Utah ranks #1 for family prosperity

A joint project by Sutherland Institute and the American Conservative Union Foundation found Utah ranks first in the nation according to the Family Prosperity Index, or FPI. The FPI measures more than 50 of the economic and social factors that indicate family prosperity, including but not limited to marriage and divorce rates, crime rates, STD rates and household income. A state that scores well on the FPI is one that is moving toward the goal of creating family prosperity. 

This new study found Utah dominates the 2016 Family Prosperity Index, not only ranking at the top but also holding commanding leads over the second-ranked state and the national average. In fact, Utah’s FPI score has increased by 3.6 percent over the last five indexes – from 7.12 in 2012 to 7.38 in 2016. The FPI national average is normalized at 5.0. 



From Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson:

“Of all the awards and accolades Utah has received, this may very well be the most significant. While Utah has long recognized family as a critical social engine, this report illustrates the power of the family as an economic engine. Lawmakers would be wise to recognize that just as a strong economy helps families, strong families strengthen economies.” 

From Sutherland Institute Director of Public Policy Derek Monson:

“Rather than measuring and ranking a stand-alone niche of Utah’s economy that many never see or experience, the Family Prosperity Index measures whether Utah’s economic prosperity is reaching Utah’s families, and how Utah’s families are driving Utah’s economic prosperity. Clearly, Utah has room to improve in its most populous county when it comes to the related issues of drug use and suicide – and these are critically important things that demand our attention. But Utahns can be proud in our understanding that we lead the nation economically because we lead the nation in how we create, build and devote ourselves to our families, and by extension our communities.”

From American Conservative Union Foundation Chairman Matt Schlapp: 

“The Family Prosperity Index provides a blueprint for creating an environment for families to flourish, and Utah, with its No. 1 rank on the 2016 FPI, has set the standard for the rest of the country. I hope leaders across the county will come to understand the factors driving Utah’s success and use the FPI as a tool to expand prosperity in their own states.”


  • Six indexes (and their corresponding sub-indexes) make up the FPI: Economics, Demographics, Family Self-Sufficiency, Family Structure, Family Culture, and Family Health. All sub-indexes can be viewed in the attachment.
  • Utah takes the lead in every index aside from Economics, where North Dakota comes in first. This data was impacted by North Dakota’s fracking boom, which has since slowed.
  • An area of concern for Utah includes the drop in the Family Health index caused by the self-mortality sub-index, which consists of suicide and drug overdoses as a percent of population. Utah has higher-than-average rates.
  • Additionally, a county-level FPI analysis raises alarms for Salt Lake County. Negative trends are noted when it comes to children in poverty, violent crime rate, property crime rate, the level of married taxpayers, and unwed child birth.


Vision for Religious Freedom

True equality requires the protection of religious liberty. Religious freedom ensures equal treatment for all of God’s children.

To understand the former, one need only contemplate the contradiction in values, morals and logic contained in this scenario: A demand for equality leads to legal protection of an individual’s right to their core belief and expression regarding sexuality, but leads to legal prosecution of another individual for exercising their right to their core belief and expression regarding God. That is, in fact, a form of intolerance and inequality masquerading as equality.

To understand the latter, one need only ponder the historical fact that religion was a driving force behind the abolition of the English slave trade, the emancipation of American slaves, and the American civil rights movement. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. did not lead America’s civil rights movement in spite of his religious identity, but because of it.

Very early on in America’s history, Alexis de Tocqueville noted: “Religion, which, among Americans, never mixes directly in the government of society, should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not give them a taste for freedom, it singularly facilitates their use of it.”[1] Part of what Tocqueville meant is that religion shapes the experience of citizenship. It is easy to see then, why the freedom to practice religion is critical to the nation’s order and character.

The interconnectedness of religion, equality and freedom is uniquely American. Other nations have viewed religious freedom in different ways. The French Revolution’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man had a “religious freedom” provision, which subordinated the right to the perceived interests of the state: “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” This approach allowed for unfettered freedom to believe, but severely constricted the ability to act on or express that belief.

Even the charter of the Soviet Union guaranteed “freedom of religious worship,” which looked nothing like what Americans would recognize as freedom. The governing principle of Communist Russia was that everyone was free to believe what they would like, but with the caveat that expressing those beliefs in contradiction to the laws and will of the state would be severely punished. In practice, even the guarantee of freedom of belief was never honored.

Contrast the foreign ideas of freedom of religious views and religious worship to the American principle of religious freedom. Religious freedom is core to the way Americans constitute ourselves as a people. The pursuit of religious liberty motivated the establishment of America’s second English colony in 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Religious freedom also holds a unique place in our constitutional order: It is literally the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.

Religious freedom in the Constitution is found in two places. The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There is also a provision in the text of the original Constitution, less remarked upon, but no less important. Article VI says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Taken together, these provisions, and similar ones in the constitutions of each state, show that the American ideal is one of robust protection for religious belief, worship and expression in the public square. These protections include three connected principles:

  1. All human beings should be free in their religious beliefs and practices without suffering persecution or official discrimination, except in the rare instances where a religious practice compromises a compelling governmental interest (e.g., protecting innocent life).
  2. Religious organizations must be free to determine doctrines and practices, including standards for membership, and to carry out their activities without government interference.
  3. No one should be forced by the government to affirm or support beliefs to which they do not freely ascribe.

Despite the robustness of the American principle of religious freedom contained in the Constitution, limited conceptions of religious freedom have their advocates in the modern United States. There has been a rhetorical shift among some to speak of a “freedom of worship.” This means that churches and individuals can believe and teach what they like, and perhaps even select their own clergy and perform their own ceremonies, but this “freedom” essentially ends outside the door of the meetinghouse, mosque, cathedral or synagogue.

For instance, a prominent government official recently argued that religious freedom was merely a “code word” for darker motives, such as hate for a particular group of people – the implicit suggestion being that the government can restrict the freedom of people of faith if their beliefs conflict with the official government-endorsed ideology: discriminating against religious people because of their beliefs, in the name of anti-discrimination.

A related notion is that other protections, like freedom of speech, are adequate to protect religious people. Thus, a recent Supreme Court decision dismissed concerns about religious organizations and individuals being asked to facilitate conduct at odds with their beliefs by saying that they still have the ability to verbally express their teachings. But the freedom to state one’s core beliefs becomes largely meaningless without its intended companion: freedom to live according to those core beliefs.

A free society prioritizes religious freedom. It recognizes what Tocqueville observed, that religious devotion fosters accountability that, in turn, secures the qualities in citizens that allows for a broadly tolerant and pluralistic community that is both safe and open. It also recognizes America’s historical reality: that religion is tied to equality, and without religious freedom equality would not exist in its current form in America.

With very rare exceptions – the damaging effects of which can be alleviated by existing constitutional principles – religion inculcates in its adherents a spirit of civility and public-spiritedness that allows a free society to flourish. It motivates individuals to come together to care for those who are less fortunate and to protect those otherwise excluded from the bounties of a prosperous nation.

Religious freedom is a foundation of a decent, equal and free society.


[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 280 (translated by Harvey C. Mansfield & Delba Winthrop, 2000).


December’s milestones of religious freedom: from Becket’s martyrdom to Bill of Rights

The action of T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral takes place right after Christmas in 1170, culminating in the martyrdom of Thomas Becket on Dec. 29. Though only touched on incidentally in the play, which is far richer than a political tract, the story of Thomas is an archetypal struggle between secular and religious privileges. Though the details are now obscured in history, among the chief points of contention between King Henry II and the archbishop was the question of whether the church could be made subject to the power of the state.

These tensions have not disappeared, of course, though the form they take in our time is far less violent. Some of our current disagreements in this arena are far different in magnitude but not so different in kind. For instance, can the state mandate actions that advance its purposes on religious groups whose teachings and practices are at odds with the state’s goals, like widespread distribution of abortifacients or contraceptives?

Joining these disputes are ones that would become familiar in England and Europe a few hundred years after Becket’s death – can individuals be punished for acting on their beliefs when those beliefs and actions run afoul of current government ideology?

A much more recent source of dispute is the claim that the mildest kinds of public display of religious expression threaten a necessary secularity of the state – premised on an expressed ideal of neutrality but which feels increasingly like hostility.

That current tensions are worked out more peaceably is, in no small part, due to a development that also has a December anniversary.

The Bill of Rights was ratified 225 years ago, on December 15, 1791. Its First Amendment led with two provisions meant to end, or at least ameliorate, the tension between church and state. The Establishment Clause prevented the creation of a national, state-sponsored church, such as England had. Though some states maintained established churches for a few decades, the spirit of non-establishment eventually prevailed universally in the United States.

At least on paper, then, the problems of individuals being punished for failing to conform to an official doctrine, was alleviated, and this protected the church from the rival claims of state power.

The next clause of the First Amendment, necessarily intertwined with the first, addressed the problem of government exactions that punish the actions of those who act on their religious beliefs when those actions are officially disfavored.

Each week in the news, and at least once each term of the Supreme Court, these kinds of conflicts are still in evidence. But they are not handled by a head of state giving a wink and nod to dissolute allies who try to settle it with violence. In the United States, at least, failure to attend an official church is not punishable by fines or imprisonments.

Conflicts are handled in legislatures and elections and in courtrooms. That is real progress for which we should be very thankful.

(It may be the case that our legalistic culture has spawned new conflicts, like the perennial debate over Christmas displays, that would not otherwise have arisen, but here too the conflict is peaceful and still amenable to reasonable discussions.)

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.


Strategy vs. principle


The various approaches to creating additional legal protections for religious liberty is a particularly relevant issue this week, given the passage of Indiana’s new religious freedom law, the subsequent protests of that law by the left, and Utah’s own unique approach to the issue. But before getting there, it’s important to understand why religious freedom needs such protections at all.

For instance, many on the left have taken to opposing religious liberty legislation by arguing that we have the First Amendment to protect religious liberty. Now that may sound good on the surface, but it’s kind of like arguing that we don’t really need anti-discrimination laws because the 14th Amendment guarantees that everyone has “equal protection of the law.” I think most reasonable people would agree with Abraham Lincoln’s point to his opponent for the U.S. Senate when he asked him “Do you support the Constitution if, knowing or believing there is a right established under it which needs specific legislation, you withhold that legislation?”

The repeated instances in recent years of individuals being fired or retaliated against for expressing religious beliefs outside the workplace or in political causes, and even being taken to court by their own government for trying to reasonably apply their moral conscience in their lives illustrates that religious freedom needs specific legislation. For anyone who would claim to support the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, the facts would seem to suggest that it’s both a matter of integrity and logical consistency to see a need for legislation protecting religious liberty.

One approach to doing so is to create blanket protections for religious belief and expression. This is the approach of Indiana’s new religious liberty protection law, which is patterned after 31 similar state and federal laws that exist due to actions taken either by legislatures or state courts. These laws exist in a diverse range of states – from red states like Texas, Arizona and Alabama to purple states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and even to blue states like Washington, Massachusetts and Illinois.

Another approach can be called the context-specific approach, which is reflected in Utah’s recently passed laws. In this approach, the law establishes religious liberty protections based on specific contexts that people and organizations experience. For example, Utah’s new laws protect some of the conscience rights of individuals as employees, employers, public officials or religious officials. Read more


Hysteria over Indiana’s protection of religious liberty: Elites take leave of their senses

The reaction to the Indiana Legislature’s enactment of a generic religious liberty law seems increasingly unhinged. The long knives of business, entertainment and political elites are coming out. Even, amusingly, “gamers.” This does little to assuage concerns that proponents of sexual revolution are motivated by animus towards people of faith.

The basic reality is that the law passed by Indiana is almost the same as a law approved by the U.S. Congress in 1993 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill simply directs courts considering religious liberty claims to ensure that when the government, or a private party bringing a lawsuit, does something that creates a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion, it is doing so to further a “compelling interest” in the narrowest way possible to protect that interest. At least 19 other states have similar laws.

Indeed, the legal rule codified in Religious Freedom Restoration Acts reflects the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment for decades (before the court abandoned the principle). The federal RFRA was Congress’s attempt to restore the old rule.

Law professor Daniel O. Conkle, who notes his own support for gay rights and same-sex marriage, showed great integrity recently by pointing out that labeling Indiana’s law “a license to discriminate” does not comport with reality.

One will search far and wide for any example of people being thrown out of restaurants because of a state or federal Religious Freedom Act, though that is being urged as a foregone conclusion by opponents of the law. Why would Indiana’s law create a different result than any other state’s laws, or the federal government’s for that matter? As Stanford Law Professor Michael McConnell notes: “In the decades that states have had RFRA statutes, no business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or anyone else.”

In fact, Professor McConnell and Professor Conkle both note that courts are likely to prioritize discrimination laws over religious liberty if there were to be a conflict.

That may be why Utah opted to pursue a different approach to religious liberty protections this last session. Rather than leave to courts to balance religious liberty with conflicting claims, Utah’s law straightforwardly limited the application of laws that might otherwise impact religious liberties to prevent the litigation in the first place.

But whatever approach a state chooses: stating a principle for courts to apply, like Indiana, or creating rules to prevent attacks, like Utah — protecting religious liberty is not an attack on the rights of others, whatever demagogues may claim to the contrary.

Why should we embrace religion?

Because freedom is the combination of liberty and virtue, religion provides a natural and voluntary source of moral guidelines to assist us in living virtuous lives.

Human beings need and want to belong in communities. In a free society those communities are natural and voluntary: family, friends, religion, neighborhoods, community groups, etc.

Tyrants understand that to take control of any people the tyrant must become the “community” for the people. Hence, dictators such as Hitler and Stalin first sought to erase the intermediate layer of society that stood between the individual and the state. Only then – only after family, religion and natural communities are destroyed – can a tyrant assert moral authority. Healthy religion is the enemy of an overreaching state.

Of all natural moral influences within a free society, the positive and constructive influence of religion is second only to family.

For more on this topic (and others), visit Utah Citizen Network.

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

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.


Click here to watch the press conference.

Religion, democracy and the family – Sutherland Soapbox, 12/30/14

"Going to Church," by William H. Johnson, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“Going to Church,” by William H. Johnson, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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.

Reflecting recently on a discussion some years ago with an associate from Asia who had come to the United States to study capitalism and democracy, Harvard business professor and internationally respected author Clayton Christensen was struck by his colleague’s observations about religion, democracy and free markets. Of particular note was the fundamental significance of honesty, commitment and respect for other people’s property – that “their right to freedom is as valuable as yours.” In other words, that capitalism requires willingness voluntarily to follow the rules. (“Clayton Christensen on Business and Religion,” April 23, 2012)

Quoting Dr. Christensen,

Some time ago I had a conversation with a Marxist economist from China. He was coming to the end of a Fulbright Fellowship here in Boston. I asked him if he had learned anything that was surprising or unexpected and without any hesitation he said, “Yeah. I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy. ‘The reason why democracy works,’ he said, ‘is not because the government was designed to oversee what everybody does, but rather democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily choose to obey the law. And in your past, most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week and they were taught there by people who they respected.’ My friend went on to say that Americans follow these rules because they had come to believe that they weren’t just accountable to society; they were accountable to God. My Chinese friend heightened a vague but nagging concern I’ve harbored inside that as religion loses its influence over the lives of Americans, what will happen to our democracy? Where are the institutions that are going to teach the next generation of Americans that they, too, need to voluntarily choose to obey the laws? Because if you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police. (“Clay Christensen on Religious Freedom,” March 5, 2014)

Read more

Is religious expression a ‘fundamental human right’ or a ‘limited right’? – Sutherland Soapbox, 11/25/14

ReligiousSymbolsThis 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.

This week I want to talk about religious liberty, which is an issue that is likely to get a fair amount of attention in the upcoming legislative session. If you want to understand why this has become such a heated issue in America, you first have to understand how the various sides view the meaning of religious liberty. Not surprisingly, most of the attention on the issue focuses on where those perspectives disagree.

The first perspective, and the one that most conservatives claim, is the “fundamental human right” perspective. In this view, religious liberty has three main components: first, the ability to freely seek for answers to questions of meaning and value in life from sources that are more than merely human; second, the ability to freely organize and worship in line with the answer one finds to those questions; and third, to live freely in private and in public according to the moral convictions and conscience that are shaped by the answers to those questions.

From this perspective, we have a moral duty to respect this fundamental right for everyone, even if we do not like how they exercise it. To do otherwise is to abandon respect for the dignity that all people deserve as free and reasoning beings in their pursuit of moral and spiritual truth. Some say this means conservatives are arguing that people have faith should have free reign to do whatever they want. But this is irrational because in the “fundamental human right” perspective, people of faith have the same moral duty to respect the fundamental rights and dignity of others as they seek for themselves, and this should correctly be reflected in the law. But there should be a high level of tolerance from both the law and society for both public and private expressions of religious liberty. Additionally, if society desires to legally restrict this fundamental human right, it should be required to have a compelling reason for doing so.

A second perspective on religious liberty, and the one articulated most often by progressives, is the “limited right” perspective. In this view, religious liberty includes the ability to freely worship according to one’s beliefs in private, as well as the ability to freely organize in order to privately worship. But religious liberty is significantly limited outside this narrow set of rights. Read more