Sutherland Newsletter – December 23, 2009


On Thursday, January 14, 2010, Sutherland Institute will host an Ethics Forum titled “Clarity or Confusion? An Honest Look inside the Ethics Initiative.”


An ethics-reform initiative proposed by the Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) group would establish an independent ethics commission and certain rules regarding legislators’ conduct and campaign spending.  UEG reports that it is close to obtaining the required 95,000 signatures necessary to place the initiative on the November 2010 ballot.


While Utahns are naturally interested in their representatives’ conduct, many believe the approach prescribed by the UEG initiative is not good for Utah.  The purpose of Sutherland’s Ethics Forum on January 14 is to shed light on specific aspects of the initiative that may not be well understood by the general public.


Kim Burningham and David Irvine, spokesmen for UEG, will be on hand to make the case for their proposed initiative.  Sutherland President Paul Mero will then pose several questions to them in an effort to clarify specific elements in the initiative.  Forum attendees will also have an opportunity to discuss questions with the panel.


The event will begin at 12:00 noon and conclude at 1:30 pm.  Those wishing to attend are encouraged to reserve their seat by calling 801-355-1272.  The $10 registration fee includes lunch.  As space is limited, an RSVP is required.



Every Tuesday, KVNU 610 AM, a radio station serving Cache Valley residents, airs a “Mero Moment” written and recorded by Sutherland President Paul Mero.  The five-minute spots have covered the entire spectrum of topics.  The Dec. 22 topic was religious freedom.  Sutherland posts the text of the Mero Moments on its website.  Below is the text from this week’s Mero Moment.


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This week I want to talk about religious freedom.  With December being a month of religious holidays for so many different people of faith, and with Christmas hitting us at the end of the week, I would hope that the concept of religious freedom crosses the minds of all Utahns.


It just so happens that my political career has coincided with the steep secularization of the United States.  It’s really easy to see.  There’s a lot more debate about America being a “Christian nation,” which will always be the high-sign that secularization and religiosity are colliding.  And, in Utah, this same debate sounds a lot like Utah being described as a “Mormon state.”


If a “Christian nation” means that our country is filled with a vast majority of people who profess Christianity, then I guess we’re a Christian nation.  The same can be said about Utah being a “Mormon state.”  Kind of like calling Middle Eastern countries “Muslim nations.”  Or calling the football stadium in Oakland “Raider nation.”


More likely than not, when someone calls America a “Christian nation” they mean that our laws and culture should be derived from (or shouldn’t be derived from) our nation’s Christian heritage.  Again, we could say the same thing about Utah – our laws and culture should be derived from (or shouldn’t be derived from) our Mormon pioneer heritage.


There’s lots of ways to approach this debate.  The way I’ve always seen it – as an American and as a Mormon in Utah – is that religious influence is a good thing in both law and culture.  I would much prefer to live among people who had some sense of right and wrong based on a common understanding of those terms than I would to live among people who claimed to live by standards of right and wrong but who didn’t have a common understanding of them.


I think there needs to be a currency of culture in every community – just like we use the same money to transact in economic terms, I think we should have a common currency regarding our basic laws and culture.  Religious understanding helps us do that.


Of course, this attempt at a common understanding can get confusing, especially in a place like Utah.  Every human being has a core set of values.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a person of faith and I’m not.  Each of us has a core set of values that guide our every day thoughts and behaviors.  In Utah, most citizens are people of faith and most people of faith are Mormon.  Inevitably, and this is quite natural – as natural in a secular culture as it is in a religious one – we will blend religion and politics.  And, all in all, that’s a very good thing if you believe that your religious culture is constructive and that its governing principles are universal.


The complaints I hear in Utah sound like this – “don’t push your religious beliefs on me”; “just because you Mormons hold a majority, doesn’t mean you’re justified in getting your way all of the time.”  I suppose to some Utahns there are days when the line between a theocracy and democracy seem pretty thin.  But in an increasingly secularized culture, the real threat isn’t theocracy, the real threat is discounting and demeaning religious influence in civic affairs.  For any of its faults, religious influence has been the single greatest reformer for human rights in every free society.  Dr. Martin Luther King was a doctor of theology.  British and American abolitionists were nearly all people of faith.  And yet, here in Utah, religious influence is often castigated as a collective attempt to restrict freedom.


As Christmas approaches this week, perhaps every Utahn ought to reflect on the meaning and role of religion in a free society.  Clearly, dominant cultures can create ghettos out of minority cultures.  But I don’t think the answer to that problem is to, in turn, create a legal or political ghetto out of a person’s faith.


For the Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.  Merry Christmas.



Join Sutherland Institute on Thursday, January 14, 2010, from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm, for a discussion on ethics reform.  Kim Burningham and David Irvine, representing Utahns for Ethical Government, will be on hand to defend their ethics reform initiative, while Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero will present alternative ideas for ethics reform on Utah’s Capitol Hill.


The event will be held at Sutherland Institute, located in the Crane Building at 307 West 200 South, Suite 5005, in downtown Salt Lake City.  The $10 fee will include lunch.  Please RSVP to Jim Giometta at


Additional details about this forum will be released in early January.



Sutherland Institute congratulates the five winners of the Transparency Scholarship Essay Contest.  Those winners are:

  • Sogand Alipour – Jordan High School
  • Andrew Miller – Bountiful High School
  • Dani Peterson – Mountain View High School
  • Chelsey Roberts – Timpview High School
  • Brandon Witte – Provo High School


The State of Utah has launched a new website,, to increase public awareness of state spending.  In an effort to encourage Utahns to use the website and to promote responsible citizenship, Sutherland Institute sponsored an essay contest for Utah high school students.  Contestants were asked to base their essays on information found and make suggestions on how best to use the website to improve Utah’s schools and governance. Students were also encouraged to explain their experience using the site and to include specific facts found on the website.


Each of the five winners will receive a $1,000 scholarship to be placed in an educational savings account.  The awards will be presented at a reception at the Sutherland Institute office in Salt Lake City on Tuesday evening, December 15, at 7:00 pm.  The Honorable Wayne Niederhauser, chief sponsor of the legislation that created the transparency website and member of the Utah Transparency Advisory Board, will present the awards.  A representative from the Utah Educational Saving Plan will present information regarding educational savings accounts.


The five winning essays will be published at following the awards reception.