Opinion and Grocery Stores and Legislation and Liquor Stores and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Indiana's Sunday booze ban should be tossed

September 12, 2009

Sunday is the second-busiest grocery-shopping day of the week in Indiana, but there’s one product Hoosiers aren’t allowed to put in their shopping carts that day even though it’s perfectly legal the rest of the week.

That’s because an archaic blue law prohibits carryout liquor sales on Sundays. It’s a regulation that makes little sense and one that is long overdue for elimination.

Blue laws in the United States date back to the 17th century, when Puritan colonists banned many “immoral” activities, such as alcohol consumption on Sundays. Many states, including Indiana, continued to ban Sunday liquor sales even after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Today, however, the moral argument for banning such sales no longer holds water. For one thing, alcohol sales are already allowed in Indiana on Sundays as long as they take place by the drink in taverns, restaurants or at certain sports and entertainment events.

In other words, if a Hoosier wants to chug several brews at the Indianapolis Colts game on Sunday, that’s OK. But if he or she wants to buy a bottle of cooking wine at the grocery store to prepare a Sunday dinner, that’s a no-no. It also seems a bit incongruous that Indiana wants to be a moral arbiter of alcohol consumption, but has little problem sanctioning widespread 24-hour-a-day gambling (including on Sundays).

On Sept. 15, the Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverages will meet at the Indiana Statehouse to discuss the ban on Sunday alcohol sales and another outdated law that prohibits grocery stores from selling cold beer. (Indiana is the only state to limit cold beer sales to package liquor stores.) The bipartisan panel will take public testimony on the issues and report findings to the General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.

The panel is likely to find a groundswell of support for overturning the Sunday alcohol ban. Thirteen other states have repealed laws restricting Sunday liquor sales since 2002, leaving Indiana as one of only 15 states with such an outdated prohibition on the books. An unscientific poll at ibj.com finds 82-percent support for overturning the ban.

There are also economic reasons for changing the law. None of our neighboring states has such a prohibition, leaving Indiana liquor retailers near state lines at a disadvantage 52 days a year.

The bottom line in this issue comes down to choice and convenience for consumers, and freedom of competition for businesses. Indiana citizens should have the right to buy alcoholic beverages—warm or cold—from the seller of their choosing on the day that works for them. And businesses that have earned their liquor licenses should be able to sell their products any day of the week.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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