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efending the First Amendment is something that many newspapers do routinely. When it comes to open meetings and public records, it’s easy. (More on that in an upcoming column).
Other times, when it seems to go against public perception, it’s not so simple. But when something appears to be unconstitutional, or at least questionable, it’s the job of the newspaper to point it out.
In light of recent discussions in the city, I have a proposal. I’m in favor of limiting alcohol sales to six days a week (actually, I would be in favor of banning them altogether, but that’s a different story).
So I propose that we put a ban on all alcohol sales, including beer and wine, every week on Tuesday. That way we can have one day where the people won’t be going to their neighborhood bar.
Weekends aren’t a good idea. It hurts the businesses when they can’t, for instance, put up televisions and watch football on Sundays. Mondays and Saturdays are out for that reason, too.
I know these alcohol bans aren’t good for the community, because people who want to drink are going to find a way, and on days when they can’t drink here, they’ll drink somewhere else and then drive here, which puts more drinkers on the road. But there seems to be sentiment for one day of rest from alcohol here, so I’m all for it.
Besides, I have an intense dislike for Tuesday. That’s the day we do the bulk of our production work for the newspaper. We start early in the morning and go late in the afternoon, and then usually have a basketball, or baseball, or softball, or volleyball game at night.
The stress level is high. It’s enough to make someone who doesn’t drink wish for one, so this would take away the temptation.
What’s that? The only day you want the ban is on Sunday?
Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it.
Many people want the ban to be on Sunday, strictly for religious reasons.
That, to me, makes it a candidate for a lawsuit, challenging whether such a ban is government forcing religion on the people.
There can be no other logical reason for putting the ban on Sunday. It’s a lousy day for a ban when you consider the financial fortunes of local businesses. It also makes no sense for grocery stores to be allowed to sell beer and wine, when a local bar can’t stay open during the same hours.
Bans such as this go all the way back to Puritan times, before we were even a nation, and no one would challenge that these so-called Blue Laws were built on religion.
Some states have had strange Blue Laws over the years. At least one state didn’t allow the sale of cars on Sunday.
Until 1981, Ocean Grove, N.J., a seaside Camp Meeting community, banned all vehicular traffic on Sunday. It was successfully sued by a newspaper delivery driver, who was losing revenue because he couldn’t deliver papers on Sunday.
In Bergen County, N.J., where I grew up, almost all Sunday shopping was banned for a while in the 1960s when huge (for then) shopping centers such as the Garden State Plaza and Bergen Mall were built.
But slowly, bans across the country are ending. And now it seems like it’s time for Williston to end its ban, too, especially when it proves ineffective in stopping drinking and just hurts local businesses.
I know, the Tuesday proposal seems a little ridiculous. But at least no one could challenge it as being a First Amendment violation.
Jim Clark is the editor of the Williston Pioneer Sun News. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 528-3343.