In their infinite wisdom, our board of supervisors has decided the way out of our county’s financial squeeze – we’re the second poorest county in Virginia – is to allow beer and wine sales on Sundays. One supervisor commented, “This isn’t about religion, it’s about economics.”
I would agree. I don’t think Christians can make a credible case any longer for Sunday blue laws. Blue laws restrict goods that may be bought and sold on Sundays here in Virginia, as they do in many states, although fewer now than in past years.
Baptists say we believe in the separation of church and state, and if we do, we should not look to the state – or county – to protect Sundays. Our blue laws don’t protect the Jewish Sabbath or the Seventh-Day Adventist day of worship, so why should Christians get special treatment from the government, local or otherwise? No, I don’t think we can make a civil case for keeping blue laws.
But we can make an economic case. The assumption our supervisors are making is that Sunday sales of beer and wine will generate more tax revenue for our struggling county. However, let’s take a closer look at this assumption:
- The supervisors don’t really know how much revenue this will generate. No economic impact study has been done, probably because the county can’t afford it.
- No one has considered the economic cost of allowing beer and wine sales on Sunday. Adding one more day per week increases the opportunity to buy beer and wine by more than 15 percent. Will our county supervisors also increase the sheriff’s department budget by 15 percent to put more deputies in patrol cars on Sundays? Will the supervisors increase the budgets of local rescue squads and fire departments who respond to car wrecks? Do we know what percentage of car accidents, domestic abuse cases and child abuse cases involve alcohol? And, are we going to increase the budgets of all those agencies by 15 percent to handle the potential increase?
- The state of Virginia does not allow alcohol sales on election day, presumably so that our citizens can make clear-headed voting decisions. Why not establish one day a week, Sunday or not, to stop alcohol sales just to give us all a breather from the problems associated with alcohol? We regulate who can purchase alcohol, where it can be sold, in what types of containers and quantities, and the tax on alcohol sales. Why not regulate the days on which it is sold on a regular basis?
- Finally, our county is not a destination for tourists or those seeking recreation. The only people needing to buy alcohol on Sundays are most likely the ones who have problems with it in the first place. Just like state lotteries, alcohol sales are geared to those who can least afford it. Our county already has a higher-than-average rate of substance abuse and a long culture of alcohol-related crime, including bootlegging.
I agree with our esteemed county supervisor – this isn’t about religion. It is about economics. Lifting the ban on Sunday beer and wine sales without assessing the impact is bad public policy, economic or otherwise. I just wish our supervisors would do their homework before trying to buffalo us with their newfound concern for “keeping our shopping dollars in Pittsylvania County.”
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.