SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge is set to hear oral arguments Monday on a lawsuit challenging changes to Utah liquor laws that ban daily drink specials and impose new limits on coveted liquor licenses.
A trade group for bars and restaurants is asking U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins to halt the laws and to block Utah lawmakers from taking influence from the LDS Church when writing liquor laws.
The Utah Attorney General's Office is asking Jenkins to throw out the suit, defending the LDS Church's right to express its views on Utah's liquor laws.
The suit, filed by the Utah Hospitality Association in June 2011, targets the latest changes to the liquor laws under Senate Bill 314.
In addition to banning happy-hour discounts, the law ties the number of liquor licenses to population totals and the number of police officers available to enforce alcohol offenses.
The suit alleges lawmakers conspired with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to craft the legislation, and that two church representatives warned "there would be repercussions" if legislators did not back the bill.
"It's a tough issue," said Lisa Marcy, an attorney for the hospitality association. "We're not saying the LDS Church did anything bad. What we're saying is, we respectfully disagree with this marriage of church involvement and politics."
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, the bill's sponsor, said he doesn't recall any threats in his discussions with church officials. Everyone should have the right to seek redress from the government, including churches, he added.
"To try to bar a particular religion from being able to talk to the Legislature, I just cannot fathom the court even getting close to granting that kind of remedy," said Valentine, an attorney.
While the church teaches its members to abstain from alcohol, it has called for reasonable regulations to limit overconsumption, reduce impaired driving and eliminate underage drinking.