This will be my first July 24 in Utah, and folks hereabouts say it’s a pretty big deal. I’m told it commemorates that near-mythic moment, when Brigham Young, with his weary band, stood on that hillside, looked out over the valley, shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “Well, it will have to do.” The oxen must have been pretty happy. They’d been doing all the hard work, and throwing off that yoke had to feel good.
There will be the usual parade of prairie schooners, period dress and religious fervor. Others will celebrate the day in a decidedly non-LDS fashion. One of those will be my neighbor, the legendary Tree Bob, who has thrown a big bash every year for decades, complete with plenty of food and drink. Some of that drink will have alcohol in it.
The descendants of those Folks of ’47 have some pretty strong ideas about the consumption of brews and spirits, and for 156 years, have done their darndest to make sure everyone else lives life their way. For a long time that extended to the simple matter of advertising the availability of alcohol. It’s unclear how much affect it had. People like Tree Bob managed to find what they needed to show guests a good time.
It was two years ago on July 24 that another kind of yoke was thrown off. That day, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that Utah laws proscribing the way liquor could be advertised were unconstitutional. It used to be that you couldn’t put up a neon beer sign in your bar window. Restaurant wait staff could not ask if you wanted a cocktail. Print ads were out of the question—except, of course, in all the national magazines and newspapers available on newsstands.
The case had been brought in 1996 by crusading attorney Brian Barnard on behalf of the Utah Licensed Beverage Association, the Catalyst magazine and individual consumers, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that year that said that the 21st Amendment—which dumped prohibition but allowed state regulation of liquor sales, including advertising—did not trump the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Putting personal belief above his obligation to the public interest, Judge David Sam proceeded to sit on Barnard’s suit for four years before issuing a timid denial of a request for an injunction against the law, which the court in Denver then overturned.
Now, two years later, we can see the devastating effect of that ruling: The sky didn’t fall. The Temple was not converted into a brewery. The gutters are not flowing with liquor. The devastation is to the reputation of the religious authorities and their political lackeys who continue to insist that they own this state and that it isn’t enough to tell people of faith how to live their lives. They want to impose their rules on everyone else.
We wish everyone a happy 24th and encourage people to celebrate in any way they see fit. Everyone has something to celebrate on that day. If it is your predilection, have a few drinks and enjoy yourselves. By the way, I think I just broke the law. It is still illegal in Utah to “encourage intoxication,” whatever that means.