Vanderbilt Law Review


Steven L. Lane

First Page



Approximately half of the fifty states and numerous municipalities maintain and enforce legislation that prohibits the sale of alcohol close to churches. A number of other states allow their liquor- licensing authorities to consider proposed vendors' proximity to churches. Likewise, states and municipalities in all regions of the country have laws that restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday. Notwithstanding the secular justifications offered by the proponents of such legislation, analysis reveals that it is religiously motivated. Although the Bible contains no clear mandate against the sale, purchase, or consumption of alcohol, history illustrates that prohibitions on the sale of alcohol on Sunday evolved from British and colonial laws that codified the Fourth Commandment's requirement that the Sabbath be respected. Both these laws and those that ban the sale of alcohol near churches are rooted in a perceived incompatibility between religious worship and alcohol. Indeed, such enactments are intended to protect or insulate religion from the disruption and moral corruption associated with alcohol. Moreover, as the sign quoted above demonstrates, these enactments objectively appear to be religiously motivated. For these reasons, such laws implicate the Establishment Clause.

The Establishment Clause provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion .... - Together with the Free Exercise Clause, this provision restricts the government from interfering with religious liberty. The vague language of this seemingly simple pronouncement" obfuscates its meaning and scope.' At the very least, the Establishment Clause prohibits the adoption of an official state religion. Read more liberally, it bars any aid to or endorsement of religion by the government.