcohol in their businesses.

In an April 16 post on the Sutherland Institute’s website, Sutherland director Paul Mero explains why measures like the “Zion Wall” are the kinds of liquor regulations that should be supported because they curb a “culture of drinking.”

But the post also offered a call to action for Mormons to push for ever-more aggressive liquor regulations to curb this drinking culture. And in one paragraph Mero seems to speak directly to LDS restaurant owners who serve alcohol in their restaurants-- like Ballard who was quoted in an interview posted to the libertarian-leaning Libertas Institute website only a week prior. Mero says (to an unnamed LDS restaurant owner): “We will question his choice, if he is a faithful Latter-day Saint who makes all of his own business decisions, to sell liquor at all.”

Ballard, who owns Spark restaurant in Provo, sees “the lack of professionalism” from that statement as undercutting the Institute’s attempts to approach the debate from a principled stance. He questions why the Mero presumes to speak like an LDS leader and not just the director of a think tank.

“[Mero] has a public-policy think tank presuming to say ‘We are going to question members of a certain faith [who] do certain things we think may not be in accordance with their own faith’-- Even though my faith doesn’t have a problem with it?” Ballard asks. “How are you going to ‘question me’ Paul? Are you going to run negative campaign ads against LDS business owners?”(Full Disclosure: the author graduated in the same high school class as Ballard.)

In response to Ballard’s criticism Mero stresses that he never named him or his restaurant in his blog. Mero also say that it was the Libertas Institute that played the religion card in the first place by interviewing Ballard as a way of critiquing the “Zion’s Wall.”

“They’re playing the LDS card to justify why it’s ok for a Latter-day Saint to oppose the Zion Curtain,” Mero says. “I think as long as they’re going to open that can of worms they ought to expect to get some pushback. These guys don’t just get a pass.”

Mero also says a public policy think tank can and should discuss religious values in political issues without being accused of trying to speak for a church. “If you want me to say it I will: The Sutherland Institute is not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are not an arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and outside of a table at an annual [Sutherland Institute] dinner we receive no money from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Mero says.

While Ballard is still shocked religion is a card Mero saw fit to play against restaurant owners, in general he feels Mero’s argument in the post doesn’t add up for lots of reasons unrelated to religion.

Mero’s post admits that “We realize there is no science behind how the Zion Curtain may reduce liquor consumption” but argues that it’s a necessary regulation, regardless, because it curbs the “culture of drinking” that he states does lead to more drinking--a point frustrating to business owners like Ballard.

“What’s strange to me is that [people] want to debate how bad alcohol is-- well that’s not what we’re talking about—we’re talking about the Zion’s Wall,” Ballard says. He points out that there are already regulations in place that don’t burden businesses the way constructing a “Zion’s Wall” does, that help prevent a culture of drinking. Current law, for example, says restaurant patrons have to eat food to be able to order alcohol and must stay seated while they drink, preventing the appearance of a bar where people just drink and can roam the establishment socializing with booze-in-hand.

“The thing that is crazy to me is that if you think alcoholism and underage drinking and alcohol-related fatalities and crimes are such problems then let’s attack those crimes,” Ballard says. “If you want to fine me more if I serve alcohol to someone underage—I’m fine with that because I trust my staff and my ability to train them well. That’s what’s so hard in talking to people about Zion’s Walls--most of them don’t get it.”

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // April 19,2013 at 13:15

I once asked my father, who lived through the prohibition era, if he felt prohibition was good or bad.  He thought for a moment and responded: "It was Satan's Plan. "  By that he meant that forcing people to be 'good' was one of the key elements in Satan's plan.  Since that conversation I've felt, over and over again, that prohibiting almost anything 'bad' is in  accordance with Satan's plan.  Be they Zion Walls, or many other attempts to prohibit access to alcohol, they're all misguided, and Satanic in origin.  This is even true if they're propagated by faithful L. D. S.  Satan is clever.   We should never underestimate him.

I detest what alcohol can do to my fellow man, but the last thing I would do is prohibit their free agency, in any way.  Likewise, I wouldn't make the Word of Wisdom into its' own religion.  Doing so dilutes the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as restored through the prophet Joseph Smith.

 

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // April 18,2013 at 13:20

My faith tells me it is wrong to drink alcohol.  My business sense tells me if I offer alcohol to customers at my restaurant I will make more money.  The benefit of not selling alcohol at my restaurant is that I do not contribute in any way, large or small, to the drinking culture, and I sleep with a clear conscience.  The benefit of selling alcohol at my restaurant is I might make more money.  I wonder what I should do?  I believe people most often make decisions based on what matters most to them.  I personally would not feel comfortable being the means by which someone was able to purchase and consume alcohol.  Regardless of religous concerns, it is not a good thing.  I guess for me it started when my dad, who was not lds and did not drive, wanted me to drive him to the Utah State Liquor Store for a pint of Jim Beam.  I was sixteen at the time.  Although I knew he would likely find someone else to take him, I have never regreted my act of disobedience in refusing to take him.  I told him very clearly that drinking was bad for him and he should not do it and I would not be part of helping him do it.  Being locked into a situation such as being a franchisee is one thing.  If you are your own man and making all the decisions, it is certainly another.  A final thought:  "Members of the Church should endeavor to be involved in activities and employment upon which the can in good conscience ask the blessings of the Lord and which are consistent with the principles of the gospel and teachings of the Savior. "  Handbook 2:  Administering the Church, 21. 1. 25

Final, final thought:  Dig ditches or run my own restaurant selling booze to the public?  Where's my shovel?

 

Posted // April 18,2013 at 13:53 - I wonder why the wise prophets would allow alcohol sales on their church owned property "City Creek Mall. " If the church leaders condone that activity what's the problem? This is chruch property by the way: Property Reserve, Inc. (the commercial real estate division of the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and Taubman Centers, Inc. Selling booze, coffee and tea, right on god's holy ground, serving god and mammon, both at the same time. Maybe the church leadership evaluate their decisions too.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // April 18,2013 at 08:14

Perhaps Mr. Mero should question LDS restaurant owners who sell coffee and tea as well or perhaps sell meals heavy laden with meat.   We know that moderate drinking has health benefits so mero can't claim that Ballard is selling poison.   We also know that alcohol is NOT objectively immoral.   Jesus drank alcohol and even made it.   We LDS avoid alcohol because we decided to.

If LDS merchants must not sell booze, then they can't sell coffee, tea, tobacco, etc. . .   Until Mero condemns LDS merchants for these things, he is a hypocrite and should be dismissed as such.

 

Posted // April 18,2013 at 15:36 - Bob in Boise (I'm in Meridian), The WoW was NOT a commandment when given and wasn't sustained as such until 100 years later that the Church officially made living the WoW a requirement for a temple recommend. before then, it was merely advice. As stated, alcohol is not objectively immoral and Jesus drank. As Craig pointed out, you can buy alcohol on church owned property. I believe that Hotel Utah sells it too.

 

Posted // April 18,2013 at 13:50 - I wonder why the wise prophets would allow alcohol sales on their church owned property "City Creek Mall. " If the church leaders condone that activity what's the problem? This is chruch property by the way: Property Reserve, Inc. (the commercial real estate division of the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and Taubman Centers, Inc. Selling booze, coffee and tea, right on god's holy ground, serving god and mammon, both at the same time. Maybe the church leadership evaluate their decisions too.

 

Posted // April 18,2013 at 13:37 - To Christopher Bolton While I find most of your comment troubling, I will address only the the most: "We LDS avoid alcohol because we decided to. " I think a more accurate statement would be: Practicing Latter-day Saints abstain from alcohol because of a revelation commonly referred to as the Word of Wisdom received by Church founder Joseph Smith. The revelation states that alcohol is not for the body. You are right in your statement that if the alcohol must go, so must the coffee, tea and smokes. Mr. Mero is not necessarily being hypocritical because he does not bring up the other elements of the Word of Wisdom. He may have been focusing on alcohol because of the discussion about the Utah statute regarding the Zion Walls.

 

 
 
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