In April of this year, I decided to move from Minnesota to Utah immediately following my high school graduation. I had many motives for taking a gap year before college, the primary ones being money, the development of my work ethic and gaining perspective on life outside the classroom.
Before I moved to Salt Lake City I was badgered constantly, by classmates and adults alike, about living alongside Utah’s prominent Mormon population. This talk normally consisted of offensive stereotyping and plain bigotry. I, however, did not perceive Utah and its people in such a dark light. No, I saw a hard-working and resilient people, whose ancestors squeezed water from stone in an unforgiving and harsh landscape to create one of the foremost centers of the American west.
Utah, and the valley in particular, is to me a testament to all that is fantastic and unique about America. Freedom to say and believe what you wish, the inability to hinder others from such, and most of all, the will and desire to build a place where such is possible. Undeniable is the fact that work — honest, purposed work — is the foundation of our incredible and comfortable way of life.
Unfortunately, it appears that the state government of Utah has utterly lost sight of work’s place in our way of life. Legislators and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control have, in a well-meaning but ultimately overzealous crusade against underage drinking, deprived myself and others of our God-given right to work.
I will spare the long chain of events that led to me working in the kitchen of a place that is legally considered a bar. For two days I worked as a dishwasher for this establishment, which will remain unnamed. I never served or came in contact with alcohol. When it came time to do my employment paperwork, the manager expressed shock to discover I was 18. I have been told many times that I look years older than my age, and it never occurred to either of us that my age was an issue. To him, because I obviously appeared over 21, or to me, because in Minnesota you can work in a bar or restaurant at any age. He said he could not hire me and that I must immediately leave the premises, much to both of our chagrin.
“I really want to keep you around,” he told me. “You did a great job, but my hands are tied.”
Utah law disallows anyone under 21 from being on bar premises, even employees. Why there is no exemption for employees is beyond me. I am near manhood, saving for college, and I need second employment. A law against serving I can understand, but going so far as to ban me from washing dishes and cooking nachos?
It is a filthy example of needless regulation. In a justifiable quest to protect their youth, the state has unjustifiably deprived me of the my natural right to work where I will. The root of this rule is undoubtedly the Mormon conviction of abstaining, which I respect very highly. But to impose this conviction on me at the sacrifice of my natural rights is a gross miscarriage of liberty and the Christianity used to justify the rule. (The Bible itself places a lot of importance on working as hard as you’re able.)
I would ask Utah to seriously reconsider this rule on moral grounds and question its effectiveness in preventing underage drinking.
Joey Puckett, Salt Lake City, is a production assistant for “The Andi Mack Show,” runs the humor website, Chonchobanter.com and will be attending college next year.