Sutherland Institute endorses LDS Church’s principles on religious freedom and nondiscrimination

MEDIA RELEASE
For Immediate Release: Jan. 27, 2015

Sutherland Institute welcomes the helpful comments from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this morning on religious liberty and nondiscrimination. We endorse the principles outlined in the press conference and look forward to continuing a constructive role in ensuring respect for these principles as the Utah Legislature considers these issues.

Sutherland Institute has long called for protection of religious freedom for individuals and organizations. This principle must be reflected in any proposed legislation. Residents of Utah and citizens everywhere are entitled not just to belief, but also to the free exercise of their religious beliefs and moral conscience—both in private and in public.

Our views and those of others will be refined as a civil conversation proceeds. An early version of Sutherland Institute’s efforts on these issues is included on the Institute’s website, FairToAll.org.

We also reiterate our position that Utah can address valid concerns of mistreatment in employment and housing and public services without contributing to an environment of intolerance toward people of faith and moral conscience.

Sutherland Institute is a state-based, independent public policy organization located in Salt Lake City. Its mission: protecting the cause of freedom, constructively influencing Utah’s decision-makers, and promoting responsible citizenship. Sutherland Institute is recognized as the leading conservative think tank in the state of Utah.

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Click here to watch the press conference.

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The (legislative) game is afoot

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

We’ve collected some great little tools to get you primed for this year’s legislative session:

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Fundamental reform must precede increases in generally applicable taxes

Reymerswaele_Two_tax_collectorsSome Utah policymakers are proposing legislation this year that would increase generally applicable taxes on income and gasoline. Not surprisingly, these proposals have drawn the attention of the media and Utah pollsters, who have found that Utahns oppose raising income taxes for education.

Utahns’ hesitancy regarding tax increases is well founded. Government has a history of inefficiency (driven by a relative lack of systematic accountability for government-funded programs) and seemingly endless expansion (due to natural political forces). So it is very reasonable for Utahns to balk at the idea of giving more of their hard-earned money to government.

On the other hand, meaningful freedom requires limited government – or good government, in other words. And that has to be paid for with taxpayer dollars. Given the natural conflict between the freedom-based need for tax dollars and the reasonable impulse to be skeptical of tax increase proposals, how should Utahns and Utah policymakers evaluate such proposals?

One fundamental question (but certainly not the only question) to ask is: “Will this tax increase proposal bring fundamental, beneficial reform to government that serves the common good?” If a proposal to take more money from taxpayers cannot answer at least this question with a clear and convincing “yes,” then it is probably not a proposal worth considering further.

So take the proposal to raise individual income taxes by 20 percent (upping the rate from 5 percent to 6 percent). The money generated by this proposal (estimated to be $585 million in 2016) would go mostly toward providing bonuses to teachers based on performance, with the remainder being invested in digital learning.

Certainly, these reforms are steps in the right direction for public education. But are they truly fundamental and beneficial reforms that merit a tax increase? Continue reading

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Graphic: A bill’s long and winding road

Here’s a fun, easy-to-understand graphic on how a bill becomes a law in Utah. (Click to enlarge.) You can print it out and follow along with the 2015 Legislature …

howbillbecomeslaw3

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How complex regulations give big corporations the upper hand – Sutherland Soapbox, 1/20/15

Blurry_BuildingThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Recently I came across a complaint about corporate involvement in politics. The complaint initially rankled, probably because a corporation is really just an organized body of individuals, all of whom should be allowed to participate in the public process in the way they choose. Typically these types of complaints are really calls for more government regulation of the political process with all of the potential for abuse that entails.

This is not to say that corporations do not pursue interests at odds with the public good. Many companies promote trendy notions related to the family, for instance, such as population control or same-sex marriage, that prioritize adult interests over children’s needs. And, of course, some large businesses have managed to secure large amounts of public money in the form of bailouts and similar “corporate welfare” arrangements.

The possibility that groups can pursue aims at odds with the public good is hardly new. In Federalist 10, James Madison defined a “faction” in just this way — as a majority or minority which pursues ends which are not in the best interest of the community: “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

If the faction is a minority, the normal political process should be able to control it since its particular interest would be unpopular with the majority and our system is centered on majority votes: the majority can “defeat its sinister views … by regular vote.”

If the faction is majority, the risk is greater but can be ameliorated by the complex structure of the government (the “extended republic”) created by the Constitution, which can dilute the power of the majority by separating government powers among different entities and across different geographical and jurisdictional bodies.

Most proposed regulations have as their aim the one remedy Madison recognized as more dangerous than the disease — extinguishing liberty — by imposing restrictions on who may participate in the political process and how. Such regulations are subject to abuse. Just last year the Supreme Court heard a case involving a politician who had attempted to retaliate against a pro-life group that had criticized one of his votes by using campaign “reform” laws.

A more fruitful avenue for reform would be to look at the characteristics that make influencing government so attractive. Continue reading

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Our sympathies to Speaker Lockhart’s family

We extend our condolences to Speaker Lockhart’s family. We are deeply saddened that her serious illness and sudden passing bring to a close her remarkable life of personal and public service. Our prayers on her behalf now become expressions of gratitude for Becky’s friendship and example of integrity and courage.

– Sutherland Institute

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Statement on Supreme Court decision to hear same-sex marriage case

Sutherland Institute is encouraged that the Supreme Court is finally going to take the opportunity to correct the mistakes of so many federal courts that have said that the states are not free to define marriage as they always have. We hope that the Supreme Court will take seriously the child-centered purposes of marriage and the rights of voters to choose for themselves the kinds of laws that will govern them.

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Lopsided ‘bipartisanship’ in judges’ marriage mandates

GavelWith a large number of federal judges rushing to rule that states must redefine marriage to include same-sex couples over the last year has come a claim by advocates that the legal theory enjoys bipartisan support. Of course, federal judges are not elected with formal party identification, so what this means is that judges appointed by presidents of both political parties support same-sex marriage. This is technically true, since judges appointed by both Republicans and Democrats have ruled that states must change their marriage laws.

But looking more closely at the cases presents a different picture. Of the 39 judges who have ruled in these cases since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in the summer of 2013, 33 have ruled in favor of redefinition and six against.

Of the six, all but one (from Puerto Rico, appointed by President Jimmy Carter) were appointed by Republicans.

Of the 33 favoring redefining marriage, 28 were appointed by Democrats. Fourteen were appointed by President Barack Obama, twelve by President Bill Clinton and two by President Jimmy Carter. Of the five Republicans favoring same-sex marriage, three were appointed by President George H.W. Bush, two by President George W. Bush and one by President Ronald Reagan.

What’s immediately striking about this is how many judges appointed by Democrats heard cases: 29 of 39. If my back-of-the-envelope calculations are right, plaintiffs challenging a marriage law in federal court have a 28 in 29 chance of winning if the judge on their case is a Democrat. (Perhaps 97 percent.) If the judge is a Republican, there is a 50 percent chance.

So, while there’s definitely support for the position that courts should create a national definition of marriage among judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats, being appointed by a Republican president is associated with a judge’s being open to allowing a state to retain its understanding of marriage as the as the union of a husband and wife and being appointed with a Democrat is associated with almost no support for that proposition.

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Utah Right On Crime: A conversation with Texas Right On Crime architects

We have the perfect primer for anyone looking to understand Utah’s criminal justice reform efforts and the Right On Crime initiative.

Sutherland’s Derek Monson had the chance to sit down with Jerry Madden, the 20-year Texas state legislator who spearheaded criminal justice reform in his state, and Mark Levin, policy director for Right on Crime, for a discussion about criminal justice reform efforts in Utah.

Check out their conversation below:

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Trigger warnings and microaggressions — Sutherland Soapbox, 1/13/15

silenceThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

There’s a couple of interesting trends that have been brewing for a while that I’d like to talk about today because they might be symptoms of a larger issue. One is the rise of trigger warnings.

Trigger warnings have their origin in the completely rational and noble effort to protect the mentally ill or victims of violent crimes, such as child abuse or rape, from experiencing things like flashbacks or post-traumatic stress disorder. The warnings are given before exposing the consumer to anything that might “trigger” those painful memories. That’s great. There’s no reason to needlessly put the vulnerable through that trauma.

Unfortunately, there are some, including many on college campuses, who have taken this concept to the extreme. At one time, Oberlin College’s list included “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” To their credit, the administration changed the policy after some of Oberlin’s faculty voiced their displeasure. A New Republic article reported at the time,

In the faculty’s eyes, trigger warnings threaten not just academic freedom but the intrinsic nature of the liberal arts educational model. “We need to … challenge students, to conduct open inquiry in classrooms, to make students feel uncomfortable,” explained [Oberlin professor] Marc Blecher. “Making students feel uncomfortable is at the core of liberal arts education.”

A second trend gaining steam is the rise of the concept of microaggressions. The idea is that degrading stereotypes related to things like gender, race, religion and ethnicity often occur in subtle ways. Microaggressions are the seemingly innocuous comments or gestures the offending individual commits but is almost always unaware he or she has committed. It could be something like a male holding a door open for a female. Continue reading

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School Trek: The Next Generation

The Country School, by Winslow Homer

The Country School, by Winslow Homer

For those who care about improving public education for Utah families and children, National Affairs recently published an intriguing essay about Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) titled “The Next Step in School Choice.”

This essay, referencing Milton and Rose Friedman, captures well the realities of human nature, psychology and behavior that the public education system has generally failed to grasp (and that therefore plague that system):

People can either spend their own money or someone else’s money, and they can either spend it on themselves or on someone else. The Friedmans argued that people generally have a stronger incentive to economize when spending their own money than when spending someone else’s money. Likewise, people generally have a stronger incentive to maximize value when spending money on themselves than when spending on someone else.

The lack of incentive to reduce costs or maximize value is particularly acute when the spender does not know whose money he is spending or on whom he is spending it. For instance, a person is more likely to purchase a lavish dinner with a corporate expense account than when a close friend is paying. Likewise, someone is less likely to maximize value when buying a gift for the office holiday gift exchange than when buying a gift for a significant other. In the latter scenario, the spender’s knowledge of what would provide the greatest value is also considerably higher when he knows the recipient well.

Public-school officials, like all government bureaucrats, primarily engage in the worst kind of spending: They spend other people’s money on children who are not their own. As competent and well-meaning as they may be, their incentives to economize and maximize value are simply not as strong as those of parents spending their own money on their own children.

Recognizing and addressing this human reality is one of the major purposes of ESAs, which deposit taxpayer dollars into savings accounts for parents to use to provide for their child’s education – through home school, public school, private school, private tutors or some combination of these, depending on the child’s need – and allowing parents to save any leftover money to use for their child’s college education. In short, ESAs allow a child and those closest to a child to tailor that child’s path for learning and education according to their personal, individual needs and give parents an incentive to seek out the greatest value for the least cost, so they can save toward the significant costs of higher education.

Some in the past have opposed ESAs in Utah because they don’t think an ESA system is workable in practice. But in reality, two states – Arizona and Florida – have established working ESA systems. In the face of this evidence, to argue it can’t be done in Utah is to argue that Utah’s education leaders don’t have the competence to handle what other states are already doing. And that argument does not seem based in reason or reality.

Hopefully, Utah policymakers will look past the fear-based arguments of special interests in public education and support legislation to create ESAs. Children in Utah deserve the freedom and joy in learning that Education Savings Accounts can bring.

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Reusable bags are great, but don’t ban plastic

Blue_reusable_shopping_bagI’m a conservative who loves reusable bags.

When I lived in Austria 20+ years ago, I learned quickly that if you didn’t bring your own bag to the corner grocery store, you’d have to carry your purchases home in your pockets or purse. It was odd for an American who was used to free plastic bags at every store, but really, it was not that hard to adjust.

(What was strange was seeing people use their bags like a shopping basket: putting their items in the bag while shopping, then taking them out at the cash register to have them rung up. To an American, that seemed like a good way to get accused of shoplifting.)

Anyway, when reusable bags started making their way into American culture, it seemed perfectly logical to me. Reusing items that you already own and avoiding waste is certainly conservative.

A ban on plastic bags is not.

Why should government mandate that stores cannot provide free plastic bags? It’s another nanny state law.

In fact, enough petition-signers in California have objected to the statewide plastic-bag ban, which was passed last year, that a referendum will likely be forced on the issue in 2016.

I don’t like seeing plastic bags caught in trees or blowing across the street more than anyone else does, but let’s blame litterbugs, not the bags themselves. Also, plenty of people reuse those “single-use” plastic bags as trash can liners.

Stores can set their own rules: no bags, one free bag, 5-cent rebate for bringing your own bag … let the retailer decide. And people can make their own decisions about their shopping bags. This is not the government’s job.

There’s also been some press about bacterial contamination of reusable bags. That’s a legitimate concern – but germs are on EVERYTHING. Wash your hands, and wash your cloth bags as needed. We should worry less about our (possibly contaminated!) cloth bags and worry more about the basic hygiene we learned as children.

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AG Reyes takes oath after ‘whirlwind year’

photoOn Monday, Jan. 5, Sean Reyes took the Attorney General oath of the office, just as he did when he was appointed by Governor Herbert to fill the vacancy a year ago. In so doing, he continues as Utah’s chief law enforcement officer and leader of the largest law firm in the state.

As a former administrator of one of Utah’s fine, large, private law firms, I am somewhat familiar with the challenges associated with the practical and organizational dimensions of AG Reyes’ responsibilities. Leading and coordinating the efforts of any large group is difficult. Being accountable to do so in the “glass house” of service in the public sector can be daunting, even when things are going well. To observe that things were not going well when Reyes stepped into the role 12 months ago would be an understatement.

In his inaugural address, Attorney General Reyes described those circumstances.

A year ago we were faced with serious distrust by the public in our office, a demoralized workforce, dissatisfied clients, a lack of infrastructure, we lacked many policies, consistency, resources, vision – and we were tasked with handling cases of great import to the state and nation as well as investigations internally and externally into our office.  And that was just on the first day.

Further noting,

… client satisfaction hovered somewhere between dismal and really dismal (I like to say galactically dismal).

Describing efforts since that time, he said,

In this whirlwind year, … we as an office have focused our attention on returning to being a law office and not a political one, focused on legal excellence, professionalism, and our duty to defend the citizens, businesses and laws of Utah.

Underscored by several musical performances representing his diverse family lineage, Reyes acknowledged the influence of his wife, Saysha, their six children, and his parents and ancestors.

Readers of the transcript of his remarks will learn how the state’s 21st attorney general feels he has been prepared for the rigors of the office by personal and professional experiences and by his cosmopolitan heritage – from the Philippines, Spain, Japan and Hawaii. A foundation of strength that will be necessary to surmount current high hurdles and the high bar he has set for himself and his colleagues.

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Regrettable words and the ethics of tale-bearing

Germany_Sindelfingen_GossipsRecently, the news reported some comments from a well-known, and by all accounts, generous and philanthropic individual in the state, of an unfortunate and ad hominem nature about a prominent politician. Such comments are, of course, always regrettable.

What could explain them? We have to admit that we don’t know. It could be a regrettable lapse such as all of us make—and hope will not be widely reported or remembered. It might be that the remark was misreported and, based on context or some other factor, is not as uncivil as it appeared in the report. Perhaps the speaker was experiencing some lapse, such as might be caused by a medical condition. Perhaps it accurately reflects an unkind feeling, though one hopes not. At bottom, it’s difficult to understand, much less explain.

It should be said that the story reports that there was no response from the public official impugned, which speaks well of him.

The episode raises other questions as well. For instance, what is the ethical responsibility of a person who is told by one person an unflattering characterization of another? This is a familiar scenario — the teenager, for instance, who stirs contention: “Do you know what she said about you?” What about others who relay the comment?

Also, what is the responsibility of those who seek such comments? Are they merely reporting news? Is it part of the public’s “right to know” that an admirable public person thinks badly of another? Is there yet another person in the background spurring on the expression or reporting of the comments for their own political or other purposes? What is their responsibility?

Of course, anyone active in public life runs the risk of being poorly thought of by others. Ideally, disagreements about policy choices will be expressed as such rather than as ad hominem statements. Those who are admired ought to be particularly careful not to add to the coarseness of political debate.

That does not, however, absolve the listeners, relayers and instigators of their responsibility as well.

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Medicaid expansion: The moral question — Sutherland Soapbox, 1/6/15

Photo: Caremate

Photo: Caremate

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

As things stand today, the 2015 Legislative Session is just three weeks away. And while many important issues will be addressed, one that is likely to have more significance and long-term impact than most is the issue of Medicaid expansion.

The question of if, when, and how to expand Utah’s Medicaid program is important on multiple levels. But today I want to focus on the moral level.

The question of Medicaid expansion is important on a moral level because we are talking about the moral imperative we have as human beings to help our neighbors in need gain access to basic health care services. Simply stated, our moral impulses and reasoning will not allow us to sit by and let people suffer needlessly, and history has shown that if civil society and the marketplace are unwilling or unable to step up to provide basic health care for everyone who needs it, the government will. Hence we have one of Utah’s more conservative governors in recent memory proposing to expand Utah’s Medicaid program to the fullest extent under the rules of Obamacare, in the form of the Healthy Utah plan.

In fairness, some supporters of Healthy Utah object to its being called a “full Medicaid expansion” under Obamacare. But when you propose to cover the full Medicaid expansion population with coverage that is comparable in scope to traditional Medicaid, and a main purpose of doing so is to qualify for more generous federal funding offered for full Medicaid expansion, then the simple fact is that you have proposed a full Medicaid expansion plan.

In any case, the supporters of Healthy Utah regularly invoke a moral argument in favor of Medicaid expansion: namely, that we cannot sit by and do nothing to help the 60,000-plus uninsured Utahns that Obamacare has let fall through the cracks. Now that is an important moral consideration, but an incomplete one.  Continue reading

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