Should Eau Claire Allow Another Tavern?
Written By: Travis Buhler | Posted: Sunday, July 31st, 2016
"You should not legislate morality" is a popular cliché today. The City of Eau Claire's Planning Commission has done just such a thing when it did not approve the request of the owner of a historic building near Water Street and Menomonie Street to turn it into a tavern. Among the reasons the commission refused to allow this was the already large amount of taverns on Water Street and the testimony of the city police department on the potential of an increase in police calls to that area.
Much can be written on why the Plan Commission was given authority to decide such things and the arbitrary nature of their decision (especially in light of their recent reconsidering of the owner's proposal).
But I want to ask this question, how far should governments go to limit or ban immoral activities, like drinking alcohol?
I am of the opinion (based on the Bible) that drunkenness and purposely enabling drunkenness is immoral. So taverns, to the degree they knowingly promote and enable drunkenness, are immoral. And while there is a difference (one with everlasting consequences) between drunkenness and merely drinking alcohol, there are many verses in the Bible warning us about the foolishness of consuming alcohol.
Assuming that I am correct, should the City of Eau Claire continue to limit or even ban alcohol and taverns?
The answer is found by determining what powers a government should have over people and by determining what are good and bad ways to lower immorality in a society.
Government and Immorality
While the Bible teaches (in Romans 13) that the government is to punish evildoers, the necessary question that results is should all evils be punished? Should lustful thoughts and heretical thinking be punished by the state? If not all evils should be punished, what biblical guidelines are there to determine which ones should be?
A relatively easy way to develop some guidelines is to find out what examples there are of God telling governments what to punish. A simple guideline that I have found is that governments should punish those who act unjustly towards another, either by harming their body, their property, or by breaking an agreement. There are some examples that go beyond this rule, but this rule applies to most of them.
Applying this principle to drunkenness would mean that the government should only intrude if a person, as a result of drunkenness, harms another person. In such a case, it is the action done while drinking that is punished, not the consuming of alcohol itself, regardless of whether consuming to excess is a sin or not.
It is also helpful to study and find out if the Bible shows any example of the Lord commanding the government to punish or end drunkenness. There are many portions against drunkenness, but no examples or commands for the punishment of the same.
Society and Immorality
The founding fathers were correct in teaching that a constitutional republic is only possible if the people are moral. They understood that the Constitution does not give us nor protects morality, nor can it; but that the morality of the people will give and protect what the Constitution designed. That is why even the unbelieving founders promoted religion among the people.
The same is true locally. While fear of punishment does much to prevent acts of immorality, it cannot change a sinner's desire to commit sin. When sins like gambling, pornography, drunkenness, or even prostitution are prohibited, sinners find ways around them. Black markets are created. Similar substances or actions are substituted or ways around the letter of the law are created. Corrupt officials are bribed into turning their eyes.
Prohibition may limit the growth of immorality. It could be argued rather that prohibitions are a sign that an already immoral society is trying to maintain what order remains. But if a society is growing more sinful, the reasons are deeper and more powerful than what any law or punishment can solve. In fact, when immorality is outlawed, it is the very evil and corrupt people who control the prohibited markets. The pimps and gangsters with their violence and racketeering can do more damage to peace and order than if the actions and substances they sell were allowed legally. The history of alcohol would be an example of this.
It is better for the upright citizens of a society to promote morality by exhorting and influencing their fellow man to heed to the wisdom of righteous living. Parents should raise God-fearing children. Business owners should require a show of godliness in the workplace. Leaders should praise those that do good. Preachers should warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come. All of us should lead by example and by word. And government should faithfully restore that which was taken unjustly by others.
Additionally, governments should not encourage immorality. The City of Eau Claire is an example of this. The same government that is forbidding a tavern on Water Street also gave a brewer hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and loans to build a drinking facility on Madison Street.
The owner of the potential tavern should be free to do what he wants with his own property, including building a tavern. Government should only step in if he directly injures another person's life or property. In the meantime, readers of this article should do what they can to promote sobriety and the benefits that come from a society that is, without force, a "dry" society.
Travis Buhler is the Managing Editor of the US Journal and the Eau Claire Journal and a regular Tuesday contributor to the 790WAYY Today morning show. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.