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Monday, December 04, 2006

Take Time Tuesday to Toast the 21st Amendment

Prohibition. It was a reality in the United States from January 16, 1920 to December 5, 1933. In some so-called Dry Counties across the country it lives on today. In Zeeland, Mich., voters in November ended Prohibition, now businesses face potential boycotts for backing the measure.

Prohibition is most often promoted by religious zealots as a cure for all of society's ills. They ignore the fact that Jesus turned water into wine and that he offered his disciples wine at the Last Supper as a symbol of his blood, instead they paint all drinking as evil. There is little argument over the fact that the United States did not exactly become a utopia between 1920 and 1933.

Prohibition came to the U.S. after decades of work by militants to push an agenda and gain political clout. Rep. Andrew Volstead, a Republican from Minnesota and a teetotaler, wrote the law that enforced the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified by 36 states. He would be voted out of office in 1922 after 10 terms, but Prohibition lived on another decade. The Volstead Act was originally vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson, but Congress overrode the veto on Oct. 28, 1919.

It took years to reverse this mistake. On February 17, 1933, Congress passed the Blaine Act which effectively ended Prohibition by allowing what was known as 3.2 beer -- 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or 4 percent alcohol by volume. The 21st Amendment was ratified in December 5, 1933, repealing the 18th Amendment. Most places in the United States celebrated, but local option allowed some places to stay dry. In fact, Mississippi was officially dry until 1966.

In voting this year, a number of communities went to the polls to decide if Prohibition should continue. In places like Arab, Ala., and Togiak, Alaska, communities decide to continue bans on alcohol. In Marion County, Ark., and Rose, N.Y., voters decided to allow alcohol sales

In Zeeland, founded by Dutch Calvinists in 1847, a proposal to allow alcohol sales passed by a 1,425-1,385 vote, ending a 102-year-old ban. Don't expect a bar to open on every corner in the community, which had its only grocery store close and has a number of vacant businesses. There are 17 churches in the 3-square-mile city and the law says alcohol cannot be sold within 500 feet of places of worship. There are 5,800 residents in the community, located about 20 miles from Grand Rapids, and the law limits the number of liquor licenses based on population figures. Under the law that means a grand total of three businesses will be given the right to sell alcohol.

For some people in Zeeland, that is three places too many. They are talking about a boycott of any local business that applies for a permit and even mounting a recall movement to oust Zeeland City Councilors. So much for the will of the people in a free society as expressed in a democratic election.

So tomorrow my plan is to get up, go to work so I can pay my taxes and bills, return home and open a bottle of something good to enjoy with my wife over dinner. I think I'll toast 1933 and the good voters of Zeeland, Michigan.

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