Friday, February 24, 2006

Terry Nation

By Tim Peck
Mountain Guardian

The Annual Brewgrass Festival is a favorite among Asheville residents and others who come from quite far away to attend. The festival’s draw derives from its primary purpose: To promote high-quality microbrewed beers from the Asheville area and around the nation. A little bluegrass in the background all day long rounds out the offering as a perfect compliment to the high spirits. Last year, the festival sold out in one hour. I have attended the last two myself and already purchased my ticket for this year (on sale 3/5/06 at their website).

Festival attendees pay once for a $25.00 general admission ticket and are given a small beer glass as they enter the grounds. They can then stroll the grounds at will all day sampling various microbrewed beers pulled from cold taps that are housed in row after row of vendor booths throughout the venue—and all of this without charge. Only the food and merchandise vendors take money.

Most will lay out blankets on the ground or set up folding chairs facing the band stage. Lines are generally no more than 5 to 10 deep and move quickly. The sunny outdoor festival atmosphere keeps everyone in a happy mood and there is a general sense of camaraderie that is sustained until the festival closes after dusk. The longest lines are actually found at the portable restrooms tucked away at far corners where some take longer than others.

Among the local sponsors of the event are popular downtown pub Barley's Taproom, Greenlife Grocery, and the left-wing radio station WPEK 880 AM.

This particular pursuit of happiness, however, was threatened by the city's mayor in an appalling demonstration of hubris and naked appeasement. Asheville's Mayor Terry Bellamy—who promised to be a mayor for all of the people and not just those who elected her—took active steps in a recent City Council meeting that would have made the sale and possession of beer at the 10th Annual Brewgrass Festival illegal.

First, the mayor removed an item from the City Council’s consent agenda that would have allowed the Brewfest, and 11 other popular festivals including Goombay, to sell and possess beer and/or wine. After passing the consent agenda without that item in it, Bellamy hastily called for a vote on the singled-out festival resolution without any discussion on the matter. Council voted on the resolution and it passed 6-1 with Bellamy against.
“Resolutions making provisions for the possession and consumption of malt beverages and/or unfortified wine at the following 2006 Special Events: 3rd Annual Earth Day Festival on April 15, 2006; Mountain Sports Festival on May 5-7, 2006; Downtown After 5 events on May 19, June 16, July 21, August 18, and September 15, 2006; 1st Annual Asheville Urban Jazz Festival on June 10, 2006; Fourth of July Celebration on July 4, 2006; 75th Annual City of Asheville Open Tennis Championships on July 20-21, 2006; 29th Bele Chere Festival on July 28-20, 2006; GoomBay! Festival on August 26-28, 2006; Fiesta Latina Festival on September 16, 2006; Asheville Greek Festival on September 22-24, 2006; 10th Annual Brewgrass Festival on September 30, 2006; and the Asheville Grizzlies home games at various dates throughout the summer.”
This was clearly a calculated move on the mayor's part. Knowing that her position was unsupportable and that the measure would pass easily without her assent, she decided to make a purely symbolic gesture out of her one vote.

The mayor is a known teetotaler, as are many in Asheville and this is a perfectly reasonable position to take for any private citizen; that is their choice. Bellamy's personal choice on this matter stems from her religious faith—again, a matter of personal choice that interferes with no one else's personal choices.

But for a sitting elected official to impose her own personal religious beliefs on the citizens and festival-goers of Asheville and beyond is a disgrace and a perversion of her oath. The mayor's moral views on alcohol consumption are simply not relevant. Nor are her moral views on the consumption of chocolate, pizza or gummi bears.

Unable to separate church and state, in either her mind or her official duties, the mayor, with this vote, put the imposition of her own personal religious beliefs on others above the will of the people and the economic interests of Asheville. Had the mayor's attitude been shared by a majority on council, Brewfest attendees would have had to settle for twelve hours sipping sweet tea.

Freedom breeds plurality. And in a free nation, the statecraft of politics has the responsibility of governing a pluralistic society; that is, a society with a multitude of subjective beliefs, principles and preferences that may sometimes be at odds with one another. One specific religious faith, however piously held, cannot be made the standard of morality in a pluralistic society.

Governments, however, much like physicians, must first do no harm. They must constrain their purview to essentials and look after only those elements of society that are held in common: the protection of individual rights from encroachments, predations and violations. When a city's mayor deigns to control the legal behavior of a free people, she has crossed the line between governing and controlling. This legislative act by an elected government official represents the kind of harm that comes to individual liberties when the objective domain of politics is overtly tainted with the subjective sensibilities of religion.

If a lawmaker chooses to deny themselves certain of life’s pleasures, that is their business. But when they want to also deny me those pleasures, then it becomes my business. The Mayor does not have the right to sacrifice my happiness on the altar of her religiously-based moral predilections.

I’m happy that the Founding Fathers formulated a social system that is designed to protect my rights. I would be very pleased if modern politicians would limit their range of action to the system that the founders designed.

In my opinion, not only should a person have the right to pursue their own happiness, I believe they should be able to do so in the manner of their choosing without the strained permission of puritans.