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Repeal Indiana’s Sectarian and Ineffective Blue Laws

Posted by Skeptigator on August 11, 2008

As many who live in Indiana are aware, we have some interesting laws regulating the sale of alcohol. Most notably is the prohibition of alcohol sales of any kind (beer, wine and liquor) on Sundays and during Election Days.

I can understand to some extent why Election Day is off-limits. It’s simply one of those hold-over laws that has never been repealed long after the practice has ended (many polling stations were in bars and pubs) for which the law was intended to regulate. Everybody has these kinds of laws. Here’s a state-by-state listing of weird and funny laws. Note the authors choice of funny Indiana laws, I believe this is the definition of irony.

However, one must ask themselves why we prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays. What’s so special about Sunday? [wink, wink]. Of course, everyone knows exactly why Sunday is singled out. I for one think it’s time to repeal Indiana’s Blue Laws.

There are 2 approaches to arguing for this, one more suitable in a freethought framework , the other is simple economics:

Indiana’s current Blue Laws are a remnant of religiously-dominant Prohibition-era thinking.

You only have to look at the history of Indiana’s Blue Laws (and Prohibition nationally) to realize that the motivations for banning alcohol sales were purely religious. The most notable example is the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, as a hint this wasn’t an organization of women whose name happened to be Christian.

Prohibition-era laws were promoted and adopted as a means for enforcing moral standards and maintaining the sanctity of the Sabbath. In a modern era, with a religiously-diverse population why should laws with that basis be allowed to stand? The sanctity of the Sabbath? Which one Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? What if I don’t have a Sabbath? Indiana says the only Sabbath that matters is Sunday in a sort of passive-aggressive way. Moral standards? Whose moral standards? Not even Christians can agree on whether or not alcohol is inherently immoral. Remember Prohibition isn’t a prohibition against drunkenness (we have separate laws governing that) but a prohibition against alcohol period.

I’m not going to dwell too deeply on these matters simply because very few people make arguments that would require these kinds of rebuttals. What I hear most often and perhaps holds the highest hurdle to overcome in some people’s minds is that regulating the sale of alcohol saves lives. I don’t doubt this fact however it’s the regulations that I am questioning specifically; what is the effectiveness of a one day ban on purchasing packaged alcohol?

Common sense tells you that when you can’t buy alcohol there will be less people drinking. But at least in Indiana, the prohibition against alcohol sales only applies to retail, package purchases. I can get in my car, drive to a bar or restaurant and drink. In fact, if I want a drink on Sunday my only option is to leave my home and drink somewhere else (assuming I don’t have any on hand). This is almost a de facto encouragement by the state of Indiana to drink and drive. So the arguments in support of Blue Laws (at least as practiced in Indiana) aren’t even logically consistent.

So if we dismiss the nonsensical reasoning is there any data that would support whether or not the prohibition of alcohol sales on Sunday has any effect, so I grabbed the latest alcohol-related automobile fatality statistics as well as state population statistics and did a quick and dirty; state-by-state fatalities per 100,000 residents chart. I only did the 3 states that ban alcohol on Sunday and Indiana’s surrounding states (that do not):

State 2006 Population* 2006 Fatalities** Fatality/100,000
Georgia 9,300,000 464 4.99
Indiana 6,300,000 247 3.92
Connecticut 3,500,000 109 3.11
 The following states surround Indiana and do not ban alcohol sales on Sunday
Kentucky 4,200,000 222 5.29
Illinois 12,800,000 444 3.47
Michigan 10,100,000 332 3.29
Ohio 11,500,000 377 3.28

I’m not a statistician but I play one on this blog. As you can see, despite our Blue Laws, Hoosiers manage to (at least) kill 4 people per 100,000 residents, whereas Illinois, Michigan and Ohio have no such bans. In addition to the ban on Sunday sales you can even purchase beer, cold beer no less, in gas stations in Ohio and Michigan (I’m not sure about Illinois but I imagine you can as well). I’ve even driven through a drive-thru and purchased alcohol in Ohio. It’s a miracle Ohioans(?) haven’t obliterated themselves in an alcohol-induced auto-armaggedon.

After examining this grid, I wondered why Kentucky had nearly 6 people per 100,000 citizens killed. Turns out there is no statewide “no Sunday” ban but individual counties can opt to be a Dry county or Wet county, and 54 out of 120 Kentucky counties are Dry. Not only do some residents of Kentucky have to drive to the local bar to have a drink some have to leave the county to do so. I don’t feel so bad living in Indiana now. I understand that 90% of all statistics are 50% wrong but I think this little chart uses such a simple basis of comparison that easily illustrates my point.  

From a freethinkers perspective the biggest focus would obviously be on the religious, sectarian basis for Indiana’s Blue Laws. But just from a common sense and basic statistical comparison they are ineffective, or at least show no obvious impact to health and safety of Indiana’s citizens.

Currently there is one day a week in which tax revenue from alcohol sales is lost.

The loss of tax revenue is especially important given historical budgeting problems in the state of Indiana. There are 2 ways in which tax revenue can be lost,

  • the first is that someone simply won’t purchase alcohol, period, if they failed to or were unable to plan ahead, it’s also important to point out that Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week. This tax revenue is lost to everyone.
  • The second loss results from those of us who are fortunate enough to live in border counties with Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and (for Fort Wayners) Ohio. We are spending our tax dollars in other states.

There is however one other economic aspect of Indiana’s regulation of alcohol sales that I believe is unique to our state. We have additional regulations that prohibit grocery stores from carrying cold alcohol (notably beer). You can only purchase cold beer in a liquor store (but no cold soda or milk, wtf?). The explanation for this is the obvious political manipulations of Indiana’s liquor laws by the liquor store lobby and vice-versa by the grocery store lobby.

In addition to the regulation of where (and when) you can purchase cold alcohol, Hoosiers are also unable to purchase alcohol at all from gas stations and convenience stores. What could possibly be the purpose for this prohibition except to limit who is allowed to sell alcohol, currently limited to packaged liquor, grocery and drug stores.

I know these last 2 items touch a bit more on policy and politics than strictly freethought matters and may betray a certain pinch of libertarianism (only a pinch, I swear) but I think it’s relevant to the discussion. I could argue that Indiana’s Blue Laws have opened the door (established a precedent) for these more obvious attempts by private businesses to use government power (aka Force) to establish and maintain private monopolies but I won’t go there… oh wait.

If you want to find out more information about the current status of Blue Laws in Indiana (and the U.S. in general) as well as a decent look at the history of U.S. Blue Laws, check out ProhibitionRepeal.com.

As usual my posts are prompted by some weird or interesting fact that gets my attention. There is a push to have Indiana’s Blue Laws repealed. Check out Hoosiers for Beverage Choices website for more information about signing a petition to “support convenience and choice” in Indiana’s liquor laws.  As usual these things are rarely without their own lobbying ties, please note the following from their website, they should be commended for the disclosure not all groups are forthcoming,

Indiana retailers are keenly aware of the wants and needs of their customers and have taken note of these consumer concerns. For these reasons, trade associations such as the Indiana Petroleum Council, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, and the Indiana Retail Council support this coalition.

 


* I used total fatalities (latest year, 2006) where Blood-Alcohol Level was 0.08 or greater.
** Census Bureau, click here to run estimated state population by year from 2000-2007. I used 2006 to match the same year for my fatality statistics.

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