SALT LAKE CITY — December 11, 2010 — Sutherland Institute, a conservative, state-based public policy organization, has called on the Utah State Legislature to strengthen Salt Lake City’s nondiscrimination ordinances during the upcoming legislative session.
The recommendation to “perfect” the ordinances was made during the Institute’s Religious Freedom Forum on Thursday, Dec. 10. Paul Mero, president of Sutherland Institute, and LaVar Christensen, a former State Representative, addressed “Negotiating Church and State in Utah” during the event.
“We call on the State Legislature to build upon constructive elements within the Salt Lake City nondiscrimination ordinances during the upcoming legislative session,” Mero said. “Specifically, we call on the State Legislature to expand the religious exemption to include the constitutional rights of a church’s adherents.”
Mero made the case for “perfecting” the nondiscrimination ordinances passed by the Salt Lake City Council in November by extending protection to adherents of churches and not just the religious institutions themselves.
“Salt Lake City’s nondiscrimination ordinances clearly infringe on religious freedom,” he said. “Were it not so, there would be no need for the religious exemption. It is only ‘fair and reasonable’ to preserve these same protections for all people of faith in Utah.”
On November 10, 2009, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presented a statement in support of the nondiscrimination ordinances, indicating that the ordinances are “fair and reasonable” and that they do “no violence to the institution of marriage.” The ordinances offer protection for religious institutions and exempt them from any measures put forth in the ordinances.
Mero explained the difference between a church’s doctrines and public policy, “As we continue to improve our understanding of the relationship between church and state … let’s remember that all public policies are matters of the state. Certainly most religious denominations understand this distinction. You get this sense, too, from the Church’s statement — the religious exemption is a clear indication that the specific language of the ordinances is policy, not doctrine.”
Mero said protecting a religion’s adherents the same way in which the religious institution itself is protected keeps the religious freedom of all Utahns on a “level playing field.”
“If a gay employee or gay tenant can unilaterally invoke the protections of these ordinances, unconditionally, it is only fair and reasonable that a person of faith should be allowed to unilaterally invoke the same laws’ protections, unconditionally, just as that person’s church is allowed to do,” Mero stated.
Christensen set the stage for Mero’s comments by outlining the religious history of American politics. He referenced secularism and “irreligion” as new state religions that suppress the traditional religious nature of America and its citizens.
He detailed the history of the term “separation of church and state” and explained that it was originally meant to protect religions from state encroachment, not vice versa.
While honoring and encouraging the positive influence of religion in Utah’s civic affairs, Mero acknowledged that the Church is “in the business of saving souls” and Sutherland is in the business of promoting the cause of freedom in Utah. He praised the Church for its involvement in the Salt Lake City nondiscrimination ordinances and urged the State Legislature to build on the spirit and letter of the Church’s statement and strengthen religious freedom for all Utahns.