On the EDge: Urquhart takes on LDS church over hate crimes legislation

OPINION – It’s time for the Internal Revenue Service to pull the plug on religion.

The United States is not, and never has been, a theocracy.

The Founding Fathers were strong on that.

But we have seen representatives of religions flex their muscle during Election 2016.

We have seen Jerry Falwell Jr. endorse Donald Trump. We have seen Pope Francis chastise Donald Trump.

Ted Cruz boasts on his website that more than 200 Christian leaders have endorsed his run for the presidency.

Marco Rubio is scratching out his own list of religious endorsements.

On the Democratic side, the endorsements of religious leaders are much farther and fewer between. I guess that’s because those leaders have had so much success aligning with the hard right that they’ve bought into the propaganda that lefties are a godless, lawless bunch.

I assure you that a progressive has as much room in his or her heart for faith and spirituality as a dogmatic conservative. I mean, when you get down to it, how many liberals have been spouting off about killing and carpet bombing, terms we’ve heard with frightening regularity from the right this campaign season?

There is a danger, of course, when religion and politics cross paths because all these preachers frame their political posturing in terms of salvation, a pretty important carrot to dangle in front of a longtime churchgoer.

There is no place in the United States, however, where the lines between church and state are more blurred than Utah, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a stranglehold on the Legislature.

To deny the power of the LDS church in Utah is either a result of ignorance of the state’s political pyramid or a flat-out violation of the commandment that decries lying.

It has gotten so bad that Sen. Steve Urquhart went to the media to publicly criticize a church he has been a member of for some time then apologize for its influence on a bill he authored that would enhance penalties for those committing hate crimes.

The LDS church said in a statement:

The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year in arriving at legislation that protected both religious liberty rights and LGBT rights. Interests from both ends of the political spectrum are attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained.

The balance was never really there as the bill to supposedly ensure some protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals included language that also protects those who express anti-LGBT comments in and out of the workplace. So, in other words, a member of the LGBT community cannot be fired for their gender preference, but they can be ridiculed or humiliated by a boss or co-worker.

Urquhart pointed out that his new bill extends far beyond LGBT issues, but the church remained firm, prompting the politician’s remarkably bold statement the day after the LDS church issued its statement; he said:

I apologize to the Jewish community and to the State of Utah that legal protections will not be provided against such threats, because of a press release issued by my church.

The church also took aim at a progressive bill offered up by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, that would have legalized medicinal cannabis in its full form.

The church didn’t like the idea and opposed the bill, forcing Madsen to make some major alterations.

I must ask, however, how much research the LDS church has done regarding medicinal cannabis. Probably about as much as it did in determining that drinks prepared in a restaurant must be mixed behind a curtain so as not to influence children to partake in alcoholic beverages. We also saw the church overreach when it came to contributing money and bodies to support a ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage in California that was later deemed unconstitutional.

I guess when you carry the biggest stick, it really doesn’t matter.

You can make unfounded scientific decisions and issue judgmental dogma at will.

The sad thing is how religion has worked its way into governance.

The Founding Fathers, who are so revered and cherished, never intended for the crossover between church and state. And, contrary to popular belief, the United States was not created as “one nation under God.”

In fact, several of the founders made rather large statements that contradict that notion, including John Adams who was adamant when he said:

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Being opposed to church interference in government affairs does not mean that those who insist upon the separation of church and state are heathens.

It simply means that the government is a separate entity, independent of influences that could create prejudice against a group of people because of their beliefs, creed, color or gender identification.

This whole business of faith is a tricky thing and, I think, far different than the business of religion, which seems, for the most part, to be hungry for political and monetary gain as opposed to ministering a disappointed part of the flock that believes faith and religion are two completely different beliefs. It’s why many people have eliminated the middle man, so to speak, and turned to seek a personal relationship with God rather than through their priest, pastor or bishop. It’s direct and nobody is tapping you on the shoulder with their hand out.

It took guts for Urquhart, whose policies and politics are not always in line with mine, to speak up, especially in the face of what happened to others – particularly those asking why the LDS church has no meaningful leadership roles for women – who were excommunicated.

I’ve known Steve for many years. We’ve gone some political rounds, had many philosophical disagreements. We still don’t often find ourselves on the same page politically. But, when a politician shows the courage to speak truth, to act with compassion and concern for his fellow man and woman, I applaud them, no matter which side of the aisle they sit on.

So, bless you, Steve.

I admire your demand for truth.

I admire your courage.

With passion and purpose you have addressed what the many apologists in the Legislature have refused to address for many years.

I only hope your fellow Legislators were listening.

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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  • anybody home February 23, 2016 at 11:02 am

    One of your best, Ed.

    I know the detractors will be right behind me yammering about how wrong you are, but you are not wrong with this one. The theocratic reality that is Utah’s political scene is truly chilling in a country that was founded on freedom of religion. And the reality that hate crimes can go unpunished in Utah is equally chilling. “Wink, wink” is not the way to address the hate that’s behind attitudes toward those in the LGBT community (or any other community not enshrouded by the Book of Mormon).

    Even outside Utah, the Mormon church has an increasingly tight hold on the lives and minds of those who differ and disagree with them.

    Thank you for this statement, Ed. (Now I’m going to stand aside so the rush of yammerers can have the floor.)

  • Brian February 23, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Hate-crimes legislation shouldn’t exist. We should punish actions, not motives. If a bully punches my kid because he’s a “nerd” or annoying, and punches your kid because he’s gay, the punishment should be exactly the same. Justice is supposed to be blind, not psychic.

    So arguing over ~how~ to implement hate-crimes legislation or whether or not the LDS church has any influence on the process is beside the point.

    If someone beats someone up, they should be prosecuted. If they steal something, they should be prosecuted. Their motives for doing either aren’t the issue, their actions are. We don’t need to empower the thought police anymore than we already have in this society.

    • BIG GUY February 23, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Well said, Brian. I have felt the same way for years.

  • 42214 February 23, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    I agree 100%, stop the tax exempt status and loopholes for all churches.

    • shoalcreek5 March 4, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Stop the tax exempt status and loopholes for all churches, but at the same time, stop using 503c status to muzzle churches politically. Also, stop requiring churches to incorporate and let them organize through free association.

      At the same time, people need to stop being whiny little brats and asking government to do everything for them. Be a grownup and take care of your own problems and take ownership of your own stupidity.

      If both of these things happen, then we might have a revival of America’s old black regiment and freedom might ring again across the land.

  • .... February 24, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I agree 100% let’s build a wall and hire a bunch trigger happy drunken red necks to guard the border

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