Drinking at Your Own Private Bar

December 8, 2011

Political Theory


According to United States Law the legal age to posses or consume alcohol is 21.  According to the law if someone under that age is caught drinking then the police have the right to give them a citation for underage drinking.  If you are outside partying in the street it is definitely possible that you can get a ticket or a Minor in Possession, but what if you are 18 and having a glass of wine with your parents at dinner?  According to the law that is still illegal.

My question is: does the government have the right to tell us what we can or can not put into our bodies in the privacy of our own home?

Martha Acklesberg and Mary Shanley write about the definition of privacy.  They explain that throughout the course of history the Supreme Court has given United States citizens the right or privacy in their own homes.  They use the example of homosexual privacy rights.  The Supreme Court Case Bowers v. Hardwick ruled that the government had the right to arrest homosexual people for conducting sexual acts or acts of “sodomy” in their own home.  Acklesberg and Shanley explain how this was overturned by Lawrence v. Texas where the Justices decided that the government does not have the right to enter in to the sexual matters taking place inside the home.  Ackelsberg and Shanley also give several other examples where the supreme court establishes a citizen’s right to privacy.  Such as Griswold v. Connecticut, which bars the government from restricting the use of contraceptives in the home.  These examples show that when people are in their homes they are protected from government intervention.

I would argue that these Supreme Court decisions could apply to the legal drinking age.  It has been established by U.S. Supreme Court that we have a right to privacy in our homes. In these cases it has been ruled that the government has no place in certain matters pertaining to the decisions that people make in their home.  If that privacy extends to sex why doesn’t include what we put into our bodies? The home is a private place.  In public it becomes a different story. It is illegal for people to have sex in public, and it is even illegal for legal drinkers to be excessively intoxicated in public.  This is understandable. There are other people around who may be offended by a sexual act,  or endangered by an intoxicated person.  In public you are subjected certain laws because your actions can affect other people.  If I was drunk in the middle of the street that would pose a much larger threat than me being drunk in my basement. If I am drinking privately at home I do not run the risk or hurting other people in society because I am staying home and not getting behind the wheel of a car, or getting into a drunken bar fight.

I would argue that when a police officer enters a person’s house and cites them for underage drinking they are blending the boundaries between public and private.  A police officer cannot dictate what clothes we wear, what we have for dinner, and, as established by the supreme court, who we are intimate with.  I believe that this same right of privacy could extend to drinking alcohol.

I am not saying that the drinking age needs to be abolished.  There are very good reasons for it.  It is known that alcohol can have a detrimental effect on a person’s brain especially a child.  The drinking age is designed to protect people from what can be a dangerous substance.  My argument is based solely the issue of government intervention and the boundaries of public intrusion.  In public, on city sidewalks and streets, the government has the right to make the decisions that they seem fit, but they should not be allowed to police us in our own homes.

Do you think that government’s effort to protect us have they invaded our privacy?

Do you think that we have the right to make the choice of what we put into our body in the comfort of our own homes?

Is it wrong at age 20 to have a glass of wine with your parents at dinner?

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Student at the University of Michigan

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17 Comments on “Drinking at Your Own Private Bar”

  1. Matthew Vlasic Says:

    I completely agree with you on this one. I don’t think that it’s a big deal at all to have an occasional drink with your parents in the privacy of your own home because not only are you with your parents (I assume they’ve given you permission to drink with them), but you are on your own property and away from others. As you said, as long as one doesn’t travel away from the house after drinking, this seems rather harmless. The government should have no issue with people doing this because policemen need to be worried about what is going on in public and on the streets. In my opinion, it would be a mere waste of time for a police officer to trek to houses and try to give out citations for unwarranted, underaged drinking. Let’s be honest, we have worse things to worry about that are going on in cities and on the streets in many places: violence, prostitution, drug trade, drunk driving and more. Hopefully, if one was drinking at home with his or her parents, the parents would be sure that he or she would not leave the house after doing so because this could only cause problems. But, then again, if it’s one glass of wine it should not be a problem unless one is driving. Ultimately, I like this post because I’m on the same page as you: having a casual mug of beer with your dad on gameday while underaged isn’t a big deal, especially in the sanctity and security of your own abode (where the government shouldn’t control your every move).

  2. sgbraid Says:

    I agree with Matthew Vlasic when he says, “I don’t think it’s a big deal at all to have an occasional drink with your parents in the privacy of your own home because not only are you with your parents (I assume they’ve give you permission to drink with them), but you are also on your own property and away from others.” In the privacy of your home, you should be able to do whatever you want. However, i do disagree with him when he says, “…as long as one doesn’t travel away from the house after drinking, this seems rather harmless” because one can be having a party at there house and so then there might be multiple people in the way of danger if someone is drinking. You don’t after wander away from your house to put others in danger.

    However, this problem does not only include underage drinkers. Anyone who is drinking has a possibility of harming other, not just underage drinkers. There are numerous cases where people over the age of 21 have injured or harmed others. 21 is such an arbitrary number and people over the age of 21 have just as much of a chance of hurting someone while drunk than people who are under the age of 21. In almost every other country the drinking age is 18 and I believe that the United States is one of the countries with the highest alcohol-related injuries.

    I agree that our police force should be focusing on other things besides underage drinking. There are much more important issues to be taken care of, such as poverty, violence and the drug trade.

  3. bmazus Says:

    I think that you bring up a very interesting question and overall topic. What harm does it do to anybody if, at my current age of 18 years old, I sat down on a Sunday afternoon and had a beer with my dad while I was watching football? It in all honesty probably affects nobody. I think you are also missing a very important side of this discussion.
    I do not know about you but I consider my parents to be my most important role models. If my father were to condone me drinking alcohol in my own home with him, then what is stopping me from going out and drinking with my friends at a party? I think that if this were the case there is nothing stopping me. It is illegal for minors to drink and that should include drinking in their own homes. Parents set the boundaries for their children, whether their children follow these rules are not is irrelevant, but in no case should be parents be allowed to let an underage kid drink in their home. Like I said earlier, if a kid is going to drink with his parents he for sure will be drinking with his friends on the weekends. Regardless of privacy laws alcohol can be an extremely dangerous substance, and if within children are being encourage to drink alcohol in their own homes then they are only being set up for fatal situations outside of their homes.

  4. joethahn Says:

    When it comes to being in your own home I think that it is a right to have privacy. If you are in the comfort of your home there should be no government intervention unless someone in the home feels as if they are in danger or if an act is committed that hurts a person who is unable to think for himself, such as a baby or mentally ill person. When I say this I’m not saying that it should be legal for people to do whatever they want in their homes, but that a government should not be able to know what is going on in the confines of a home unless there is a high degree of suspicion. If a neighbor complains of illegal activity or if the person is a known drug dealer the government should be able to investigate further, but never enter the home unless there is probable cause and a warrant is granted. As bad as it may sound, if a person living in a single room apartment shoots up heroin in the confines of his home where no neighbors are bothered and no one can see from the outside there should never be government intervention unless agents knew that he had possession of heroin.
    Now to the topic of drinking in your home with parents. I feel that it should still be illegal to drink at home even if it is just a cup of wine with dinner. The law is the law and should always be enforced without exception. Making it legal for a parent to give his or her child alcohol would not be a wise decision. There are many parents who would not be good influences on their children and allow them to drink excessively. Although it should not be legal for parents to give their children alcohol it should not be possible for the authorities to find out about it unless an inside or outside party expresses concern.

  5. emmaschneider11 Says:

    I feel that there are several ways that the government has invaded private lives in their attempt to protect individuals and enforce laws. In the case of underage drinking in your own home I feel that it is completely fine to an extent, and that the government has the right to step in only when the situation reaches a certain extent. If an underage person is having a glass of wine with their parents I feel that the government has no right to come in and say that that action is wrong. If I was at home casually drinking and a police officer barged in and gave me a MIP I would feel that that was completely ridiculous. However, I feel there is a point where the government does have a right to step in, such as in a case where there is a large party with a lot of underage people drinking heavily. In this case it is clear that the law is being broken to a further degree than casual drinking at dinner. The underage drinking laws are aimed at protecting individuals and the government would say individuals are endangering themselves when the drinking gets out of control. The home is a place of privacy and should provide some protection from government intervention into some aspects of life. However, this doesn’t not make the home a place where everything is okay to do. Obviously a person can’s abuse animals or commit murder in their own home and claim privacy as a reason to not get in trouble. But in the case of a glass of wine at dinner the government should stay out of the issue.

  6. nluongo Says:

    I think that you revealed the problem when you said that there are good reasons for the drinking age. Alcohol has negative affects on things like brain development especially on those of young people. By making drinking illegal, the government is saying that it is more important to protect people from the effects of alcohol than to allow them the freedom of drinking in their own home. 21 is not a completely arbitrary number, it was determined to be the age at which the danger of drinking alcohol was sufficiently reduced. I’m not saying it is the best age, but is 18 really less arbitrary in terms of the health of people drinking? Having a drinking age implies that we are going to have a somewhat-arbitrary limit on when you can and when you cannot drink.

    I also agree that drinking with your parents at dinner isn’t a big deal. However, it would be difficult to make a law that says drinking is illegal, unless it’s just one glass of wine, at dinner, with your parents. The law is perfect by no measure, which means that some truly harmless behavior will fall under the heading of “illegal”. However, I think this is generally recognized, and that is why we don’t have police officers knocking down doors and rushing into homes to give MIPs.

  7. zschmitt17 Says:

    First I want to say that I disagree with Bmazus in the case of parents letting their kids drink will cause their kids to drink with their friends on the weekend. My parents were very cool about me and drinking and I turned out better for it. By being exposed to it as something that I was allowed to do I didn’t feel the need to go out and get drunk all the time. I easily turned down alcoholic beverages just because I didn’t want to drink at that time, I would not have done that if my parents treated it like a big deal, I would have taken any oppertunity to get drunk.

    Now to the idea of drinking at the home with parents. I think that it is totally fine. Your parents are supposed to have guardianship of you right? Well if they want to raise you and allow a causial drink during your teens, I do not see anything wrong with that. It is inside away from anyone else and no one will get hurt. The parents will be sure that the teen does not go to far so I do not see anything wrong with that.

    I am not a fan of the drinking age in the U.S. In most other countries the drinking age is much lower. Germany it is 16 and they do fine. Mexico is 18 and Canada is 19. What makes the U.S. so much more worried about alcohol.

  8. Patrick Biondi Says:

    No, I don’t think it is wrong to have a glass of wine with your parents at age 20. However, I have to disagree with the context of your argument. While the glass of wine with your parents is your prime argument, I feel that you are also arguing that you should be able to drink at a college scene as long as you are at home. At one point, you reference the police breaking into one person’s home and citing them for underage drinking. Well, this would never happen unless the police got a complaint about noise, or some other sort of violation at your house, which, would then mean you were having a party. If this were the case, then you have other people in your house that would have to go back out into the public domain, therefore leaving them vulnerable to the law and potentially dangerous to those around them.

    Also, if you were to make this argument, it leaves arguments such as, ‘is it okay to use cocaine as long as it is in your own home?’. I would have to say that this should not be allowed. I understand what you are saying, but I think there has to be a standard, regardless of where you were, when it comes to most things, including drinking.

  9. rmwells3 Says:

    I think the main issue here is what is the definition of “privacy”? Certain aspects I would agree should remain private like your sexual identity and or your religious identity as they are personalized by every individual. Every individual is entitled to believe what they want, to identify themselves as who they think they are and or characterize under what ever category they want. There is no one true way to be a Christian or a homosexual, you just are in your own way. However, on the notion of drinking under age, that is something that is less personable and probably shouldn’t be entailed under the above described “privacy.” There is only one true way to drink, either you consume it or you don’t. That being said, the law is the law. I personally disagree with it, but i must abide by it.

    To surmise, no this isn’t an infringement on your privacy. If you’re breaking the law, then you’re risking the chance of being caught.

    On a side note, if you are intelligent about it you can drink in privacy at home.

  10. adamskt Says:

    Our discussion in lecture today fits in well with this post. As St. Augustine says, “An unjust law is no law at all.” St. Augustine and Dr. Martin Luther King suggest that if a law is unjust, that it should not be followed. An argument made here is that the drinking age in America should not be followed, at least in the privacy of our own homes, which implies that it is unjust. A law can be unjust for three reasons: if it is a bad law, if it is a good law that is abused, or if it is unenforced.

    I believe that the drinking age law fits into two of these three categories. First, regardless of my opinions on what the drinking age should actually be, I think that a drinking age is important in general. I would not consider it to be a bad law, because I trust that research has been done to back it up. Second, the drinking age is enforced, as well as it can be. Punishments exist for breaking this law, and we have all seen it enforced before. However, the law is abused, especially in the privacy of our own homes. Does a majority break this law? I have no way to know for sure, but from my own experience as a college student, it seems like it does. Therefore, the law preventing underage drinking in the privacy of our own homes could be considered unjust, based on the ideas presented today in lecture and in the readings for this week.

  11. nozomigg Says:

    Although I agree with many points about this arguments, I have another question to ask: When was the last time you heard of someone getting arrested for drinking wine with their parents?

    Of course you should be entitled to privacy; no, the government shouldn’t have to intervene in our personal lives. And yes, the lines are going to get blurred between private and public, but how can they not? The example of a casual glass of wine is one scenario out of hundreds that could involve drinking in private. As many others have mentioned, throwing a rager in a frat house that leads to death from alcohol poisoning is also an example of drinking in the privacy of your own house. You can’t except the government to make specific laws to cater to every individual scenario that may happen when it comes to drinking it private. What would our laws be? “Those cases involving wine and family: legal. Those cases involving frats and beer: illegal. Those cases involving close friends and cheap liquor…?” Not only are there an infinite number of examples, but it’s impossible to make a decision beforehand when the context of the situation isn’t even defined.

    As for when the government making other things legal within the boundaries of one’s own house, it’s important to note that the government has drawn a clear line between public and private for those issues that they feel they can do so without potentially endangering lives. Sex doesn’t kill anyone, even in private (directly, anyway). Alcohol can put people in danger regardless of whether they’re in public or in private, indirectly and directly. And, on an additional side note, a dangerously drunk person is very unlikely to be constrained to one private location anyway.

    My overall point is, the government has to keep this law. It’s meant to cover all scenarios involving drinking, because if the government tried to draw on specifics – including private vs. public – they may be putting a restraint on themselves from being able to stop or help a dangerous situation. However, according to the context of the situation, the government also does a good job with determining when and where to enforce it. If a police offer walked into a home and saw a 19 year old sipping on a glass of wine at the family dinner, chances are that he’s not going to arrest that person. Yes, technically he’s allowed to; but, exactly for the reasons that you argued in your post, he probably won’t.

  12. dcmiller93 Says:

    The question of being charged of a crime for an act committed in one’s own home is certainly interesting and certainly brings up many questions about laws other than underage drinking. I would suspect the privacy of home argument is void if the crime is committed over the internet or other clearly public venue, but what about those gray areas. I’m reminded of a story that has been in the news recently, one that hits fairly close to home. A pediatrician from Ypsilanti was arrested and subsequently fired essentially for being a “peeping tom,” spying on his preteen neighbor changing in her bedroom. The initial response was understandably condemning of the man and his actions and the violation of trust inherent of his position. How else are we supposed to respond when we envision Dr. “Turn your head and cough” hiding in the bushes outside the poor little girls’ room? As facts emerged, though, we learned that the incident was not as was implied. The doctor was merely looking out the window from his own home and happened to see (and likely lingered, we don’t know) the scene before him. It’s a tricky case of conflicting privacy.
    Because of cases like this and the underage drinking topic you brought up, I would tend to err on the side of rule of law. That is to say, if you wouldn’t admit to doing something in public for fear of lawful retribution, don’t do it when in the comfort of your own home.

  13. nasearc Says:

    I think that this is an interesting point, however I do not think our right to privacy, when regarding drugs, is so one sided. I think that we have the right to put anything into our bodies in the privacy of our own home, but I think that if we are harming ourselves the government has the right to intervene. So I do believe that it is okay for a 20 year old to have a glass of wine with their parents in their own home, but I don’t think it’s ok for a 20 year old to shoot up heroine with his parents in the privacy of their own home. So I would say that the government does have a right to monitor what we do in our own homes, but only in an effort to protect our safety. So, if someone is putting something into their body, in their own home, that can be monitored and is not always dangerous (like alcohol or marijuana), then I believe that the government has no right to intervene.

  14. finkelbr Says:

    This is definitely a very interesting topic. I can see why there would be a conflict between the public and private intervention issue. I am going to have to disagree with your take on this post. The main question that you pose is: “does the government have the right to tell us what we can or can not put into our bodies in the privacy of our own home?”. Your specific example has to do with being able to underage drink within your own home. I would have to agree that the government has the right to regulate this. My basis behind my argument is that underage drinking is illegal. Just because you are inside of your own home does not allow you to break the rules. If someone can drink underage in their own home then can someone murder someone in their own home? In both cases there is a law set in place and it is being broken just because you are in your own home. A law is a law and it must be upheld regardless of where you are, on the sidewalk or in your living room.

    I do not think that police officers coming into an underage party and giving out MIP’s is an invasion of our privacy. I would not use this as an example of a way that the government invades our privacy. As I said before if we allow people to break laws just because they are in their own privacy then things will truly get out of hand. How can one argue that it is ok to break one law within your own home and not another. I think that it would be best for us to stick to the idea that a law is a law regardless of where you are.

  15. jrphilli Says:

    I believe that the government’s effort to protect us have somewhat invaded our privacy. Yes the government are making rules to protect their citizens. But what one person believes to be true does not always apply to the next person. The government should not have a say in what goes on in our home, unless it is going to harm other people. The government can not tell me who I can have sex with or drink in my own house. But the government believes they have the right and do not mind invading privacy.

    Yes I believe we have the right to make the choice of what we put in our bodies in our home. We have the right to pick certain foods, drinks, decorations, furnisher, etc. The only question I have is do we have the right to do illegal drugs in our own home. It is the privacy of our home, so is that okay or not. Also, if someone was getting abused in their own home, would the government have no say in helping that person, because it is their home.

    I do not believe that it is wrong to have a glass of wine with your parents at dinner. I have before, but I do not think that is the issue. The government probally does not want teens drinking at all, and in the privacy of their own home does not make it okay either. But just a little alchol at home, under the supervision of your parent is not a problem.

  16. blevz Says:

    There are clear boundaries established for the government’s ability to regulate this sort of activity. Cops cannot just break into any house they want to and charge people with random offenses, they must have probable cause and in most cases a warrant. The system of laws was created to limit both excessive coercive force from people and from the government itself. Police officers can arrest those that violate these laws in front of them and provide testimony in court but are not part of the process of deciding punishments. The way that power is distributed in the judicial system works to decrease corruption and mistreatment of the law by causing different portions within it to “check” the other portions. In addition, the entire judicial system is tasked with interpreting and rendering decision based on the laws passed by the legislature. The Supreme Court has the ultimate say in legal matters, but in instances like this where the court has yet to extend its precedent, its up in the air.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Does being famous make you above the law? | A Game of Roles - December 9, 2011

    [...] such as a 20 year old drinking a glass of wine with their parents (see the debate on this issue:  http://gameofroles.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/drinking-at-your-own-private-bar/).  But the problem comes when an issue that would be enforced in one situation, is not enforced in [...]

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