No Dirty Bastard is Allowed in Alabama

Dirty Bastard beer is banned in Alabama but Fat Bastard wine isn't. That makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

The argument of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Agency is that the word "bastard" is a profanity and it bans profanity from alcoholic beverage labels.

Alabama officials not only permit the sale of Fat Bastard wine but also Raging Bitch beer. It would appear that the Dirty Bastard folks are being denied their rights to equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The ban is also inconsistent with First Amendment free-speech jurisprudence. The New York Liquor Authority rejected a Bad Frog beer label that showed a green frog making the middle-finger gesture, arguing that children had to be protected from the image. However, in its 1999 ruling in Bad Frog Brewery v. New York State Liquor Authority, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals observed that "In view of the wide currency of vulgar displays throughout contemporary society, including comic books targeted directly at children, barring such displays from labels for alcoholic beverages cannot realistically be expected to reduce children's exposure to such displays to any significant degree." It compared the rejection of the label to "the removal of a few grains of offensive sand from a beach of vulgarity." 1

Reacting to the Court's reference to comic books, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund noted that "Should attempts be made to ban the display of comic books with titles and covers that some would consider vulgar — for example, based on title alone, let's consider popular series such as Hellboy, Dicks, and Bastard!! — the bans would invariably fail due to First Amendment protections." 2

The Court also asserted that an image that might attract a child is not enough reason to ban it from a beer container because there are already laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.

Attempts to control advertising and labels for alcoholic beverages appear to be more restrictive across the country than even those for comic books. This may reflect a neo-prohibitionist impulse of many officials in state alcoholic beverage control agencies.

Although National Prohibition was repealed about 80 years ago, over one third of Alabama's counties enforce their own style of prohibition and are still dry.

Earlier, the Connecticut Liquor Control Division prohibited the sale of "Seriously Bad Elf" in that state. The elf was portrayed with a slingshot shooting Christmas tree ornaments at Santa's sleigh which was safely away in the sky. The Liquor Control Division contended that any image of Santa Claus on a label is illegal because it could cause children to want to buy it.

The year before, the Division approved the sale of "Santa's Butt" beer. Did Liquor Control think that children wouldn't recognize Santa's rear? Presumably the company would have experienced no difficulty had it stuck with its original idea of picturing the elf roasting a reindeer on a spit without any image of Santa.

The importer of the British product said it would go to court to defend its First Amendment right to free speech as it had successfully done earlier in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. The Office of Consumer Protection, which oversees the Connecticut Liquor Control Board, then decided that the law applies only to distilled spirits labels, not to beer labels.

Confusing the matter, the Commissioner of the Office of Consumer Protection said that "our regulations specifically exempt labels." That would mean that the regulations would not apply to distilled spirits labels either. Apparently the commissioner and his own office don't agree.

The Liquor Control Division then reversed its earlier position, decided that the law doesn't prohibit the label after all, and now permits the sale of "Seriously Bad Elf."

State officials may not understand their own confusing laws and regulations and therefore may not be applying them fairly and equitably. There's apparently a "Seriously Bad Bureaucratic Mess" in the State of Connecticut.

Seriously Bad Elf may be permitted in Connecticut but no Dirty Bastard is being allowed in Alabama.

 

Resources

  • Michigan-made Dirty Bastard beer banned in Alabama. Detroit Free Press, April 19, 2012;
  • Reeves, J. Alabama bans beer brand over dirty name on label. USA Today, April 19, 2012;
  • Hudson, D.L. Dirty Bastard beer ban defied logic. First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and Newseum website, April 24, 2012;
  • Gomez, B. Ban of Dirty Bastard beer sets uncomfortable precedent. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website, May 1, 2012;
  • Fischer, M. "Dirty Bastard" beer is hilarious, not offensive. The Stir website, April 20, 2012;
  • Seriously Bad Elf Beer http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/InTheNews/UnderageDrinking/1133806958.html

References

  • 1. Hudson, D.L. Dirty Bastard beer ban defied logic. First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and Newseum website, April 24, 2012.
  • 2. Gomez, B. Ban of Birty Bastard beer sets uncomfortable precedent. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website, May 1, 2012.

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