Jacob Godbey, a conservative voice in the free verse of the "Spoon River Anthology," asks several thoughtful questions about fighting in behalf of the rights of drink:
"How did you feel, you libertarians,
Who spent your talents rallying noble reasons
Around the saloon, as if Liberty
Was not to be found anywhere except at the bar
Or at a table guzzling ...
Did it occur to you that personal liberty
Is liberty of the mind
Rather than of the belly?"
A certain slice of people do prefer free-wheeling "license" over thoughtful liberty. But unlike Mr. Godbey, who to this day judges his home folks from the pages of Edgar Lee Master's 1915 anthology, I won't judge those who argue on behalf of the bar.
I simply want to point out that city, county, state and federal governments do far more than churches and the religious to: 1. Limit the number of hours alcohol can be sold - otherwise, I suppose it could be sold 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or at least six days; 2. regulate the sale of alcohol generally; 3. punish excessive consumption of it; and 4. see that it generates plenty of taxes - lucre.
All manner of laws, ordinances and regulations determine who can and cannot be wholesalers or retailers; what kind of establishments can sell beer and wine but not liquor; the hours during the day when alcohol can and cannot be sold; how old you have to be to buy it; where stores that sell alcohol can be located; and how near a church or school a liquor store can be located. Religious zealots undoubtedly have something to do with this last point, but so do political zealots, moderates and mugwumps, fence-sitters nervous about upsetting anyone.
And, of course, individual freedom with alcohol can be severely restricted in other ways: People can be thrown in the hoosegow if they're caught driving under the influence, and for the long term if they injure or kill someone while driving drunk. (These punishments are not, of course, determined or imposed by churches, nor do churches set allowable blood alcohol limits.)
Turner Field stops selling beer after the seventh inning. Many other sports facilities limit sales in a similar manner. On opening day this year, some drunk baseball fans, sports fanatics, in San Francisco beat an opposing fan badly, leaving him with a severe brain injury and setting off another round of talks about more limits on beer at sports events. Churches did not force these talks.
Alcohol is indeed highly regulated, not by churches or religious zealots concerned about morality, but by the state, concerned about public safety and also about raising revenue, or lucre.
The risk of liability is going to become another force in limiting alcohol at sporting events.
I return to Jacob Godbey, whose name, "God-bey," tips off where he stands, and the last question he tossed at his opponents:
"How did you feel after I was dead and gone,
And your goddess, Liberty, unmasked
as a strumpet.
Selling out the streets of Spoon River
To the insolent giants
Who manned the saloons from afar?"
I have much kinder affections than Mr. Godbey both for liberty and for those who man the "saloons" from afar. But his questions suggest that these matters of drink, like most others, have many facets that in Hall County, like long ago in Spoon River, some citizens have yet to consider.
Had these facets been considered, these citizens might have been less harsh in judging the religious for using their freedom of speech in this debate.
Tack Cornelius is a writer who lives in Gainesville. His columns appear occasionally.