Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

Outrage, riots and knowing where you’re going

It is so easy to get swept away in the fog, rhetorical riptides and tweet storms of the digital age. Leaders can overwhelm the public with a whirlwind of words designed to distract and confuse – often leaving citizens wondering where in the world we are. If we do not know where we currently are, it is impossible for us to chart a course to where we truly want to go.

Long years ago, before cell phones, Google Maps and GPS systems, I was on a speaking tour in Ireland. On the first day of my tour I was scheduled to speak to corporate executives at a company in Cork. I set out for the speech with a very specific and detailed old-school map. I immediately encountered several ring roads and roundabouts, and soon had no idea where I was. After about 20 minutes of wandering through the Irish countryside, I realized that this was not a good use of my time and I did the hard thing: I bit my ego and pulled into a little gas station at the side of the road to ask for directions. Map in hand, I went in and asked the man behind the counter, “Where am I?” The man obviously knew I was a foreigner, because he just flashed me a big Irish grin and said, “Why, you’re in Ireland don’t you know!” I then tossed the map at him and asked, “Where am I on the map?” Once the attendant pointed to our specific location I had no problem navigating my way to my speaking engagement. By stopping to figure out where I was, or what the present reality was, I was better able to chart the right course to my desired destination.

Before a critical debate in the United States Congress, Daniel Webster said: “Mr. President, when the mariner has been tossed about for many days in thick weather on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun to take his latitude and ascertain where he is in relation to his desired course. Let us imitate this prudence and before we float on the waves of this debate refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to surmise where we now are.”

As a nation we have been through some thick weather and tossed about, to say the least. Here are a few areas where I believe we need to figure out where we really are before we start to try and solve the problems:

Education

Regulation

National division

Poverty

Criminal justice

Federal lands

Health care

(Just to name a few …)

Before the American people and our elected representatives float on the waves of debate on these critical issues, let’s stop and determine where we are today.

By specifically identifying our present reality we will be able to chart the best possible course to reach our desired destination as a nation.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

This image was created to illustrate a father's guidance to his children using the Bible.

Op-ed: A new dialogue of fairness and hope on religious freedom

Originally published in the Deseret News.

This election season was full of highs and lows. On religious freedom, perhaps the lowest point came when the presidentially appointed chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights embraced extreme, ideological rhetoric by labeling religious liberty and religious freedom as “code words” for “discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

Contrast that with the more thoughtful words of President Barack Obama: “Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.”

The truth behind the president’s comment, and the truth found in America’s founding documents, point toward a new dialogue in our communities about religious freedom, grounded in the principles and values of equality, liberty, tolerance and fairness.

Our Constitution affirms the principle of religious freedom in Article VI, which prohibits religion-based qualifications for public office, and the First Amendment, which forbids the creation of an official state church and prevents interference with the free exercise of religion by citizens.

These protections have been supplemented more recently by laws that prevent the government from placing substantial burdens on religious practice without a compelling reason, like protecting public health or safety.

These laws reflect America’s understanding of the vital role of religion in a society of free and equal individuals. Religion builds strong communities, cultivates moral people who respect one another’s differences and cares for people with needs beyond the limits of government assistance. Historically, religion also generated much of the fervor for the civil rights movement, the abolition of slavery and even the nation’s founding.

Respect for human dignity requires that we extend the equality, liberty and fairness sought by all Americans to the core beliefs, identity and expression of religious individuals. If the principle of nondiscrimination becomes a tool for undermining the equal rights of religious Americans in the workplace, housing, criminal proceedings and exchanges in the market, we will simply have traded one form of inequality, unfairness and intolerance for another.

A renewed dialogue on religious freedom will explore how religious belief and expression can be protected and encouraged alongside accommodations for differing views, identities and lifestyles by applying the principles of equality, fairness, tolerance and liberty.

Equality means that privileges available to all citizens should not be denied to religious people solely because of their beliefs. For instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops should not be excluded — solely because the conference does not support abortions — from participating in a program that provides grants to organizations fighting human trafficking. Similarly, individuals’ faith should not be a factor in considerations for government office or public employment.

Fairness means that religious organizations should be protected in their right to adopt and maintain standards for conduct. Faith-based nonprofits must be free to require employees or participants to respect church teachings. Religious schools ought to be free to hire teachers who will faithfully support the school’s teaching, and they should be able to ask their students to obey the religious teachings of the school without government interference.

Tolerance means that in professions that are legally regulated by the government (such as through licensing or accreditation), new regulations should be structured to accommodate the religious exercise of those being regulated. They must also not create religious tests or requirements that exclude people of faith from employment within the profession.

Liberty means that religious organizations’ tax-exempt status should be protected like the status of other nonprofit organizations. Such status protects these organizations from oppressive ideological or doctrinal tests for eligibility.

If citizens will engage in an elevated dialogue on the meaning of equality, fairness, tolerance and liberty in regard to religious freedom in their communities, we will find the hope that comes through increased understanding and unexpected agreement. That will create an environment where solutions to America’s most controversial issues will be found.

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Op-ed: Community-based solutions — A new vision of self-government

Originally published in the Deseret News.

At times, this election season has seemed like an exercise in how to most effectively undermine our national motto of e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”). Caustic rhetoric has alienated and divided voters nationwide, creating an environment that has made finding agreement on important issues like energy, the environment and public land management unnecessarily difficult.

But with the passing of Election Day comes the opportunity to move beyond failed politics and divisive mudslinging, toward elevated dialogue grounded in American principles and values, shared around dinner tables, across the fence with neighbors and in town meetings with locally elected officials. In these critical issue areas, that dialogue — and the practical solutions it generates — can be found by achieving community-driven solutions.

Community-driven solutions require a federal government that recognizes the harm that one-size-fits-all bureaucratic mandates do to people. Standardized mandates from Washington, D.C., crush cultural, social and economic diversity in local communities by elevating the interests of one group over another. Community-driven solutions embrace that diversity through balanced solutions that recognize the value and contributions of everyone in the community.

One-size-fits-all mandates stifle innovation by forcing all members of a community to conform to a rule determined by decision-makers thousands of miles away. Community-driven solutions recognize that innovative thinking, informed by people on the ground who understand local conditions and circumstances, is the best way to find solutions that both protect the environment and strengthen the economy.

Federal bureaucratic mandates demand that communities bow to the will of government. Community-driven solutions empower communities so that their government reflects the people’s will.

In energy, community-driven solutions means policies like the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment — giving states authority to block economic regulations that would be harmful to the men and women that they represent. It means devolving full authority over energy rules — such as the Clean Power Plan — from federal to state and local governments, trusting in the American principle that government closest to the people governs best.

In the environmental realm, community-driven solutions mean recognizing that local residents and decision-makers are best situated to know how to protect wildlife, conserve natural resources and encourage clean air and water. It means embracing the principle that no one has a stronger economic, environmental or cultural interest in protecting the beauty of natural landscapes and wilderness than the people who must live with the consequences of those decisions.

In public land management, community-driven solutions mean transferring the ability and authority to manage public lands to those whose livelihoods, communities and cultural heritage are rooted in the health and well-being of those lands. It means reforming laws like the Antiquities Act — which enables a single federal executive to restrict access and use of huge swaths of public land — so that local individuals representing a diversity of interests in public lands play the primary role in approving and managing national monuments.

In other words, community-driven solutions mean self-government — the foundational principle of the American model of government. This principle is the foundation of an elevated dialogue and practical solutions in the areas of energy production, environmental conservation and public land management. By applying the principle of self-government, we can move beyond a politics of Pyrrhic victories and ideological extremes to a system that actually protects the cultural diversity, economic prosperity and the natural beauty in our communities.

Those are outcomes we can all agree on.

Intolerant tolerance is not tolerance at all

Editor’s Note: This op-ed originally appeared May 5, 2016, in The Salt Lake Tribune.

The recent kerfuffle over Lynette Gay and the honorary degree that the University of Utah plans to award her is a case study in the kind of intolerant tolerance that seems to be driving and, in my view destroying, meaningful public dialogue and serious debate on the important issues of our day. Crying intolerance and spewing accusations of hate have become the new go­-to strategy for shutting down debate or discrediting those who disagree with you.

Gay is an extraordinary individual with a life filled with service — the kind of person any university would love to commend with an honorary degree. Now she finds herself in a roiling debate while being bullied into resigning her position from one of the many boards on which she serves.

The portion of Gay’s biography that has caused the wild reaction and protest from two outside groups and some at the University of Utah is her association with the World Congress of Families. The organization I now lead, Sutherland Institute, was the host and sponsor of the World Congress of Families IX event, held in Salt Lake City last year. The group has a long history of strengthening families and supporting at­risk children. There is a mountain of evidence attesting to the good work it has done.

I do not wish to engage in a series of tit­for­tat, claim­and­counterclaim arguments which have become standard for TV and media. None of us should be interested in shouting matches, talking­point tirades or hyperbolic accusations. Rather, I wish to speak to the principles that undergird an open society and the processes that should guide our public discourse.

The leading voice against Gay comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). It would be easy for me to lay out a case against SPLC, identify past members of SPLC who have said or done less than honorable things, or dispute SPLC accusations which were proven flawed. Such an approach, while temporarily satisfying to some, would leave us a long way from the type of open­mindedness and dialogue we are capable of creating.

The real question is, where there are disagreements, who gets to decide who can be vilified, who is tolerant, who is filled with hate and who is not? One group declaring another group to be evil simply does not make it so. Organizations that cower before such clamor and character assassination are contributing to a less­than­tolerant environment on campus and in the public square.

The selection of individuals to be recipients of honorary degrees is hardly a canonization — and it shouldn’t be. Business success, philanthropic work, and service to community are all compelling reasons to bestow such degrees — none has to be the next Mother Teresa. Turning this process into a purity test for political correctness is neither wise nor prudent. With this precedent, some will undoubtedly argue that a potential honoree should be disqualified for having been an Eagle Scout as a youth or that a graduate of a university like the U. of U. should be rejected because of possible insensitivities to Native Americans. While seemingly absurd, such examples flow from the demonization of those with whom we might disagree.

Whipping students into a frenzy of indignation to the point that they would turn their backs on an honored son or daughter of the University is to teach them to turn their backs on the most important lessons from their university experience — openness to learning from and discussing a wide variety of thoughts and ideas. (Yes, students have every right to protest. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should — that is part of what they should have learned during their college years.)

We believe that the LGBT community deserves respect and should be heard. The role of families, the challenges of a complex society and the needs of children are also important. The events of this week didn’t advance any of these causes but instead were an exercise in intolerant tolerance. The result, ultimately, is that we have besmirched a wonderful member of our community, the U., and numerous individuals and organizations who have a rightful claim to civic dialogue, elevated communication and respect.

If our teaching of tolerance is that we are to be tolerant only of those who agree with us and that we should disrespectfully treat and then dismissively turn our backs on everyone else — we have taught by word and deed intolerant tolerance — which really isn’t tolerance at all.

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When the cat’s away, the mice will play

While Rod Arquette is away from his microphone, a great slate of local and national guests will join Sutherland’s Boyd Matheson on KNRS Talk Radio. Boyd will guest host The Rod Arquette Show on 105.9 FM from 4-7 p.m. on May 2, 3 and 4. Tune in for some deep dialogue on the country’s most pressing issues.

Here are a few highlights from the guest list:

  • Arthur Brooks, president of American Enterprise Institute; check out Brooks’ latest TedTalk to get a taste of what is to come.
  • Ben Sasse, U.S. senator from Nebraska; listen to what Sen. Sasse had to say while speaking to MSNBC.
  • Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College.
  • Jim DeMint, president of The Heritage Foundation and former U.S. senator from South Carolina.
  • David Bobb, president of Bill of Rights Institute and author of Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue.
  • Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs and author of The Great Debate; he is also the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor to National Review and The Weekly Standard.
  • Stephen Hayes, columnist for The Weekly Standard and New York Times best-selling author; Hayes regularly appears on Fox News.
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How did we get here?

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Severan_Basilica_01.JPGI had the opportunity last week to participate in a panel discussion at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., on the influence of the ideas and culture of the 1960s on the family policies pursued by the government today. The conference was sponsored by the journal The Family in America.

The other panelists were Ryan MacPherson, who talked about how no-fault divorce became entrenched through a combination of inaction by religious groups and an aggressive push by the legal industry; and Anne Roback Morse of the Population Research Institute, who talked about the powerful forces behind the United States’ aggressive promotion of contraception and sterilization, sometimes without consent, in minority communities and in other nations.

My portion of the discussion focused on how, in the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court began actively promoting in its decisions the ideologies associated with the sexual revolution. Where before the 1960s, what I described as Act I in the drama of marriage and family in constitutional law, the Supreme Court had pretty consistently recognized the inherited wisdom about marriage and family, specifically: “[S]exual expression was a moral act with significant consequences. Marriage was the only licit setting for sexual expression. It united two very different types of people, a man and a woman, and the union was not merely an expression of momentary desire or even of calculated bargaining but a real joining which created reciprocal obligations and obligations to the children the union alone could create. Though the act of marrying was freely chosen, its consequences could not really be. Children born to married couples enjoyed the blessing of belonging and a setting of stability, complementarity and usually biological connectedness.”

In the mid-1960s, the intermission of the play, the Court began to talk about marriage in a radically different way. The most famous Supreme Court case referred to marriage as an “association” rather than a union of two people which was “hopefully” enduring.

When the curtain went up for Act II, the Court’s treatment of family was now nearly the polar opposite of what it had been. The Court’s decisions began to treat marriage and non-marriage as essentially equivalent, marriage and family as mere lifestyle choices important only to the degree they allowed individuals to express themselves in increasingly idiosyncratic ways.

The Court’s logic followed a predictable pattern, endorsing contraception for married then unmarried couples, creating a right to abortion, requiring the state to facilitate contraceptive access, striking down distinctions between households of families and households of unrelated people (like “hippie communes”), and on and on; most recently striking down the federal law definition of marriage as the union of a husband and wife.

The ideology the Court majority now seems to endorse “imagines no differences of significance between men and women. Sexual expression is a means of obtaining pleasure, though it may rise to an act of self-creation since it is the most potent item in the toolkit of expressive individualism. By rights, it ought to have no consequences that are not freely chosen by the consenting individuals. Thus, each has a right to be shielded and, indeed, the state has a duty to shield individuals, from those consequences (by increasing access to contraception or streamlined divorce). If consequences—pregnancy or unhappiness, for instance—still show up, the state must provide other escape routes. No freely chosen sexual coupling is illicit and none should be privileged above another. Civil marriage is but a manifestation of individual will, valuable because it allows the state to bestow dignity on individuals by valorizing their intimate choices. If the parties desire, marriage could be useful to the project of “defin[ing] one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”  Secondarily, marriage may be accessorized by children who may provide personal satisfaction to the spouses. These children will presumably be benefitted by access to the resources of two adults and to the government benefits provided to married couples.”

The same-sex marriage cases the Court is now considering give the Court an opportunity to step away from its ideological project of reframing norms of morality and redefining marriage and an opportunity to decentralize decision making power regarding the family.

Whatever the Court does, the current ferment over marriage provides an opportunity for other institutions, like churches, to champion the competing model of marriage and family rooted in experience and inherited wisdom.

An archived version of the lecture can be found at www.frc.org/university.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

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

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

Moral standards and redemptive values — in Hollywood? Yes! Sutherland Soapbox, 2/10/15

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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.

Hollywood is just a cesspool of filth rotting our souls and ruining our children. Or at least that’s a narrative we often hear, right? While the entertainment industry does produce its fair share of garbage, there is a lot to celebrate.

This past weekend, a few of my Sutherland Institute colleagues and I had the chance to attend the 23rd Annual Movieguide Awards in Hollywood. The awards gala honors films that feature high moral standards and redemptive values. In attendance were directors, producers, actors and studio executives for films such as “Big Hero 6,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” “Unbroken,” and “Muppets Most Wanted.” Stevie Wonder even made a surprise musical appearance.

But the thing that stood out to me most was the economics of moral creative content. And I’m not talking about moral content in the form of an in-your-face, condemning-you-to-the-fires-of-hell sermon disguised as a movie. That stuff just doesn’t work. If you want to preach, be a preacher. If you want to teach, be a teacher. But if you want to be a filmmaker, you better learn how to entertain. That is, after all, why most people go to the movies. To have fun. To be entertained. And perhaps, along the way, folks might also be inspired, outraged or moved to action. The trick is to elicit that emotion without alienating the audience. And the movies honored at the Movieguide Awards did just that. And that’s where the economics comes in.

During the event, Movieguide presented a statistical analysis of the biggest box office movies of 2014, as they have done for decades. Their analysis shows where the real money is. Of the 25 highest grossing films of 2014, only four were rated R. Movies with a very strong Christian, redemptive or moral worldview raked in $2.2 billion, while movies with a very strong non-Christian worldview earned less than half a billion dollars.

As I list off the top-10 grossing films of 2014, think of all of the funny, inspiring, amazing and entertaining moments from these films. Read more

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. Read more

Peace, truth, freedom and functional culture — Sutherland Soapbox, 12/23/14

TruthThis 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.

Some years ago, an influential organizational leader observed that the measure of peace experienced by an individual is a manifestation of the degree of congruity between not only a person’s values and their behavior, but also the extent to which the person’s values conform to truth. This is a compelling idea and one I’ve come to recognize as applying also to groups of people, indeed to all functional human cultures.

The interrelationship of truth and freedom seems also to be essential – as proclaimed by The Prince of Peace, whose birth Christendom now celebrates: “…ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) “Free from what?” we might ask. Free from distorted perceptions and erroneous thinking and thus free from the bonds of ignorance and from the errors and wasted opportunities ignorance produces.

Meaningful consideration of these concepts is incomplete without some definition of “truth.” I regard truth as immutable; as functioning independent of our awareness of it and irrespective of whether we agree or concur with it. As such, we have the privilege and responsibility to discover and choose to live consistent with, or to disregard, the truth. What is not available to us is the amending or redefining of it.

In 1978, Neal Maxwell addressed many of these fundamentals in a remarkable message presented to members of the Rotary Club International. A former professor of political science and later executive vice-president at the University of Utah and at the time a member of the presidency of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Maxwell’s remarks are stunningly relevant today even though he shared them nearly 37 years ago. Read more