Additional Resource

Transcript: Elder Christofferson Addresses Utah Alcohol Laws

Why does the Church take a position on alcohol laws in Utah?

Some have supposed that the Church takes a position on alcohol regulation in Utah because it wants to impose its beliefs or practices on other people, but there’s really no point in that. That wouldn’t benefit us in any way that’s not our interest. We do care about the culture and the environment that exist in this state and the people live in because more than half the citizens of Utah are members of the LDS Church, but our concern is for the general public, for the general welfare, for the circumstances, the environment that people live in, raise their children in. We’re interested particularly in three areas as it pertains to alcohol consumption: first, abuse or overconsumption; second, underage drinking; and third, DUIs (driving under the influence). And that’s basically our position and our interest — to deal with those and have a balance, and we think we’ve struck in Utah a good balance between the reasonable availability of alcohol and limiting these negative consequences and social costs.

What is the impact on society from alcohol consumption?

People may talk about just having a drink or “I want a glass of wine with my meal; why is that a problem?” In and of itself, it may not be, but when you pick up one end of the stick you pick up the other end of the stick, and this whole area of the social costs and the downsides come with consumption of alcohol. So we’ve got to be able to balance this equation and reasonably permit what is reasonable but on the other hand avoid, minimize, eliminate, if possible, the downsides.

These costs include negative effects on families and children. They include lost lives. They include physical and mental abuse. There are any number of things — economic costs and losses. These have to be taken into account; we have to deal with these and recognize that we need to balance the consumption of alcohol on the one hand by those who are of legal age, but not neglect the fact that there are controls needed so that we at least minimize these negative social costs.

Does the Church support maintaining differences between bars and restaurants?

We have, I think, a very reasonable system that’s been put in place, primarily as it distinguishes between bars and restaurants. It’s a simple approach and it makes a lot of sense and it has yielded very positive results for us as compared to other states and other jurisdictions. Bars are bars. But a restaurant has to do four things if they’re going to serve alcohol. They’re catering to everybody, including children, most cases. And they must first limit the hours of alcohol service. Second, there has to be a 70% to 30% ratio of food service to alcohol service. There needs to be a separate area for the storage and preparation of alcohol, and a patron would need to have food service along with alcohol. So, that maintains a very reasonable distinction between restaurants and bars and has been an effective system in establishing or in protecting, I should say, against overconsumption, against underage drinking and against DUIs.

We believe strongly, we sense that each of those four components are essential. You take one away and you may be taking the leg away from the stool and it all collapses, or you’re trying the magic trick, you know, you’re going to rip away the tablecloth and leave everything else on top undisturbed. Why take that chance? We’ve got a reasonable system and it seems to be working, and I believe that the efforts to chip away at this that have gone on for years and years are counterproductive, really.

What are the benefits of Utah’s alcohol laws?

It’s very important that we avoid an alcohol culture, as we have successfully done to this point. That’s yielded many benefits. In Utah we have the lowest number of traffic fatalities related to drunk driving in the country. We have the lowest prevalence of binge drinking for those 18 and older in the country. And we always rank among the lowest in terms of DUI arrests. Why would we want to risk losing any of those benefits that have come with the regimen we now have in place for alcohol consumption and regulation?

We’re really doing better here than most places, most jurisdictions. And if we begin to go in the direction that they have, it’s unreasonable to expect that we’re not going to suffer or experience the same outcomes. How could we suppose that changing our system to reflect that of others is not going to yield the same results that they’re seeing?

We need to stay where we are because we have established something that strikes the right balance between reasonable consumption by those who are accountable, by those who are in the age that is permitted to drink, on the one hand, and limiting the social costs, the tragic social costs that often accompany alcohol consumption, on the other.

Some say Utah’s alcohol laws are unusual. Is that accurate?

People should understand that leaders in all communities and jurisdictions have struggled with this issue: how to have alcohol consumption legal but still limit the negative consequences that typically flow from it, and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s such a wide variation in regulations and their determinations, their decisions, how to deal with it. And if people look at Utah and say, “Well, that’s weird; that’s a crazy system they have there,” they’re really not recognizing that it’s different everywhere. It’s different from state to state. It’s different from county to county. I mean, some counties are dry; they don’t sell alcohol at all. Others sell it but not on Sundays. And there’s been such a tremendous variety trying to tackle this issue that I think anybody who calls somebody else weird doesn’t really understand that it’s different everywhere.

So what if we’re fodder for a few jokes and ridicule on late night TV? To me, that’s a very small price to pay for one less family that lost their wife and mother in a drunk driving accident or one less teenager who’s become addicted to alcohol and all the poor decisions and problems that flow from that. I think we ought to be pleased at the wisdom of those who have acted in the past in the legislature to establish the current system we have.

When does the Church become involved in public policy issues?

Well, obviously the Church is not a political organization; it’s not a partisan institution in any way, and so our default position, I guess you could say as it regards legislative issues, is to not take a position. But when there are moral issues that we feel are significant or matters that may affect our ability to function, we’re entitled, as anyone, to weigh in and to make our voice and our position heard. It’s important that people understand that you can have a moral issue and just because it’s debated or becomes part of a legislative proposal, that does not detract from its character as a moral issue, because we engage in discussion and anybody takes part in the legislative process and the back and forth as bills are proposed and debated does not mean that somehow we become a political organization or a partisan organization. It’s the moral issue that we’re discussing. And the Church, people of faith, anyone is entitled in a democratic system to come forward and make their views heard. The decisions come by the people or by the elected representatives of the people, but everyone should be, should have a part in and access to the public square. Everyone is entitled to participate.

When we do, we do it according to the laws and the regulations that apply to the legislative process. And so we have our registered lobbyists who go and speak in our behalf, and they represent the opinions and the feelings and the position of the Church and the leaders of the Church. They speak for us as they should, in that setting, and in addition we sometimes put on our Newsroom website or in other ways of publicizing what we think and the reasons why. So that’s the way we make our voice known. But that’s something that is our privilege and a privilege we accord everyone else; everyone has that right in our democratic system.

See: Church Says Existing Alcohol Laws Benefit Utah.

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