Never Forget That These States Banned Religious Gatherings but Kept the Liquor Flowing


I get it: There’s a utilitarian reason for keeping liquor stores open during a pandemic.

No, it’s not so you can buy a bottle of chardonnay to share with your wife while you hunker down and share your lockdown woes. You’re not the concern. Hardcore alcoholics — the ones who are dependent on the sauce — are.

If you aren’t familiar with the reasons behind this, let me explain.

People think that heroin withdrawal will kill you. I’ve never experienced anything of the sort, thank God, but I’ve read enough articles on the phenomenon over the past few that I know it won’t. I’m sure it’s soul-rending torture of the worst kind, but you won’t die and you probably won’t end up in intensive care.

Alcohol addiction, in its most serious form, will do all of those things. Between seizures, hallucinations, a dangerously high heart rate and loss of consciousness, most people undergoing alcohol detox require a hospital bed — if not a spot in intensive care.

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We didn’t think we would have the resources for that. Hence, essential business.

So, yes, governors of a number of states kept liquor stores open in the middle of a pandemic to save lives while exposing more people to the coronavirus in an enclosed space. Dubious, yes, but it could be understood.

What do you say, then, when the governors of those selfsame states turn around and insist the danger of catching coronavirus is so great that the First Amendment must be abrogated to save the religious from ourselves?

According to The Daily Caller, there were no less than nine states that were willing to keep the booze flowing but whose elected officials felt “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” didn’t really, like, mean that.

Are in-person religious gatherings protected under the First Amendment?

As of April 27, the states that had banned in-person church services but allowed liquor sales to take place unimpeded were California, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, New York and Vermont.

Surprisingly, not all of them were blue states, although most of the usual suspects made the list.

The data were taken from the Pew Research Center’s list of states that have restrictions on church services. Most of those states have begun reopening church services, albeit at a glacial pace.

As of early May, Alaska has come off of the list — although, according to KTOO-FM, it has restricted in-person religious gatherings to 20 people or fewer.

Washington state, meanwhile, began drive-in services on May 10 — an interesting concession, since while the novel coronavirus is indeed novel, I’ve yet to see evidence its novelty extends to the ability to pass between cars. Did Washington Gov. Jay Inslee just discover this?

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Idaho has also allowed church services to resume, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, although churches must follow social distancing guidelines.

The same can be said for most of the states on the list — they’ve started church services but limited them to groups small enough to make the right to meet in person utterly meaningless.

Meanwhile, want to get a merlot? Trust us — there aren’t as many restrictions. Maybe if Christian services were to inform the state that wine is a part of communion, things would be different.

And this is just speaking of liquor stores, establishments that — aside from the fact that they stop alcoholics from going into DTs — don’t serve any essential purpose. They’re certainly not protected in the Constitution, like places of worship are — which is problematic when you consider how quickly they were shut down by so many governments and how long those governments plan on keeping them shut down.

Saying that relatively unrestricted church gatherings could be over a year or more off, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (Democrat, natch) said, “I’m not the one providing that guidance. It really is what the scientists and epidemiologists are recommending.”

Imagine that being used for any other part of the Bill of Rights: “Your right to privacy will probably have to go for a year or more. I’m not the one providing that guidance. It really is what the scientists and epidemiologists are recommending.”

A rejoinder to this, thankfully, exists in a ruling from U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove in a suit brought by a Kentucky church that took issue with the restrictions placed on the state’s religious congregations by newly inaugurated Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear.

“We are a relatively young nation. But our Constitution is the oldest in the world. We describe it as enduring — a value that must be protected not only when it is easy but when it is hard,” he wrote in a ruling earlier this month, according to WBKO-TV.

The church involved in the lawsuit, Tatenhove continued “wants to gather for corporate worship. They want to freely exercise their deeply held religious belief about what it means to be a faithful Christian. For them, it is ‘essential’ that they do so. And they want to invoke the Constitution’s protection on this point.

“But the governor, by executive order, has put a stop to that. He can do that, but he must have a compelling reason for using his authority to limit a citizen’s right to freely exercise something we value greatly — the right of every American to follow their conscience on matters related to religion … despite an honest motive, it does not appear at this preliminary stage that reason exists.”

We would agree. At the very least, churches are as essential as liquor stores. In this pandemic, spiritual succor is just as important as maintaining addiction. Unlike the latter, too, it’s also protected by the Constitution.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture