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In almost 25 years working in the weekly newspaper realm, I’ve managed to avoid voicing my opinions about two subjects: politics and religion.
This column is solely my opinion–not that of the newspaper. As someone who works, plays and spends money in Williston, I believe I have the right to an opinion despite not being a city resident. Of all the places in all the world, this is where I have chosen to spend this season of my life. It is my home.
And this is not about politics or religion. It is about choices and the people’s right to make choices that affect them.
Last week, Williston City Council was asked by Pizza Hut’s management to review its ordinance that governs alcohol sales, specifically its location and proximity to two storefront churches.
The city ordinance, passed in 1958 and revised 16 years later, prohibits the sale of alcohol within 300 feet of churches.
The way storefront churches have popped up all over town in the past 35 years, there are few commercial sites where alcohol can be sold.
But this is not about whether drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin or not. It is about consumers having the right to choose to have a beer or a glass of wine with their meal.
I have great respect for this city council, especially the leadership it has chosen with Jason Cason as its president.
It is the most progressive, business-like governing board I have dealt with since moving to Levy County nine years ago.
Mr. Cason started the discussions last week by saying he no longer drank beer and added that the Bible does not forbid it. But he added the caveat that if the sale of alcohol offended anyone, there was wrong with that.
This is where I disagree.
Someone, somewhere is bound to be offended by something. Life cannot be lived by trying to stay in the middle of the road without offending someone.
That doesn’t mean you cannot consider people’s feelings when making decisions but you cannot presume to always make decisions that will be pleasing.
I do not want this city council–or any government body–believing it should be my moral compass.
I liken this to the New York City mayor who mandated that only small soft drinks can be sold in that city because everyone knows that sodas are full of sugar, rot your teeth and cause consumers to pack on the pounds.
Who is this man to decide if I should have a 44-ounce Big Gulp with my gyro?
As an adult, I should have the right to choose the soda–or the better choice, water–because soft drinks are not illegal.
Likewise the consumption of beer is also legal to those of us 21 and older. If I want to have a beer with my pizza, I should be able to choose that when I enter a restaurant.
It is my right to choose to drink or not, to smoke or not, to overeat or not. Because if you believe your body is God’s temple, then eating, drinking, smoking and even soda consumption can harm the temple. But that is each person’s decision–the conscious choice we all make each day. I don’t need any man or woman making my moral choices for me.
As for the close-to-the-church rule, what exactly is a church?
The Bible says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20)
That means you can call any place where two believers are gathered a church. Why, shoot, the Williston Pioneer could call itself a church if it wanted because Chris and I are believers and we’ve prayed together in our office.
A church should be an established property, with tax-exempt status and should conduct regular services.
I know lots of churches that have started out in storefronts, homes, barns. But it’s usually a temporary meeting site until funds are acquired to build a permanent structure. Storefront churches usually aren’t permanent.
Last Sunday, I drove into town during a time when most established churches were having their morning services. These days, that’s anywhere between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
One of the churches near Pizza Hut was closed, no cars, no parishoners. Locals tell me believers meet there but it’s sporadic and nothing to mark a calendar by.
But even still, so what if there are church services there? Small churches like that usually meet once or twice a week at best. There’s typically no staff, no middle of the day or week activities. What does the proximity to a church have to do with anything?
Say what you will, but a year ago there was an Internet cafe across the street from a church and that was fine–not prohibited by any ordinance.
And yet you talk to some, and they are offended by such establishments, which tend to prey on the poor and are considered gambling by many.
What’s the difference?
Many states prohibit selling alcohol for on and off-premise sales in one form or another on Sundays at some restricted time, under the idea that people should be in church on Sunday morning, or at least not drinking.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld these laws often as constitutinal, but the fact is, annually across this country the laws are repealed.
If Williston is to attract businesses, specifically hotels and restaurants, then this ordinance either needs to be repealed or amended.
While this is indeed the Bible Belt, not every person shares many of the traditions and beliefs we hold. There are those who enjoy an alcoholic beverage with their meals and they, and they alone, should be able to make that choice.
As for me, next time I’m in the mood for pizza I will also order my beverage of choice–sweet tea. And while I’m not getting beer or wine, at least I will have made that choice–by myself and without anyone making it for me.
Contact Carolyn Ten Broeck at firstname.lastname@example.org.