The Idaho State Liquor Division seems to think it is in the business of protecting the delicate sensibilities of Mormon residents of that state. It has blocked sales of Five Wives Vodka, made by a Utah company called Ogden’s Own Distillery, on the grounds that Mormons might find the name insulting. The company has hired Jonathan Turley to bring a legal challenge and Turley has written a letter to the state threatening a suit:
Throughout this process, Ogden’s Own has tried to discuss and resolve any problems or concerns with your agency. They applied for entry into the Idaho market in good faith as they have done in other states. Idaho is the only state to raise religious and social sensibilities as a basis to deny entry to this product. To make matters worse, the agency proceeded to engage in public attacks on the company and its products. Mr. Wasserstein opted to inform third parties that the product was an insult to Mormons and later pledged that it would never be sold in the State of Idaho. He then expanded these attacks with criticism of the picture on the bottle, suggesting a bizarre misogynist hidden message. When public criticism grew over the use of religious sensibilities as a criterion for blocking the sale of a product, both Mr. Wasserstein and yourself proceeded to attack the quality of the vodka—disparaging both the product and the producers at this small distillery. Just last Friday, you were quoted attacking the product as “low class” and not “something we want to have on our shelf, sitting next to Absolut vodka.”
My clients would be the last to disagree with your praise and high regard for Absolut vodka. They have never disparaged other products. Just as the distillers in Sweden are rightfully proud of Absolut, the distillers of Ogden’s Own are equally proud of their product. While they are tiny in comparison to the Swedish company, these American distillers resent your suggestion that they should not be seen on the same shelf with Absolut. I am, frankly, astonished by the vitriol and venom directed at this small company because it had the temerity to ask to enter the Idaho market and then objected to being blocked by religious sensibilities.
There is no reason for Ogden’s Own to respond tit-for-tat to these public attacks by you and Mr. Wasserstein. Unlike your vodka of choice, your power is not absolute. We have a court system designed to protect citizens and companies from arbitrary and abusive governmental actions. It is clear from the continuing attacks from your office that nothing short of a lawsuit will compel your agency to reconsider its decision as well as its underlying policy.
I can’t imagine there’s any way the state of Idaho can win such a case. I hope they drop it. If Mormons are offended by the title, they shouldn’t be drinking vodka anyway.