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New Sunday Liquor Laws Considered Controversial

Aired May 19, 2003 - 19:32   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: A rather extraordinary thing happened in the state of Delaware on Sunday. People went to liquor stores and bought for the first time in a long time. They bought liquor.
New York State just passed a law to allow New Yorkers to do the same on Sundays. And as Bruce Burkhardt reports tonight, it is another blue law that seems to be losing out to green.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Budget shortfalls and states across the country have legislators singing the blues, maybe even repealing the blues -- the blue laws, laws that nowadays are mostly concerned with liquor sales on Sunday.

The thinking is by adding Sunday as another open day for liquor stores, sales would increase and that would mean more tax revenue for the state or the locality that allows the Sunday sales.

In New York State alone, a liquor industry group has it that the state could add $36 million to its coffers if booze could be sold seven days a week.

In this day and age, a very commercial day and age, blue laws seem to be quaint anachronisms. It's something generally associated with liquor. But the idea of enacting laws to encourage moral behavior on Sunday could be traced back to the Puritans when, according to O'BRIEN: st accounts, such laws were written on blue paper. It covered not only liquor but other moral offenses -- not going to church, lying, swearing, dancing, or playing games in public.

(on camera): By the time of the American Revolution and the formation of the new country, many of those old blue laws were repealed or at least not enforced. But the Temperance Movement of the late 1800s breathed new life into blue laws and this idea of regulating liquor sales on Sunday.

(voice-over): And it is that legacy that accounts for what we know as blue laws today -- laws that grew to include other commercial activity. In Minnesota, you can't buy a car on Sunday. But budget pressures might change all that. More sales means more tax revenue. Blue laws might go the way of the Puritans.

Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) : Still the question then after that -- Bruce, thanks for that -- should sacramental wine be the only booze you get on Sundays or have some of these laws lost their place in a diverse society today in America?

Reverend Lou Shelton shares the Christian Traditional Values Coalition. He's live in DC tonight.

And from Boston, Nancy Skinner, host of a syndicated radio show, is with us for the other side of this.

Good evening, both of you. Appreciate your time on this.

Reverend, what do you think? The state of Delaware changing its law. Your reaction is what?

REV. LOU SHELTON, CHRISTIAN TRADITIONAL VALUES COALITION: Well, I think, Bill, it is very simple. Many states still have the commission that is called the Liquor and Beverage Control Board.

Control. The emphasis is upon control. It is important that we control alcoholic beverages. How many millions of Americans desperately have to now attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because alcohol is an addiction in their life?

And so, I think if you don't have alcohol one day a week, it gives a message as far as the economic downturn in America. I can understand how politicians want to continue to meet the budget of the state. That's understandable.

But I think if you have to look at the overview, you have to look at the long view of it. The long view of it is that we're convinced that our republic and the founding fathers built it upon the principle of virtue, and that virtue meant there was a morality. And if you start chipping away at the morality, you really are chipping away at the very basis of our republic.

HEMMER: So you're actually going to morality and health in your point.

What about that, Nancy? Chip in here a second on that.

NANCY SKINNER, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST: Well, the Reverend said that these laws were established by -- in the founding, actually it was puritanical theocracies that started these laws in the 17th century, Bill. And puritanical theocracies are making a comeback these days with this administration. I would not be surprised if we soon have a ministry of virtue and vice headed up by none other than, maybe, Bill Bennett. I'm not sure.

HEMMER: It doesn't appear to be going that way in the state of Delaware.

Address the issue about cash. Are states doing it just to raise money?

SKINNER: Well, they may be, but that's a different point.

Sure, they need cash. And I will tell you these points are connected. Right now, when we have the states in the budget crisis they are in, where they're unscrewing every third light bulb because they can't afford to light their schools -- to have this administration, this federal government is now making schools certify that they are in accordance with the Constitution on public prayer.

It is costing millions of dollars for them do this. I think my listeners really are alarmed that the right wing has had such an influence. You're seeing law after law after law. There's another one that is being advanced that is called the "freedom to worship," which would remove any restrictions on churches for advocating candidates at the altar.

And we're seeing all these things, the separation of church and state, go by the wayside. This is a law that should go by the wayside.

HEMMER: Well, Reverend, what about it? It's a free country. We're individuals. We can make up our own minds and our own decisions.

SHELTON: Well, Nancy, I don't know what newspapers you're reading or what e-mail you're reading or Web site you're looking at, but to just to take for an example the bill you made reference to, I was in Walter Jones' office today on the Hill. His bill does not do what you just said it did. You need to get that bill and be better informed. Because the issue ...

SKINNER: I am. I did a whole show on it, Reverend, today, and religious groups say it is a disaster.

SHELTON: Well, let me tell you. You didn't read it right. You did not read it right because it simply says there is freedom of speech. And I think the real issue here -- it sounds like the way you're talking -- the real issue is you're mad that a Republican got elected. You're mad because the Republican Congress grew in the last session.

SKINNER: With all due respect, sir, that's changing the subject.

SHELTON: And I think one other thing is very important, also. Another thing is very important, and that is this. That America was built upon a moral basis. And if you erode the moral basis -- our founding father, George Washington, said ...

SKINNER: Whose morality? With all due respect, Reverend ...

HEMMER: Okay, nancy, go ahead. We're running out of time.

SKINNER: With all due respect, I was going say -- whose morality? I'm Catholic. We have no problems against drinking on the Sabbath, okay? So you are imposing your morality on me.

SHELTON: No, no, no. That's not right. That's not right. No. You've got it all backwards and upside down and inside out.

SKINNER: We have no prohibitions against drinking as a Catholic.

SHELTON: Listen, some of my dearest friends -- some of my dearest friends are Catholics. And I can appreciate they want to take a drink.

But we're talking about is what you said -- we're going make fun of the president of the United States because he happens to want to lift the standard higher. Do you want -- you don't see the president of the United States chasing interns around the White House. You don't see the president of the United States, you know, having to be -- this present president doing ...

SKINNER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) That's not the issue.

HEMMER: Hang on one second here. Sorry about that. Nancy, final word here, just about ten seconds left. It always comes down to politics, does it not? I thought this was about liquor and not Washington, D.C.

Nancy, go ahead.

SKINNER: It is a classic separation of church and state issue. This is one ...

HEMMER: Hold on, Reverend. Go ahead, Nancy. We have to run.

SKINNER: We have a secular society. We should not be told what we can and cannot do.

SHELTON: Nancy, there never was a separation of church and state> The United States Congress for 100 years became a church on Sunday morning. The House of Representatives was held. I think you really ought to read your history so you that don't say things that aren't true.

HEMMER: We're out of time. Listen, Reverend, thanks. Lou Shelton down in DC. Nancy Skinner in Boston.

Nancy, good luck tomorrow on the radio. And, Reverend, we'll talk again.

SKINNER: Yes, we'll have fun. Thank you.

SHELTON: Bye-bye, Bill.

HEMMER: Thanks to both of you for being with us tonight. Much appreciated.


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