Stern-faced in her navy blue dress-suit, Rolena Hill stepped to the microphone, opened a her "Bible Readings for the Home" to a page titled "Sacred Admonitions" and read quotations from Isaiah, Habakkuk and Proverbs.
" 'Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also,' " she read. "Here's the one that makes me a teetotaler," she told the gathering in Takoma Park's municipal building, reading from Proverbs that " ' . . . your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost . . . . "
It's been a while since scripture was quoted in Takoma Park's City Council chambers -- at least since last March, when a tumultuous election ended the reign of elected officials supported by the Seventh-day Adventists, whose world headquarters, academy, hospital and college have nestled in the 2.2-square-mile city.
But it's been a while longer -- throughout most of the city's 99-year history -- that the populous Adventist community there has maintained a moral, and in most of the city, a legal sanction against alcoholic beverages.
That tradition is now under threat as the young professionals who are moving into in the Victorian city and renovating property are coming into their own, and calling for the repeal of what the Mayor Sammie A. Abbott fondly calls "Takoma Park's Prohibition status."
However lacking the Adventists might be now in direct political control, fighting the removal of the liquor ban represents a higher duty, one that apparently was felt by many among more than 100 residents who jammed the council's audience Wednesday night.
"Liquor and tobacco are a test of fellowship in the Adventist Church," confided Delbert E. Gustefson as he left. "See, this is big potatoes, whether liquor is good or evil."
Most of the opponents predicted that lifting the ban would be followed by an increase in drunk driving, family ruin and social decadence.
Even those who spoke in favor of repealing the prohibition said they oppose liquor stores or bars in town. All they want, they said, is a downtown restaurant that would offer pleasant dining and refined drinking, and attract people to other shops in the city's aged commercial district.
Hal and Frances Phipps, coordinators of a project to revitalize Takoma Park's downtown business district, cited statistics and surveys that found that the only way investors would find a restaurant profitable would be if it were legal to serve drinks with dinner.
"It seems to me," said Dr. Samuel DeShay, associate health director of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, "we've reached a pretty sad level if the only way we can raise revenue is through alcohol."
"The Adventists are getting up here and talking about the evils of alcohol," John Redman, a young lawyer, said in retort. "What they can't explain is how one restaurant is going to bring about the deterioration of the city."
Janet Schwartz said her craft shop in Takoma's Old Town district is failing for the lack of patronage there. She protested that all the talk of moral consequences was getting her angry.
"I resent people telling me that I don't know how to handle my liquor, or that I will be cursed or damned," she said.
Councilman William Eckert, whose father operated a saloon in Baltimore, agreed with resident Charles Vantassel, son of a Prohibition agent in the 1920s, who said he watched his father "try to enforce that noble experiment that proved unenforcable," and believes Takoma's ban should be repealed.
Mayor Abbott, who at age 11 won a prize from the Women's Christian Temperance Union for his poster depicting a slumped drunkard with a smoky death's head rising from a cigarette, suggested that Adventist residents who feel strongly about crime should encourage their tax-exempt church to contribute funds for police protection. His suggestion touched off an argument that carried into the halls after the meeting.
"If it weren't for the Adventist Church," responded Michael Israel, "this city would have to pay $10 million more for police."
The city is divided by the Montgomery-Prince George's county line. Liquor licenses may be obtained on the Prince George's side with the City Council's approval, although none has been granted. But the two-thirds of the city on the Montgomery side is covered under a 1947 state law that lists Takoma Park among seven dry districts in that county.
The council took no action at the hearing, but ultimately it will decide whether to arrange a referendum on the city's liquor law, or directly ask the state legislature to change it.