Recently there has been much discussion at our local municipal council meetings about whether to approve the sale of alcohol starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays rather than the currently allowed 12 p.m. start time.
Our state legislature approved a change in state law that ultimately placed this decision in the hands of our municipal elected officials. This is often referred to as the “Brunch Bill” because it would allow restaurants to serve alcoholic drinks during Sunday -morning brunch.
In Southern Pines, there was a difference of opinion among the council members. Speaking in opposition to the change, Councilman Fred Walden said, “There was a time when there was separation between church and state and these types of things were influenced by the church. Most went to church , so they respected that.
“I feel this is still a church issue, but it seems the state is taking over authority of it, and away from the church, and not respecting the values that were set over the years. The reason to support it is to make money. I don’t think we should put money ahead of our principles. I think there is a stopping place at some point, so where does it stop? When does the church and state really separate?”
I would suggest that the authors of the First Amendment to our Constitution made that decision centuries ago when they prohibited Congress from making any laws “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Subsequent constitutional amendment extended this prohibition to state legislatures. So why do we still have legislators over two centuries later who still insist on passing or upholding laws that clearly have a primarily religious function?
Sunday alcohol sales restrictions are a remnant of “blue laws” that restricted commerce on Sundays. It may be hard for many younger people to believe, but not too long ago, there was little commercial activity taking place on Sundays because of state statutes restricting such activity.
Over time, these restrictions were gradually whittled away. Sunday morning alcohol prohibitions have remained. And in fact, the recent Brunch Bill only allowed the possibility of a two-hour reduction in the alcohol sales prohibition.
I think that is where our legislature went wrong. They should have totally eliminated any religious-based prohibition on alcohol sales by allowing sales on Sundays corresponding to whatever hours such sales are allowed on other days of the week.
Our government should not be using its vast power to force religious practices of one faith on citizens who do not share that faith.
While I have been a Christian since my baptism, my particular denomination has no official position on the consumption of alcohol, much less its consumption or purchase on Sunday mornings. Why should my ability to consume alcohol be legally limited to comply with others’ religious beliefs? Does this not fundamentally violate everyone’s constitutional right to the free exercise of religion?
Those who have a religious prohibition on Sunday alcohol consumption can refrain from such consumption consistent with their religious beliefs without needing a law to constrain them. And whether other citizens of different faiths choose to consume alcohol on Sunday mornings should be a function of their own beliefs, not behavior regulated by the state.
Those who support legal restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales would be up in arms if other faiths used the government to implement their beliefs in law. What if they lived in a jurisdiction where the majority of voters were either Orthodox Jews or Muslims and the local municipality prohibited the sale and consumption of pork? Would they not see this as a violation of their constitutional rights?
Evidently there has been concern in the past in North Carolina and other states about religious beliefs impacting our legal system. In 2013, our legislature passed a law that prohibits our family law judges from considering Islamic law. So why do we still have this Sunday alcohol restriction as part of our laws?
Why is it OK to legally prescribe religious beliefs related to alcohol consumption, but it is not OK to do the same for religious beliefs related to family law?
Neither should be allowed. Adherents of any religious faith should be free to proselytize and gain new believers who voluntarily comply with their religion’s strictures.
No one in America should be forced by any level of government to adhere to anyone’s religious beliefs even in a matter as innocuous as Sunday morning alcohol consumption. Doing so is simply un-American.Kyle Sonnenberg, who served as Southern Pines town manager from 1988 to 2004, has returned in retirement after a three-decade career in city management in three states.