January 22, 2021
Governor Spencer Cox this week gave Utahns two important glimpses into where he wants to lead the state. He offered an uplifting and substantive State of the State speech – that at just over 15 minutes is well worth your time – as well as the One Utah Roadmap, a detailed policy proposal to guide the first 500 days of his administration. Much of the speech and the roadmap are commendable. Here’s what’s missing: an emphasis on the foundation – including basic freedoms and civic education – of our democratic republic.
The State of the State speech properly and prudently focused on “fixing the cracks in our foundation” as a state. Those cracks include a need to establish educational equity for all children in Utah; ensure liberty and justice for Utahns regardless of race, income level or geography; and increase infrastructure investment.
The One Utah Roadmap – a “dynamic document” intended to be updated and revised over time – contains more than 100 bulleted policy proposal across six key areas of emphasis. Many of those ideas are well-reasoned applications of the principles of the free market and good government, including:
- Improving the healthcare market through greater transparency in prices for medical care
- Reducing regulatory burdens on teachers and moving toward competency-based education
- Building up rainy-day funds to reduce pressure to increase taxes in bad revenue years
- Pressuring the feds to keep their word on PILT funding for federal lands
Cox and his team are right to seek to fix the cracks in the foundations of the state. But there is one that has been left untended (as made clear by recent current events): understanding how democracy works. To fix all the cracks in Utah’s foundation, we must improve civic education and seek to strengthen protections for basic American freedoms.
Violent riots in most major cities and in our nation’s capital reveal an insufficient understanding among many Americans of the republican principles, democratic values and American ideals required to live peaceably while seeking to build a more perfect union. When you do not understand how to make a difference in a democratic republic – founded upon ideals of freedom, equality, unalienable rights and power derived from the consent of the people – tragic injustices or unfavorable political outcomes translate into political violence or domestic terrorism from citizens who feel powerless to do anything else.
Better civics education in Utah homes and schools – a proper, broadly shared understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship and political leadership in our system of government – is a critical part of the solution to this problem. The public school system has long failed to meet the aspirational civic vision of the nation’s founders for a taxpayer-funded system of education. Instead, civics is treated as an educational afterthought – a pesky, one-semester class graduation requirement that most students subsequently put off until the very end of their senior year.
Restoring civics education to a place where it is engaging young hearts and minds to responsibly use their rights to create a more perfect union through passionate civic participation – instead of violence – will likely require a multi-year commitment to significant policy reforms. But we can begin with a few basic steps: studying what civics education currently looks like in public schools, increasing transparency in civics curriculum for parents and examining public school civics standards.
Strengthening basic freedoms
Material improvement in life through accessing a high-quality education, affordable housing, and a good job are obviously deserving of policymakers’ attention. But it is by accessing and renewing in each generation our basic rights and freedoms as Americans that we transform material progress into the American Dream. Other nations have made advancements in education, housing and jobs, but precious few proactively seek at the same time to better protect the rights of families, individuals and businesses.
One important area of basic freedom – certainly not the only one – where Utah can improve is religious freedom. To start, Utah should ensure equal treatment between religious services and other essential activities during a state-declared emergency. And to better protect the members of minority faiths, Utah should increase accommodation for student religious holidays in higher education.
Emphasizing the foundation of a functional democratic republic along with other important areas of focus would take Cox’s promising vision for Utah to the next level. We should invest in the infrastructure of freedom to empower Utahns to translate material gains into thriving families, communities and businesses. By doing so, Utah will continue to be a national example of the American Dream for generations to come.
YouTube screenshot: abc4utah
The basic aim of the Equality Act would be to add two new categories – sexual orientation and gender identity – to the protections of these earlier laws. Isn’t this already the law, though? The answer is … sort of.
Free discussion is key to a functioning republic. And free discussion is often enabled and disseminated through media, so long as freedom of the press is alive and well.
We believe this is an ideal approach to implementing these important measures as it would do so without unnecessarily dictating specifics to the Board of Higher Education or the state’s institutions of higher education.