Mero Moment: The Sundance tempest

Last week my Sutherland colleague Derek Monson wrote about the Sundance Film Festival. To highlight the unbelievable truth that a whole bunch of your tax dollars go to a film festival in Park City, Derek mentioned a few of the questionably themed films promoted there – and, for that simple narrative, my good colleague has been lambasted by The Salt Lake Tribune (not just once, but three times).

Furthermore, and rather oddly, a state senator from St. George used his Facebook page to ridicule our blog post, absolutely lie about some alleged personal conversation with me and compared Sutherland Institute to a twisted pack of religious bigots who demonstrate about homosexual rights at military funerals – but not once did this state senator from St. George explain why he supports tax dollars to a film festival.

So let me back up and retell this story. The widely popular Sundance Film Festival is held in Park City every winter. It attracts thousands of visitors to the state and quite a few famous Hollywood types. Over the last four years the state of Utah, using your tax dollars, has given this film festival over a million dollars.

Though the annual revenue of the Sundance Film Festival tops $25 million, last year alone the state gave Sundance $312,000 in tax dollars. By the way, most of that money comes from the general fund, meaning instead of using $312,000 for poor people or law enforcement, the state chose to give that money to the Hollywood crowd.

Be clear – Sutherland Institute doesn’t oppose the Sundance Film Festival. We oppose its taxpayer funding. The types of movies shown are secondary to the fact that Utah taxpayers unnecessarily pay for a film festival when Utah has greater funding priorities – in fact, just about anything is a bigger priority than funding a financially independent film festival. The next time a legislator asks me what government programs are nonessential, I’ll simply point to the Sundance Film Festival.

Now back to that state senator from St. George – and I hope our readers in St. George are paying close attention. Clearly, this state senator has no clue about the proper role of government. He calls out social conservatives – meaning nearly every faith-based constituent in his district – for being big government crusaders. He says Sutherland’s desire to support the infrastructures of a free society (like family structure and religious freedom) belies our concerns about limited government.

The proper role of government is not simply about mechanics; it’s also about purpose. It’s not just the Constitution; it’s also, even more so, about the Declaration of Independence.

The proper role of government will complement civil society and do, for the common good, what civil society alone cannot do – what we, the people, alone cannot do in our families and communities to keep the peace and promote human happiness, we may justly empower our governments to do. The proper role of government is to help shape the order of a free society only as collective agreement about the rules of natural community require.

The proper role of government includes the educative nature of laws, not just their effect, meaning when popular culture begins to diminish our freedom by embracing stupid ideas, the people can reaffirm the basic human institutions of a free society through the law. When growing numbers of people begin to think heroin should be legalized, the rest of us can justly invoke the law to explain why that idea is harmful to freedom. The same exercise goes for taxpayer-funded film festivals as well.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.