By Blake Whitten
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 ten o’clock (10:00) p.m. and closing.”
Of course, restricting the legal right of older citizens to freely associate is ludicrous, out- rageous, 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.
Replace the words “is 50 years or older” with “has not yet attained the legal age” and you have the 21-only bar-entry ordinance in Iowa City.
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, city staff brought this conflict to the attention of the city recently. In true Orwellian fashion, the City Council has decided to redefine human rights so as to specially exclude the 21-only 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 does the inalienable nature of such rights impel us to reconsider the law itself?
I wish that University of Iowa President Sally Mason understood the irony that each time she extols the “nanny state” by promoting the 21-only law 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. Students rightly perceive the hypocrisy of the mixed message between rights and responsibilities: “Study hard but be home in bed by ten o’clock.”
The 21-only ordinance appeals to dark emotions. It would have us fear our students rather than honor their accomplishments. As a community, we’re better than that. We’re fair-minded, not mean-spirited.
Much has been debated about safety. The claim by 21 Makes Sense of a “26 percent decline in disorderly house arrests” in a recent mailer is belied by an actual 82 percent increase in the three years after enactment compared with three years before in a careful analysis published by The Gazette: http://thegazette.com/2013/10/18/supporters-say-police-stats-show-iowa-citys-bar-law-works-2/
The same article notes a 0.2 percent decline over all in alcohol-related categories when ICPD and UIPD data are combined. The decline is so slight as to be not statistically significant, essentially a wash between before and after enactment.
Perhaps we can agree 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 Iowa City tradition of grace and fair play, let’s remove the human rights violation known as the 21-only ordinance.
Blake Whitten of Coralville is a lecturer in the Department of Economics and the Department of Statistics at the University of Iowa. Comments: email@example.com