First Wet Christmas Since Prohibition

Ten other states still ban or restrict alcohol sales and Christmas; 12 ban liquor sales on Sundays.


Kahn's Fine Wines & Spirits

Today is the first Christmas since Prohibition when it has been legal to sell alcoholic beverages in Indiana. That means restaurant patrons can order wine with their Christmas dinners, hosts whose bars run low can replenish them, and guests headed to the homes of friends or relatives can pick up a bottle or two on the way. But those privileges, which most Americans take for granted, will be snatched away next year, when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Indiana is one of a dozen states that ban liquor sales on the Christian sabbath, although it is the only state that also bans beer and wine sales. In addition to the statewide bans, some states have widespread local restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales.

Indiana's ban on Christmas sales was lifted thanks to a 2015 bill backed by Republicans. One of them, Rep. Jerry Torr, told The New York Times Indiana's confusing and outdated liquor laws desperately need revision. "It's a complete mess," he said. "All the statutes having to do with alcohol—somebody just needs to start over and rewrite them. It's a hodgepodge of things that have evolved over the years."

The Times notes a law that requires grocery and convenience stores to sell beer warm, which it calls "a sort of mandatory waiting period for impulse drinkers." Liquor stores, whose hours are restricted, are allowed to sell cold beer. Judging from Wikipedia's rundown of liquor laws, Indiana is the only state with that rule. But it was not unique in banning alcohol sales on Christmas. Ten other states—Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota—still do. Some of those laws are less sweeping than Indiana's was, applying only to off-premise sales or sales by liquor stores.

You may wonder how such religiously motivated restrictions on alcohol sales can be reconciled with the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. According to the Supreme Court, laws prohibiting businesses from operating on Sundays are constitutional as long as you can come up with an ex post facto secular justification for them, such as the desire to prevent people from working too much. (No, really.) In the case of alcohol, public safety concerns, such as fear of a surge in drunk driving accidents on days when people don't have to work yet are free to buy alcoholic beverages, can be used as a fig leaf for religious motives. Since 2002, 16 states and the District of Columbia nevertheless have decided to allow Sunday liquor sales.