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Idaho's efforts to stifle Ogden's Five Wives Vodka earns it a Jefferson Muzzle

Published April 16, 2013 4:15 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While Utah's liquor laws sometimes leave people shaking their heads, it was neighboring Idaho that won recognition for attempting to ban a vodka made in Ogden.

This past week, The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression awarded the Idaho State Liquor Commission one of nine 2013 Jefferson Muzzle awards for barring the sale of Five Wives Vodka in the state.

The Jefferson Muzzles are given around April 13, Jefferson's birthday, to recognize the foundation's namesake's dedication to free expression by spotlighting those who try to trample that right.

In the Five Wives' case, Ogden's Own Distillery attempted to sell its vodka to Idaho bars and liquor stores. The Idaho liquor agency refused to permit its sale in the state, claiming that the product's "concept" was "offensive to a prominent segment of our population."

Idaho's population is 27 percent LDS, and the vodka's name could be seen as a reference to polygamy. The label also showed a photo of a group of five women in bonnets, lifting their skirts to show their petticoats, with kittens stuffed in pockets over their crotches.

When Ogden's Own threatened a lawsuit, and the controversy went national, the liquor board backed down — to a point. The vodka is only available through special order, meaning it cannot be stocked on shelves or prominently advertised.

"Because the value of speech is a completely subjective determination that can vary from person to person, the First Amendment does not permit government officials to impose their individual preferences on the public," the Jefferson Muzzle citation reads. "As United States Supreme Court Justice Harlan famously wrote, 'one man's vulgarity is another's lyric.'"

Other Jefferson Muzzle winners included the Oklahoma school that ordered a 5-year-old boy to turn his University of Michigan T-shirt inside out, a Pennsylvania school board for banning the book The Dirty Cowboy and officials who attempted to bar Chick-Fil-A stores from coming to their areas because of the owner's stance against same-sex marriage.