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The Idea Of Alcohol As A “Sin”

Ah, language. It’s often so important how issues are framed and the words used to promote agendas and positions. One of the basic anti-alcohol tactics is in the very idea of taxes on alcohol, and other so-called “vices.” The very notion of them is that they’re acceptable precisely because they’re “sin taxes.” That doing those things, despite being legal for adults, is a “sin.” You’d think in the 21st century such out-dated, parochial ideas would no longer exist. Apparently you’d be wrong.

Today, Alcohol Justice tweeted the news that “Big Alcohol lobbyists kill state tax increases by re-framing issue from sin to hospitality.” The tweet links to a Pew Charities blog post entitled Liquor Lobby Fights Off Tax Increases On Alcohol.

In the Stateline article, reporter Elaine S. Povich frames the story that alcohol’s a sin, saying. “Another ‘sin’ tax — on alcohol — has largely escaped change in recent years thanks to a strong liquor lobby which reframed the liquor tariff conversation from ‘sin’ to ‘hospitality.'” One might think that author Elaine S. Povich, who in addition to years as a reporter is also “an adjunct professor of journalism at Maryland,” would know better than to refer to drinking as a “sin,” but I guess old habits die hard, and such is the nature of successful propaganda that many people continue to believe that drinking is a sin.

A “sin,” in case you missed that day in Sunday school, or might not be terribly religious, is defined as the “act of violating God’s will.” That’s from Wikipedia, which makes it clear that it’s a religious construct, although not every religion sees sin the same way, and a few don’t even recognize it. Plenty of other sources make the connection to religion obvious. Merriam-Webster defines as “an offense against religious or moral law,” while defines it as a “transgression of divine law.” But regardless of your own faith, in the United States, the right to free worship is one of our most cherished tenets. It’s right in the First Amendment, arguably the most important one, where it states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

But even beyond that, our government recognizes the ‘Separation of church and state,’ “a phrase used by Thomas Jefferson and others expressing an understanding of the intent and function of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The phrase, and its underlying meaning, has since been repeatedly confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States.” Essentially, it means we live in a secular, non-denominational society in which one religion should not dictate its views to the rest of us. My own faith is irrelevant here, what’s important is that as long as not everyone thinks drinking is a “sin,” and as long as it is permitted by law, then it cannot be considered a sin. Not in our society, at least. If you believe it’s a sin, feel free to abstain. But you can’t tax it for that same belief, especially when I don’t share that belief, nor do many millions of other people. The fact that she even can write that seems remarkable in this day and age.

I’m far less surprised to see Alcohol Justice gleefully refer to alcohol taxes as “sin taxes,” that fits with their anachronistic platform. For them, it is still Salem in 1693, and they’re on a witch hunt to eradicate the “sin” of drinking alcohol. That it’s not, and can’t be, a sin doesn’t even enter into the conversation.

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