May 7, 2021
This week, new laws enacted during the 2021 legislative session go into effect. The Deseret News has an informative rundown of many of the more consequential new laws here.
Like the peaceful transition of power after an election, this civic event is noteworthy for both the changes imposed in Utahns’ lives from new laws as well as what it says about our civic life. The fact that – despite what seems like political chaos coming out of Washington, D.C. – peaceful changes to the law continue each year without much disruption should add greatly to our peace of mind about the health of our society and our democratic republic.
If you pay attention to click-bait news headlines and social media posts, you might be forgiven for feeling despair or believing that our life as Americans is on the brink of doom. “Unprecedented” crises seem to happen every few weeks at a national level. The media narrative tends to focus our attention on the severity of problems not being solved and how each side is using those ongoing problems primarily to raise money and win the next election.
Standing in stark contrast to the pessimistic and disaffecting national narrative is the fact that civic life on the ground continues much as it has for decades. Developing communities and striving families continue to be the lifeblood of Utah. Competing visions for reform of public policy continue to be debated, with some compromise version of those visions typically being enacted each year. Churches, businesses, charities and community groups continue to influence and enrich our lives in various ways.
In short, the threatening storm of the end of American civic life as we know it is greatly exaggerated. Life and the most relevant institutional and political influences continue to be largely local affairs, and those are far from collapse.
This is important to remember in a world in which misinformation and disinformation can spread like wildfire through social media. We have much to be concerned about as Americans politically and civically, to be sure, but not nearly as much to genuinely fear.
You won’t hear that message much from many news publications, politicians, parties or other political actors, because they have recognized how fear can drive clicks, donations and votes. But what we must recognize is that each of these entities seeks to sell a narrative for their own ends, not to objectively relay the basic facts to simply inform and educate the public. The facts on the ground – the lives we live each day regardless of what is happening (or not happening, really) in the halls of Congress – point to both challenging and hopeful times ahead for civic life in Utah.
So the next time you hear or read about a tale of gloom and doom in the news or from some politician somewhere, remember how Utah recently enacted its slate of new laws and how that has gone off without a hitch for as long as we can remember. Take comfort in that fact. The strength of Utah – and of America, really – is in what happens right in front of us and around us each day, each month, each year.
Very little of that is dramatically changed by what happens or doesn’t happen in the nation’s capital. And in America, that is as it should be.
A better way is both possible and doable. We just have to be willing to be the kind of people who can accomplish it.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a significant religious freedom decision this morning, with all the justices concluding that the city of Philadelphia violated the constitutional rights of a religious foster care agency, Catholic Social Services, when it “stopped referring children to CSS upon discovering that the agency would not certify same-sex couples to be foster parents due to its religious beliefs about marriage.”
New education survey data released by Sutherland Institute show that while parents may not always have a high opinion about curriculum, Utah parents have a high opinion of their kids’ teachers. Even better, parents and teacher share many opinions when it comes to civics education and how to improve it.