SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Mormon church has issued a sweeping defense of Utah's famously strict liquor laws, drawing a line against tourism, restaurant and bar industry advocates who have helped ease alcohol regulations in recent years.
Ahead of the upcoming legislative session, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted to its website a hefty multi-media policy statement urging lawmakers to uphold rules that church leaders say are "closely tied to the moral culture of the state."
The posting features an explanation of the church's stance, a video interview with one of the faith's top leaders and graphic presentations of supporting statistics.
"It's very important that we avoid an alcohol culture," said D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve, the church's second-highest governing body, in the video.
Experts say church leaders are flexing their considerable political muscle with a move that could have a chilling effect on efforts to change state liquor laws this session.
"In Utah politics, no one wants to go up against the LDS church," said Damon Cann, a political scientist at Utah State University.
The majority of Utah legislators are Mormons and an estimated two-thirds of the state's residents belong to the faith.
Avoiding alcohol is a fundamental part of being considered a fully practicing member of the Mormon church, religious experts say. Those who drink alcoholic beverages can't worship in temples and face social stigma, said Matthew Bowman, assistant professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
In Utah, liquor licenses are issued to restaurants based on state population quotas, creating a long waiting list. In establishments that do serve alcohol, portion sizes are tightly controlled. And in some restaurants, drinks must be mixed in a backroom or behind a partition that detractors have come to call a "Zion curtain."
Other alcohol sales are limited to state-run liquor stores, where beer is not refrigerated and ancillary items like margarita mix aren't sold.
Christofferson said the church is not proposing banning alcohol and doesn't want to impose its rules on the entire state. But, he said, the state's current laws strike the right balance between allowing people to drink while limiting social costs of alcohol abuse.