OPINION – Please, save your breath and don’t try to convince me that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have a stranglehold on Utah governance.
All I have to do is point at a proposed hate-crimes bill that was quashed recently when church officials opposed it.
Don’t insult my intelligence by trying to argue with me when I say that the Utah Legislature gets its marching orders from church headquarters.
All I have to do is remind you of how a compassionate bill by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, proposing legalized medicinal cannabis was killed by the House Health and Human Services Committee, an action Madsen said was a “spit in the face” of patients in need of a safe alternative to the addictive and dangerous opioids now being prescribed in alarming numbers by doctors from Logan to St. George.
Please, don’t try to convince me that the LDS church is not a politically charged organization.
All I have to do is remind you about the ridiculous Zion Wall legislation it pushed forward to hide bartenders as they mixed drinks for restaurant customers.
Please don’t tell me the church is not trying to impose its will on the people of Utah.
All I have to do is remind you that we have no lottery, no gaming in a state whose residents flock in large numbers to Nevada, Arizona and Idaho for a roll of the dice or a shot at a Powerball jackpot.
And please don’t tell me that this is simply a matter of the church representing a large number of Utah residents, because then I’ll be forced to remind you of the millions of dollars the church spent on trying to overturn same-sex marriage in California and in fighting the Equal Rights Amendment nationwide from the pulpit as well as the halls of Congress. I’ll also remind you of the church’s influence in severely watering down gay rights legislation in Utah that had, in reality, more to do with church protections than the LGBT community. I’ll remind you of 3.2 beer, attorneys general who turned a blind eye to polygamy and church opposition to immigration reform.
What is regrettable is the fact that Utah lawmakers, who are elected to represent the entirety of the state, only seem concerned with their fellow Mormon constituents and church leaders.
It’s time for that to end.
I will agree that most churches have an obvious legislative agenda.
But, in most instances, leaders of integrity understand that they are representatives of all the people and not just those who practice a similar or majority faith.
Catholic politicians have been threatened with withholding of the sacrament of Holy Communion and the threat of excommunication for supporting abortion rights. Some political analysts have said that interference contributed to John Kerry’s loss in his campaign against George W. Bush when a large number of “traditional Catholic Democrats” crossed party lines and voted for Bush.
Although the Catholic church in the United States was originally allied with unionization and worker’s rights, it has drifted to the hard right in recent years, but despite threats and posturing, it has not been doing wholesale excommunications of political leaders with whom it disagrees.
In fact, last week the church proved that it can hold onto its beliefs while working within a system that ensures equality for all when the Michigan Catholic Conference — which oversees health care for Catholic employees in the state — announced that it is modifying its policies in a way that will make it possible for gay employees of the church to provide health benefits for their partners and spouses.
The new policy was, to be sure, driven by the desire to remain compliant with the law, but it signals an understanding that one can still remain firm in personal religious beliefs while extending equal rights to all.
You are not likely to see that in Utah, where the LDS church has had everything its way for so long that it is not about to relinquish its stranglehold on government.
The LGBT bill passed last year was tepid at best, with more emphasis on protecting the rights of those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds than those members of the LGBT community who wish to marry.
The opposition to the medical cannabis bill – the broader one written by Madsen, rather than the very shallow bill sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City – is rooted in cultural and scientific ignorance.
The Vickers bill received the church stamp of approval because the medication it supported is very limited in the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – that it contains. The medication is very narrow in the scope of its use. But it doesn’t get you high.
Madsen’s bill would have allowed oils, edibles and extracts that contain effective dosages of THC. Smokable cannabis would have remained illegal. Like any other painkiller, the oils, edibles and extracts would still have a side effect of intoxication to a certain degree, but that is the nature of most meds. Don’t believe me? Go to your medicine cabinet and start reading labels. Most meds can make you dizzy, sleepy or have an effect that can make it dangerous to operate any kind of machinery. Even the over-the-counter meds can do that.
The advantage of cannabis is that dosage can be much more effective because there are times when you can cut back enough to relieve pain while not crossing that threshold into incoherency.
A blended bill was suggested that would broaden the Vickers measure and kill Madsen’s. It would leave us with a watered-down compromise that would cut the amounts of THC in certain oils, edibles and extracts. Sort of like a cannabis equivalent of 3.2 beer.
What the church state refuses to acknowledge is that there is no physical addiction or overdose danger with medical cannabis, and that is of probably the utmost importance in Utah, which ranks eighth in the United States in prescription drug deaths with more than 20 a month, about the same as the number of motor vehicle deaths.
Regardless, the church opposes the safer alternative because of cultural and religious reasons.
That’s why, although I was happy to see Mitt Romney’s comments about Donald Trump last week, his motives remain suspicious.
I would like to think that he was perhaps thinking of the good of the nation when he made his comments.
But I’m not so sure. Romney could very well be looking to fulfill the White Horse Prophecy, as expressed by both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, that predicts the church will rush in to “save the Constitution when it is hanging by a thread.”
We have had fears of church interference in our governance in the past, particularly when John Kennedy was running for the presidency and there was fear, as many pundits put it, that he would follow the will of the Vatican rather than the will of the people and constraints of the Constitution.
Kennedy bravely stepped up to the question and, during a historic speech delivered to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, declared his belief in separation of church and state eloquently.
“I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office,” he said.
“I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.”
Unfortunately, the Utah Legislature lacks the courage to do the same.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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