Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Underage Drinking As Human Right? I Don't Think So

October 16, 2013, 3:25 p.m.

Why Bar Owners, Students, Should Embrace Iowa City's 21 Law

This morning's Daily Iowan carries an opinion piece arguing that those whom the law forbids to consume alcohol at any time (those under 21) have been denied their human rights by the Iowa City Ordinance forbidding them to be in places of business, the sole purpose of which is to profit from the sale of alcohol, between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. Blake Whitten, "21-Ordinance Violates Human Rights," The Daily Iowan, Oct. 16, 2013, p. A4. It is reproduced in full at the bottom of this blog essay.

Those urging repeal of the so-called "21" ordinance come at their efforts at arguments for doing so from a variety of directions. I have already addressed the argument that goes, "because the drinking age should be 18 rather than 21, therefore, those under the age of 21 should be permitted to be in bars between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m." (even though, I would add, for them to drink during those hours is a clear violation of law). "Deeth's Drinking Age: A Reply; 21 -- 'Not Just a Good Idea, It's the Law,'" October 6, 2013. [Photo credit:]

The following was added by me as a comment to the online version of this morning's Daily Iowan column that attempted to argue why the 21 ordinance is a violation of students' "human rights." It was subsequently published by the Daily Iowan as "Letters to the Editor/Online Comments."

Re: 21-Ordinance is Human-Rights Violation
Nicholas Johnson
The Daily Iowan
October 17, 2013, p. A4
There are all kinds of age-based laws and regulations restricting those underage from, among other things, getting married, driving cars, buying guns, performing in porn videos, purchasing cigarettes -- and yes, alcohol. None is considered a human rights violation. See, "Deeth's Drinking Age: A Reply,"

Bars are in the business of profiting from the sale of alcohol. Those under 21 are legally prohibited from buying, possessing or consuming alcohol. The logical, and most easily administered, standard would be to prohibit anyone under 21 from ever entering a bar -- as is the standard in many places.

Instead, Iowa City lives with a compromise that enables bar owners to profit maximize, and those who cannot legally purchase what they have to sell to be in bars for 20 out of every 24 hours each day. Those under 21 are only kept out of bars from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. It's scarcely "21-only"!

It seems to me the City Council's approach is exceedingly generous to bar owners and their illegally binge drinking students alike, not something either should be protesting.

And since the author raised the "no one over 50 in bars after 10" example, nor is it a denial of my human rights as an old geezer that I have to get my driver's license renewed more often than my middle-aged children do. Someday it may be forcefully taken from me. The state has a right to determine if my driving puts at risk my own safety and that of others.

As John Neff has noted in a comment on the blog essay linked above, "The age dependence of hazardous use of alcohol decreases much faster than a Constant/Age with most of the problems in the 15 to 25 age range. The peak age is about 19, so 21 is a reasonable compromise for the minimum legal age to drink." In short, that's why the legal drinking age is 21. It, like limitations on my driving, is designed to minimize the risk of harm underage drinkers pose to themselves and others.

Meanwhile, 21 remains the legal drinking age. John Deeth has endeavored (earlier on these pages and elsewhere) to make the case for lowering the drinking age to 18. But until he persuades the Congress and Iowa Legislature of his position, (1) keeping those under 21 out of bars is logical, (2) permitting them in bars until 10 p.m. is generous, and (3) leaving them there until 2 a.m. is just asking for trouble -- the trouble we got the last time we tried.

Here is the Daily Iowan opinion piece to which the above is a response:

21-Ordinance Violates Human Rights
Blake Whitten
The Daily Iowan, October 16, 2013, p. A4.

Imagine that we’re debating a law that reads:

“No person, individual, association, corporation, partnership, or club holding a liquor-control license, wine, or beer permit, which authorizes on-the-premises consumption, nor his or her agents or employees shall allow a person who is 50 years or older to enter or remain in the licensed or permitted establishment between the hours of 10 p.m. and closing.”

Of course, restricting the legal right of older citizens to freely associate is ludicrous, outrageous, and completely unacceptable. As fair-minded Iowans, we wouldn’t stand for such a law, however benevolent the reasons advanced by the law’s proponents and regardless of how many community leaders endorsed it. [Photo credit:]

Replace the words “is 50 years or older” with “who has not yet attained the legal age,” and you have the 21 bar-entry ordinance.

But is discriminating against a younger demographic of Iowa City citizens really the moral equivalent of discriminating against older citizens? Apparently so, according to Iowa City’s own human-rights ordinance enshrined in the city code:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to deny any other person the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages of any place of public accommodation because of age, color, creed, disability, gender identity, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.”

Apparently staff brought this conflict to the attention of the city recently. In true Orwellian fashion, the council has decided to redefine human rights to specifically exclude the 21-ordinance as a human-rights violation. Poof. Age no longer matters.

City councilors chose a path of political expedience and hypocrisy. But what about the rest of us, those who don’t have political careers to protect or the need to publicly save face? Do we fold human rights neatly into a box that we call the law, or do the inalienable nature of such rights impel us to reconsider the law itself?

I wish that Sally Mason understood the irony that each time she extols the “nanny state” by promoting the 21-ordinance in a speech to the student council or in a press interview, she actually works against instructors who demand personal responsibility, hard work, and academic excellence in the classroom. Students rightly perceive the hypocrisy of the mixed message between rights and responsibilities: “Study hard, but be home in bed by 10 o’clock.”

One issue rarely mentioned is the example we’re setting for our ever-growing contingent of international students, many of whom hail from countries whose governments are considered less than democratic. These students are watching: Is America still the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are vulnerable minorities (in this case, young adults) treated with dignity and respect?

I call on students to vote YES on Public Measure G to affirm that you matter. (It’s especially easy for in-state and out-of-state students to register and vote early at campus locations before Oct. 25.)

Vote YES for your fellow students’ dignity and self-respect. Vote YES to show your international colleagues (international students) that the American dreams of freedom and equality are alive and well, right here in Iowa City.

Much has been debated about safety. The consensus seems to be that downtown is quieter but that house parties are better attended since 2010. But if the goal is a quiet downtown at the expense of freedom, then let’s be fair about it by passing a curfew that forbids everyone from being downtown after 10 p.m. Short of that, and in the great Iowan tradition of grace and fair play, let’s remove the human-rights violation known as the 21-ordinance. Vote yes on Public Measure G.

Blake Whitten is a lecturer in the Department of Economics and the Department of Statistics.

1 comment:

Steve Groenewold said...

Sorry to go off topic on you. I wanted to make sure you'd read this article from someone who was given access to the Snowden files at the Guardian. It's a chilling summary.