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Lawmakers mute their religious objections to Sunday alcohol sales

By The Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — Opposition to Sunday alcohol sales in Kansas is a moral issue to some legislators, yet few have been willing to invoke religion or morality as they argue against the idea.

Instead, senators who oppose Sunday sales argue that such sales will lead to more drunks on the highways, increase access to alcohol for underage drinkers and take away the only day off for mom-and-pop liquor-store owners.

Those all are legitimate arguments. But some legislators making them oppose Sunday sales because the policy would deviate from a long-standing Kansas tradition that goes back well before Carry Nation, whose temperance crusade against illegal saloons in the early 1900s earned her national renown.

During the session, religious values have dominated a debate over banning gay marriage in the Kansas Constitution, but similarly indignant voices of morality are mostly muted when it comes to Sunday sales.

State Sen. Stan Clark, an Oakley Republican who opposes Sunday sales on moral grounds, acknowledged that legislators are leery of waving the banner of religion in fighting against looser liquor laws.

"The feeling for some was that it would do more harm than good," he said recently, after the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee voted 5-4 to send a bill permitting Sunday sales to the full Senate. The bill, stripped of its Sunday sales provisions, failed earlier this month.

But most proponents aren't using the argument that forbidding sales of a legal product on Sunday violates the separation of church and state. Only the Kansas Beer Wholesalers Association, in testimony before the committee, made that case.

"The primary reason for prohibiting package sales on Sundays is an ancient adherence to a belief that activity — including purchasing, working and consuming — should be curtailed on the Christian Sabbath," association spokesman Neil Whitaker told senators.

One of the few lawmakers who hasn't shied away from religious arguments against Sunday sales is Republican state Sen. Bob Lyon, a structural engineer from Winchester. When the Senate debated the issue, he implored his colleagues to consider what the Bible had to say.

"You hear people say the roots of this Sunday sales ban go back to prohibition," Lyon said earlier this month. "In reality, it's a Sabbath day issue that goes back to the Fourth Commandment. That's where this law and all blue laws have their roots."

Lyon says he's concerned that the Legislature has a tendency to ignore the importance of biblical law in favor of financial considerations.

"This is more of a Lord's day issue than it is an alcohol issue," Lyon said. "There's a principle here. It's an issue that, if I'm the only one who brings it up, so be it. People need to be aware of what we're doing. In effect, we're saying that biblical law really has no relationship with civil law."

However, the fate of Sunday alcohol sales this session appears to hinge on taxes, not religion. A majority of senators — albeit a small one — have indicated that they don't have a problem with changing the law to allow package liquor sales on the Christian Sabbath.

Some senators won't support a bill permitting Sunday sales if it also includes an increase in alcohol taxes, while others won't support a bill that doesn't include higher taxes. The squabble between those two camps has given opponents of Sunday sales a majority of votes so far.

But both House and Senate leaders predict Sunday sales will be approved during this session as part of an alcohol package that makes the state's Liquor Control Act uniform. The House approved such a bill last year, and probably will support it again this time if it makes it past the Senate without a large tax increase.

The uniformity issue is a no-brainer to lawmakers who fear that without it, cities will start allowing convenience stores to sell so-called strong beer, and theoretically could even lower the drinking age.

There's a reluctance among senators to tell the 14 cities and one county that now allow Sunday sales they must stop. A uniformity bill that expressly forbids cities from opting out of the state's liquor law — but does not include a provision for Sunday sales — would force them to cut off those sales.

The prospect of taking away Sunday sales from some communities raises economics as an issue.

Thus, the debate has become about economics and taxes, rather than about morality and religious values.

And opponents of Sunday sales are content to leave it at that.

Kansas liquor laws soon may mirror most in nation
Bill to remove ban on Sunday sales at liquor stores would bring state law in line with court rulings that have allowed 23 cities, two counties to authorize such sales. 05.12.05


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'Absolutely, this is a First Amendment victory,' says attorney for Rhode Island store. 05.20.98

Judge halts Virginia's 'day-of-rest' law

Circuit Court Judge T.J. Markow grants emergency injunction to block legislative glitch that guaranteed workers either Saturday or Sunday off. 07.04.04

Blue laws

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