Utah liquor commissioners quiet over 'Deadpool' lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: Apr 26, 2016 4:35 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's liquor commissioners sidestepped questions Tuesday about a Salt Lake City movie theater being cited under a state obscenity law for serving drinks during a screening of the movie "Deadpool."

During the liquor board's first monthly meeting since the theater filed a lawsuit over the incident, Vice Chairman Jeff Wright said the commission will not comment on any issues related to the litigation. But he did highlight the fact that the commission does not create the laws, it only enforces them.

Utah's alcohol control department filed a complaint against the theater called Brewvies after undercover officers attended a screening of Marvel's R-rated antihero film in February. It is now facing a fine of up to $25,000 and could lose its liquor license.

Brewvies responded by filing a lawsuit, saying Utah's law unconstitutionally uses liquor rules to restrict free speech rights.

Utah's obscenity law is generally used to regulate strip clubs, which are required to have dancers wear G-strings and pasties if they serve liquor. It also bans showing any film with sex acts or simulated sex acts, full-frontal nudity or the "caressing" of breasts or buttocks if at businesses with liquor licenses.

Playing "Deadpool" while serving booze violates the law because the movie includes nudity and simulated sex, including a suggestive scene in the film's credits involving a cartoon unicorn, the state says.

The state's Democratic nominee for attorney general, Jon Harper, said during the meeting that Utah is infringing on Brewvies' constitutional rights, citing a 1996 Supreme Court ruling that said liquor regulation cannot be used to restrict speech protected by the First Amendment.

The Salt Lake City attorney said the movie has played in a variety of other locations throughout Utah.

"The only difference is that Brewvies serves alcohol," said Harper. "To restrict Brewvies from showing the movie because liquor was involved is directly contrary to the Supreme Court ruling."

Utah's law is similar to an Idaho measure that lawmakers repealed this year when a theater sued after its liquor license was threatened for showing "Fifty Shades of Grey" while serving alcohol.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Salt Lake City resident Zachary Zundel referenced the nudity in some artwork that depicts Christ. He asked the commissioners whether they intend to send agents to Catholic churches, since wine is often included in their services.

Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control scheduled a meeting in May to discuss or possibly settle the complaint before further disciplinary action, which could include thousands in fines and the suspension or revocation of the theater's license.

Actor Ryan Reynolds, who stars in "Deadpool," gave $5,000 to a fundraising website set up to help the theater with its legal bills.

Brewvies, open since 1997, only allows people 21 and older to see movies and serves food and liquor.