South Carolina County’s Churches Demand to Be ‘Protected’ From Bars

“An outrage,” pastor John Culp calls it.

“It doesn’t offer any protection!” moral-panics his colleague Dick Lincoln.

Why are religious officials in Richland County, South Carolina fuming? They’re up in arms over the county’s proposal to do away with restrictions stipulating that bars have to be at least 600 feet from the nearest church.

The change would allow bars to open next door to congregations in some unincorporated areas if a majority of the 11 council members end the minimum 600-foot setback — slightly more than a tenth of a mile.

It is aimed at “storefront churches” that are popping up increasingly in traditional business locations like strip malls and near warehouses, said Councilman Norman Jackson of Lower Richland, who proposed the change. That is creating unintended limits on where bars can locate, Jackson said.

It’s probably a measure of my advanced godlessness that I can’t think of a single compelling reason why churches should be “protected,” by secular law, from having a bar next door (or within 600 feet, or any other arbitrary distance). Actual public nuisance caused by paying customers, such as potentially excessive noise, can be addressed by ordinances that are on the books in every functioning municipality in the United States.

Pastors and congregations who prejudge bar patrons, and who pretend that there is something inherently wrong and sinful about them, don’t strike me as very fair, kind, or reasonable.

And why do churches deserve special consideration from lawmakers that no other enterprise is entitled to?

Let’s say I run a day spa in which quietude is part of the experience, and that the watering hole next door often plays music with the windows open. In such a situation, I’m going to try to reach some kind of understanding or accord with the owners of that establishment. That’s how most adults do it: they work it out as best they can. If I’m not a jerk with an entitlement complex, I won’t be indignantly insisting that the local government owes it to me and my clients to write a custom-tailored law, including special protections, for my category of business.

Yesterday, the Richland County council voted to send Norman Jackson‘s proposal back to the planning department for fine-tuning. I hope the eventual solution will be of the to-each-his-own variety, where church aficionados do their thing, nearby bar visitors do theirs, and neither group seeks to infect the other with its cooties.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • CanuckAmuck

    “The church is near, but the roads are icy. The tavern is far, but I will walk carefully.” – old Russian (or Ukrainian, depending on your source) proverb.

  • eonL5

    I like the day-spa analogy. If only the county officials could see it thus.

  • The Starship Maxima

    The only outrage is that more churches aren’t near bars.

  • C Peterson

    I think it’s the bars should be demanding protection from the churches. Their actual risk is tangible.

  • Sue Blue

    Oh, boo-friggety-hoo. What limp-wristed, week-kneed “faith” these churches must think their congregations have if they can’t resist the temptations of a nearby bar. It’s just the same as their crusades against so many things – if they don’t like it, they want to deny it to everyone instead of just choosing not to do it themselves.

    • Guest

      It’s all because of the violence in video games and the violence, nudity and sex in Hollywood doncha know?

    • The Other Weirdo

      What limp-wristed, week-kneed “faith” these churches must think know their congregations have if they can’t resist the temptations of a nearby bar.

      There. Fixed it for ya.

  • L.Long

    The churches do have protection form bars being near them. They are just fuller the normal with BS.

    1. IF the church opens in a building that ALREADY has a bar located nearby, then tuff schite!!!! get over yourselves or get a different location.! You maroons!

    2. If the land is empty and you are butting a church there then buy up ALL the nearby (what ever that means) land then you have control! You dimwitted maroons!

    But the best thing to have near a church is a bordello or a bar. Either one will help the sheeple get over the lying crap the con man fed to them.

    • Feminerd

      Heh, around here there is a similar law. There’s a bunch of liquor stores clustered around an intersection across the street from a mosque. A big church bought some of the land and built a center, then sued to get the liquor stores shut down.

      They tried to get the mosque in on it, but the mosque people were like, they were here first, and besides, we don’t mind. We teach our congregation not to drink, but it’s their choice whether they listen or not. You people are crazy.

      The church lost. The liquor stores are still there.

  • C Peterson

    How about this? Any church that serves alcohol should be required to get a liquor license. That would make the church a bar, so it would need to be at least 600 feet away from itself.

    When it gets to the end of the Universe, mission accomplished!

    • rhodent

      This is South Carolina we’re talking about. There are likely a bunch of fundie churches who would welcome such a rule because they use grape juice instead of wine and would see it as a way to drive the Catholics out of town.

      • Patrick

        Ex-Christian from Columbia… used to go to Dick Lincoln’s Shandon Baptist Church. When I was in leadership there, we signed a morality agreement to not drink any alcohol under any circumstances. They are a very hardcore brand of fundamentalist evangelical, to be sure.

        I will also point out, however, the next church I moved to after leaving that one would have unofficial meetups of the entire leadership team in “the Speakeasy,” jazz bar and cigar parlor. So I’m sure not every pastor is against it. Just the more ignorant ones.

    • JA


    • ShoeUnited

      You do know that Catholic communal wine is not fortified and is non-alcoholic? Most of the country gets their communal wine from a monastery about 20 miles from where I grew up. There’s no liquor, just skanky grape juice.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Great. Now I have an unabashed lust for grape juice. Thanks.

      • C Peterson

        I didn’t know that. Indeed, a little research on the Internet suggests otherwise, with Catholic rules (Canon 924) seeming to require alcohol content in most cases. Sacramental wine can’t be fortified, but must be naturally fermented, which means it’s normally alcoholic. It seems that a special dispensation to use grape juice or minimally fermented grape juice can be obtained when the priest is an alcoholic.

      • Mike Aquino

        Not true in all cases. We once tried having a drinking session with Mompo mass wine, and while it was way too sweet, it did have an alcohol content as evidenced by the buzz we had afterward.

        • Dan Robinson

          That wasn’t alcohol, it was the holy spirits.

      • Donalbain

        No. Communion wine is alcoholic. Indeed, it MUST be alcoholic unless they have special permission to the contrary.

    • Robster

      In the old days when I used to go to church, they always served a bit of vino so we could believe we were drinking the blood of jesus or some other silly nonsense, I’m sure it was alcoholic, sure tasted that way. The wine was always ordinary, always felt like the priest had popped up to the liquor store and picked up whatever was on special, cheaper the better. The cracker thingies they served with the wine were pretty tasteless too.

  • Holytape

    Christianity, it took several centuries, but you went from being a wine-centric religion, to a whine-centric religion. Waka-waka-waka…..

    (p.s. I’ll be here all night, and don’t forget to tip your waitress.)

  • A3Kr0n

    I suppose the obvious question would be why can’t their all powerful God help them?

    • John

      I want to open a bar called “Iron Chariot” next to a church over there.

    • Matt D

      For the same reason Zeus does not.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Bite your tongue. I totally saw him smite the top of the Empire State Building with lightning.

  • Dave

    I can see their point. You are walking along the road wondering what to do and you see a bar and a church. Which one do you enter? A very real conumdrum for most people.

    • LutherW

      Be careful if you have children with you. On of those locations is likely staffed by pedophiles and filled with angry sad people disconnected from reality.

    • wmdkitty

      The bar, no question — it’s safer than the church…

    • Elesa

      Pass both of them by and go to the library, of course.

    • Dan Robinson

      I’m an atheist who doesn’t drink. I go home a light up a big fat doobie.

  • Danny Lee Turner II

    A bar next to a church sign me up, finally something to do while the family is at church.

  • Abbé Faria

    Does bars have to be 600 ft away from schools or playgrounds? Or is churches just that extra special?

  • thingwarbler

    Can we at least get an amendment that precludes churches from setting up shop within, oh, say, a solid time zone from a school or daycare center?

  • Brenda Lunger

    Ahh, the South Carolina theocrazy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the preechurs win.

  • David

    Umm… Living outside of the US there’s one particular junction not far from me with a bar, church, and another bar on one side of the road and a police-station, gas-station, and hindu temple on the other side of the road.

    Really, the only religious institution that DOESN’T have a bar nearby the mosque… And I don’t believe that has anything to do with ordinance.

    • David

      Sorry, “nearby *is the mosque”. (Typo)

  • Cdat88

    I side with the bars…at least they pay taxes and contribute to supporting local budgeting, instead of hiding behind tax free shields.

    • smrnda

      Proliferation of churches, store-front or otherwise, can have a really bad impact on a community by drying up tax revenue and taking up real estate that could be occupied by commercial establishments employing more people and turning a profit. A bar is going to generate some revenue for a city, but a church is going to be a drain. Some municipalities have had serious problems with an eroding tax base as churches kept opening up.

      • 92JazzQueen .

        I thought atheists were supposed to take Pope Francis thing about how money shouldn’t rule our lives to heart. I guess when it comes to the stuff they like then it goes out the other ear.

        • lloydsev

          Why would Atheists take anything the Pope says to heart, or even care?

          Just curious.

  • Zacman Jones

    Why don’t they just pray for bars to stay away?

  • Steve Barry

    As if church attendees *never* patronize bars. That would never happen.

    Two variations of a joke told to me by a Southern Baptist:

    “If you have a case of beer and two Southern Baptists you’ll end up with a case of beer. If you have a case of beer and one Southern Baptist you have a drunk Southern Baptist and a lot of empty cans.”

    “What’s the only way to ensure a Southern Baptist doesn’t drink all your beer? Bring another Southern Baptist.”

    Because they won’t drink it in front of each other. Because hypocrisy.

    I didn’t say they were good jokes.

    • Carla

      Meh. Reminds me of going to church every Sunday and figuring out which person in the pew smelled the most like alcohol from the night before.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Gotta get your drinking in before you see the Lord?

    • TheUnknownPundit

      I’ve told that same (slightly modified) joke to my Southern Baptist family. My late mother was not amused.
      Here’s one for you. A Catholic, Lutheran and Southern Baptist are in a package liquor store when a fire breaks out. Everyone escapes safely from the building except the Southern Baptist.
      Unfortunately the back door was locked. (Mom didn’t like that one either. LOL)

      • chicago dyke, TOWAN

        i worked in a strip club. some really regular patrons on saturday night were the very caricatures of Southern Baptists. i’d stake a week’s wages there that they were. loved them some booze and titties the night before mandatory jeebus.

        • TheUnknownPundit

          You were probably right.
          Speaking as a former Southern Baptist, now atheist, it is certainly true in my experience that some members of that denomination are willing to engage in “sinful” behaviors when they think their actions won’t be witnessed by anyone they know.
          A recent example of this is my own Southern Baptist sister who just returned to the USA with her husband after a 3 week visit to Ireland. I heard from another sister that while in Ireland my visiting sister developed a taste for hard cider and a local ale. This sister wouldn’t dream of doing those things in the Kentucky town where she and her family have lived for the last 20 years. A good Southern Baptist consumes alcohol for medicinal purposes only, or so I was taught. LOL

  • Frankengamer

    At least the bar exists..If you are so weak minded, that the mere presence of a drinking establishment can entice you enough to go in and have a beer, you need waaaay more help than your fake God can provide..You need a new brain, or at least some more RAM…LOL

  • SkepticsRUs

    Maybe churches can’t stand the competition if people see a church to their right and a bar to their left they just might veer left.

  • Pustulio

    I might support restrictions that prevent churches from opening too close to bars. A new church can cause havoc with traffic and parking, and churches that hold evening services and/or rent out their spaces during the week can really put a dent in a bar’s business.

  • Buck

    It’s not just Richland county. Most SC counties have similar laws. In many places you still can’t buy alcohol or open a bar on Sunday. My daddy used to say that it didn’t say much for the preacher if he feared honest competition from the bartender. :-)

  • raerants

    I thought that “dens of iniquity” were churches’ bread and butter: the very places from which poor sinners needed to be saved!

    Dudes, make up your minds: Either you’re keen to proselytize, or you’re content preaching to the insulated choir.

  • Dave McNee

    What, no moratorium on strip clubs that serve alcohol??

    • Gehennah

      I wonder if there is an ordinance against strip clubs within 600 feet. I know I’d rather visit one of those than a church, especially a store front church, those usually look so tacky.

  • Jane Chiarello

    I-must-not-go-into-the bar-I-must-go-to-church-I-must-go-to-church. OK bar it is then, fuck it !! Really ??? What kind of weak, lily-livered sort of congregation they must be if a bar within 600ft is a temptation. If it’s a temptation at 600ft then it’s one at 650ft, a mile or 2miles. Please get over your entitlements. I have no idea if we have such rubbish local authority rules in the UK. I VERY much doubt it.

  • Rev. Ouabache

    I didn’t know it was possible to ever be more than 600 feet away from a church while in the South.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Inside city limits perhaps, though that may be the whole point of the storefront churches.

      This way, instead of walking home from the bar, you have to choose between driving back into town or calling a cab.

  • Dan Weeks

    I know, how about religions stop opening up ridiculous “storefront churches,” and there’ll be no need at all for the 600 feet cootie rule?

  • The Other Weirdo

    I lived across two parking lots and a bowling alley from a bar with a patio that, in the summer, used to blare full-volume music till 3am. And I know for a fact that there were houses even closer. Nobody cared. If churches can’t be bothered to construct actual walls, they shouldn’t deserve any special consideration. In fact, they shouldn’t deserve any special consideration regardless.

    • LutherW

      Across or down the street from a church you could have heard loud bells.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Well, that’s true, but I suppose store-front churches wouldn’t have bells.

  • midnight rambler

    If you can’t even avoid the temptation of going to the bar on Sunday morning, you have a serious problem.

  • Mario Strada

    They both deal in spirits. The main difference is that one is real and the other a complete fabrication.

    • The Other Weirdo

      There hasn’t been that spirit here since 1965.

      • chicago dyke, TOWAN

        i see what you did there. ;-)

      • wmdkitty

        Aw, shit. Can’t un-hear, “Hotel California” is stuck in my head now.

  • ShoeUnited

    I’m still of the opinion that churches (since they seem to be teeming with pedophiles) should have a minimum distance from schools, parks, playgrounds, daycares, malls, theaters, and anywhere else children congregate. I’m still working out the details of the YMCA.

    Alas, I won’t get my way, but at least my reason makes a kind of sense.

  • John Thomas

    Remember, most places like this have blue laws too (I know the county I live in here in NC has ‘em) that make it illegal to purchase alcohol at all on a Sunday… (though here it’s only until noon because that’s when the baptist churches wrap up services). They must really be worried that if it wasn’t for these laws their congregation would spend all it’s time drinking.

    They believe that if it wasn’t for the ten commandments everyone would be murdering and raping each other, so why shouldn’t they believe that the only thing between them and crippling alcoholism is a local ordinance?

    That said, it’s not really the issue at stake here. As it says in the article, the problem is small churches popping up all over and making it hard for new bars to find land more than 600 feet away from a church… because that is exactly their strategy, establish churches every 600 feet so no new ‘sinful’ bars can open up in their community.

    • Gehennah

      Exactly. I doubt that many bars would try to be within 600 feet of a stand alone church, but if they are going to do the strip mall churches, then it’s going to make it much more difficult, or impossible to open a bar in some areas.

      I know this is what the churches probably want, but sorry, they don’t deserve special protection as long as that bar is not interfering with their church directly (the church members decided to get sauced instead of going to church, well that’s not the bar’s problem)

      • wmdkitty

        Nor, as the churches might claim, is it the bar’s fault that it is far more interesting than sitting in a hard pew listening to some man drone on and on about “sin”.

    • smrnda

      I used to live in Chicago. Across the border in Indiana was this crazy Baptist church in Hammond. They’d led some crusade to ban the sale of alcohol in NW Indiana on Sunday (look up the First Baptist Church of Hammond – it’s a good read.)

      All said, I think it’s utter bullshit that some religious agency gets to interfere in the workings of the market when it comes to the sale of booze.

      One municipality in that region actually attempted to ban pornography. This led to lots of meetings of preachers and local clergy to debate whether or not certain publications were pornography or not.

      • Dan Robinson

        Oh ha! Love to sit in on that meeting! Perhaps I can be an expert consultant.

      • kenofken

        Why would anyone force people to endure Hammond sober?

  • Croquet_Player

    “Blue laws” are the most obnoxious things ever. I couldn’t believe it when I landed in Bethesda, Maryland for our American Atheists conference in ’12 and could not buy anything – beer, wine or spirits, at any store at 11:00 p.m. Oh, but I could certainly buy cocktails at my hotel bar for ten bucks a pop. Totally annoying.

  • $925105

    Waaaa, we’re being persecuted because people are having fun. Waaaaa!

  • fmfalcao

    Churches shouldn’t be close to schoolyards or playgrounds.

  • busterggi

    Why are they rejecting the blood of Jesus?

  • Richard Wade

    They just want the law to favor them in a simple competition for business. Bars and churches are two very similar businesses. Both sell you something that makes you feel good, but has deleterious effects, and in some cases, can devastate your life.

  • 92JazzQueen .

    I think the guy might have a point because a lot of times bars attract really unsavory behavior. Not to mention what if children saw that in front of them while they were going to church. Believe me sometimes bars can actually encourage destructive behavior like over drinking. Just ask my stepfather who has been dry for years.

    • Carmelita Spats

      I am a hard-drinking (single malt scotch) bar patron and I frequent rowdy cantinas in my country. I would be appalled at finding my cantina next to a church because churches attract, foment and encourage unsavory behavior such as gullibility, indulging in fantasies, superstitions, confirmation bias, the inability to reason, misogyny and bigotry against homosexuals. Just look at the grotesque insanity they preach from the pulpit…A Trinitarian-incarnational-atoning-resurrecting-ascending-soon-to-be-returning-God impregnated his own mother with Himself (since the Father and Son are One) so that He could sacrifice Himself to Himself in a weird yet quirky yet hilarious suicide mission that ends up mangled up in a loincloth and a disgusting crown of thorns. They quote lascivious Bible verses which are unfit for ANY child to hear such as, “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” (Ezequiel 23:20). Believe me, children are taught that they are worthless unless they accept a personal and perverse and hallucinatory relationship with a 2,000-year-old virgin carpenter who will gladly deep fry their faces extra-crispy if they don’t love him back. Have you ever seen pictures of burn victims? Children are brainwashed with this mental illness to the point that it is child abuse. What if I had to witness this wanton child abuse while walking to my cantina with my guitar and my book of poems? Believe me, churches can actually encourage destructive behavior like violent and vicious bigotry against homosexuals. Just ask my buddy. He’s been gay for years.

      • 92JazzQueen .

        Just ask my stepdad who to this day who can tell you his years of being an alcoholic. It seems whenever nonbelievers complain about anything the church opposes it mainly stems from the fact they think happiness is the reason for life. Well, the fact is happiness isn’t what life is supposed to be about. People make an idol out of happiness to the point they will sell out their families and friends for the pursuit of it.