Brewery accuses liquor board of trying to bottle up free speech
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Maryland brewery is accusing Michigan's liquor commission of censorship after the panel rejected labels for a beer that features an expletive in the name.
Flying Dog Brewery has filed a federal lawsuit in Grand Rapids asking that a judge override the commission's decision to reject labels for “Raging Bitch” beer and allow the brew to be advertised and sold in Michigan.
“Regrettably, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and its members have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well,” the Frederick, Md.-based brewery wrote in the lawsuit filed on March 25. “Acting as a censorial board, defendants wield state authority to impose their personal tastes as a prior restraint against core First Amendment expression that happens to be placed on beer labels.”
Sharon Martin, director of the commission's licensing division, said yesterday that the agency hadn't yet seen a copy of the lawsuit but noted the panel could lawfully reject labels that are “deemed to promote violence, racism, sexism, intemperance or intoxication” or are found to be “detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the general public.”
Martin said Flying Dog's application to sell and market the beer, billed as a 20th anniversary Belgian-style India Pale Ale, was denied in November 2009. The brewery lost an appeal last summer.
Flying Dog has said it refrained from retailing the beer in Michigan out of fear of criminal penalty for selling without a license.
The brewery does sell a number of other beers in Michigan, including “Doggie Style” Classic Pale Ale, “In Heat Wheat” Hefeweizen Ale and “Old Scratch” Amber Lager, The Grand Rapids Press reported.