Posted By on June 24, 2015

52 percent oppose the state takeover of public lands—but millions will be spent on it anyway

Published at City Weekly

It’s been three years since Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who heads the American Lands Council (ALC), convinced his fellow lawmakers to pass a bill forcing the U.S. government to turn over control of federal public lands to the state of Utah. The deadline for the turnover quietly passed in 2014, and the demand was denied. The state is now preparing to spend potentially millions of dollars in court trying to force the feds to give up public lands—but that effort is widely expected to fail as well.

Originally, the American Lands Council touted the public-lands takeover as necessary to allow for oil and gas drilling on those lands that would help fund public education. But over the past year, the ALC and its advocates have started to use environmental-conservation language, arguing that Utah, rather than the United States, would be much better suited to care for the environment.

The American Lands Council itself (from which Rep. Ivory makes a six-figure salary advocating for his own legislation) is currently facing multiple ethics violations. The Campaign for Accountability has filed complaints in Utah, Montana and Arizona, alleging that the ALC has committed fraud by convincing counties to pay huge membership fees in return for the promise that the takeover of public lands will happen one day. ALC is also facing a complaint from Colorado Ethics Watch that’s been filed with Colorado’s secretary of state alleging ALC is lobbying without a license.

A bipartisan research team conducted a poll in 2014 that showed 52 percent oppose the state takeover of public land. The ALC needs to win the hearts and minds of the public and as many elected officials as possible in Western states. The hope is that conservative members of Congress will also take up the effort in Washington, D.C.

So, on June 16, Utah lawmakers committed up to $2 million in taxpayer dollars and hired two groups to launch PR campaigns aimed at convincing Utahns and various elected officials that a state takeover of federal lands is an idea whose time has come. The work the groups are doing might be described as lobbying, but, according to the Legislature’s staff attorney Thomas Vaughn, they were hired for “relationship services” (because it’s illegal for the Legislature to spend money on direct-lobbying efforts).The groups chosen to do the work, however, seem to have little relation to ALC’s new “wilderness protection” rhetoric.

The first of the two firms, Strata Policy, is run by Randy Simmons and Ryan Yonk. Both Simmons and Yonk teach at Utah State University, an institution that receives $170,000 per year (the fifth highest in the nation) in donations from the conservative Koch brothers. Until 2013, Simmons was listed as the school’s Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Science, and he oversees the Koch Scholars program. (A number of USU students—working for Strata—will be brought in to work on the contract.) Simmons also serves as a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property & Environment Research Center.

In addition to his work at USU, Yonk has written several working papers for the Mercatus Center, a conservative think tank whose founder has received more than $30 million from the Kochs. Simmons and Yonk can take credit for a conclusion they drew in a February 2015 paper: The cause of the 2008 economic crisis was renewable energy.

In addition to Strata Policy, the Utah Legislature also hired the New Orleans-based Davillier Law Group, which includes Utahns Frank Pignanelli and Blaze Wharton (both former state legislators) and Doug Foxley. According to the state’s lobbyist disclosure website, Pignanelli and Foxley are currently paid lobbyists for several companies that could benefit from state management of public lands, including Big West Oil and EnergySolutions. Wharton has, in the past, lobbied for Energy Fuels.

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, who, with Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, co-chair the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands, will oversee the two firms. In a phone interview, Stratton weighed in on the commission’s choice of contractors: “Strata has a strength and advantage because of their conservative background,” he says. And although Strata has been almost solely focused on the economic viability of renewable energy, he thinks Strata’s “background in public-lands issues” is a big plus.

It might also be asked if Strata and Davillier’s efforts to influence citizens to support a state takeover of public lands represent a conflict of interest, since their other clients could financially benefit from new lands opening to potential drilling and mining. “That’s a good question,” says Stratton, “that needs to be thoroughly vetted. If the conflict of interest were serious enough, they would need to step away. But we have to recognize that there are many interests, and part of checks-and-balances is looking at the issues they’re representing—what they’re recommending—and recognizing that as part of the filter.”

Stratton adds: “The idea is, with education [of the public], legislation and litigation, we need to have the landscape covered. And Strata and Devillier have different strengths that can be brought to help things move forward.

“A lot of people say that all we’re going to do is rape and pillage and plunder the landscape. But our greatest resource is protecting the landscape. Can you capture those resources in an environmentally friendly way and maintain the pristine landscape? I believe we can. But that’s going to take a lot of thought.”

Colorado Group Files Complaint Alleging Utah Lawmaker’s Organization is Illegally Lobbying

Posted By on May 2, 2015

**Originally published at Utah Political Capitol

Denver – A complaint has been filed against Utah Representative Ken Ivory’s (Republican – South Jordan) American Lands Council in Colorado, alleging that the organization has been illegally lobbying without registering in the state or reporting its income.

Under Colorado law, organizations are required to register to lobby with the state before they begin trying to influence the outcome of any legislation or an election.

“It’s different than the federal law,” says Peg Perl, senior counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch – the nonprofit that filed the complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State. “Under [the federal law], there’s a threshold and you can do a little bit [of lobbying] before you register. But in Colorado, you must do it first and right away.

The complaint stems from an email Representative Ivory’s American Lands Council (ALC) sent to Colorado residents on April 22nd, asking them to contact specific state lawmakers to persuade them to vote in favor of a bill that could advance ALC’s goal of taking control of all public lands away from the United States and giving it to individual states to manage.

…”you still have the ability to substantially affect the outcome of the hearing. Below are the names of the committee members along with their email addresses. Will you please send these Committee Members an email letting them know that you support SB 15-232 and the study of the Transfer of Public Lands in Colorado?” [emphasis in original]

-ALC Email

The email was forwarded by several Colorado residents to Colorado Ethics Watch, who agreed to investigate who American Lands Council is, and where the email came from. After discovering that the ALC has not registered a lobbyist with the state, the group filed the complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State determines that ALC did lobby without registering, says Perl, punishments could range from being banned from any future lobbying in Colorado, fines, or (in the extreme case) it could warrant a misdemeanor charge and/or criminal fines.

For his part, Representative Ivory did not seem concerned about the complaint when contacted by Utah Political Capitol for comment. According to Ivory, American Lands Council sent out the email at the specific request of Colorado Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (Republican – Sterling). “We simply responded to a request,” said Ivory. He declined to say anything further about the matter. UPC also reached out to Senator Sonnenberg, who confirmed that he had requested American Lands Council send out the email, saying that Representative Ivory is a good friend of his, and that he “asked for [ALC’s] help and also provided them with the contact information to each of the committee members.”

Sonnenberg did not respond to questions of whether or not he knew before he made the request if ALC was registered to lobby, but did say that he was unaware they needed to be.

This isn’t the first time American Lands Council has run afoul of potential ethical violations outside of Utah. In February, a Montana state senator’s aide was asked to leave the Capitol after it was discovered that he was simultaneously being paid as a lobbyist by ALC.

As the Bozeman Daily Chronicle first reported, William Macon Richardson began the year’s legislative session solely working as a legislative aide to Montana Senator Jennifer Fielder (Republican – Thompson Falls). But on Feb. 11th, Richardson also registered as a lobbyist for ALC and other senators began to complain because Richardson’s status as a legislative aide gave him access to private areas of the Capitol normally off-limits to lobbyists. Although no longer employed as a legislative aide, Richardson now lists his employment as “ALC Montana State Coordinator.”

Ivory’s American Lands Council has grown quickly since he first introduced legislation to takeover federal lands a few years ago. In 2012, the first year the organization filed IRS 990 forms, they reported just over $122,000 in income, with $40,000 going to Representative Ivory as salary. In 2013, the most recent year available, that number jumped to $228,000, and Ivory’s salary more than doubled up to $95,000.

A copy of Colorado Ethics Watch’s complaint is below. Requests for comment from the Colorado Secretary of State were not immediately returned.

Ethics Complaint Against ALC

Growing Mormon-Catholic Alliance: Quiet Partners Behind Christian Right’s Religious Discrimination Agenda

Posted By on April 24, 2015

**Originally published at Political Research Associates

While Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, Bryan Fischer, and other Christian Right pundits of the more shrill variety may be easy to ignore as they demand a right to discriminate on Fox News, there is a more dangerous coalition emerging. One of the primary drivers of the movement to corrupt and redefine religious freedom isn’t someone in a shouting match on cable news, but a decades-long alliance of top Mormons and Catholics.

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (center) speaks with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, (right) and Princeton University Professor Robert P. George (left) at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Canterbury Medal Dinner in New York City, 16 May 2013. - See more at:

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (center) speaks with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, (right) and Princeton University Professor Robert P. George (left) at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Canterbury Medal Dinner in New York City, 16 May 2013.

While Mormons and Catholics may seem like unlikely allies, from a political perspective they bring complementary strengths to their partnership. The Mormon Church has an amazing amount of wealth on hand (it’s estimated to be worth over $40 billion – gathered from real estate and commercial holdings, mandatory tithing collections from members, and even a theme park in Hawaii) and a world-class grassroots mobilization and recruitment force. The Catholic Church and related groups, on the other hand, enjoy a much higher approval rating with the American public (62 percent) and thus can put a more popular face on public political campaigns.

The political allegiance between Mormons and Catholics dates back at least to the 1990s in Hawaii, during the first U.S. battle over same-sex marriage. As I previously reported, while the Mormons could—and did—provide funding and volunteers to that campaign, the more popular Catholic Church acted as the coalition’s public face. The Catholic Church and other visible allies would thereby absorb any public backlash directed towards the coalition, while the Mormons could push their agenda without any serious consequences to their public image. The strategy was effective, and one they repeated during California’s Proposition 8 fight.

The alliance grows stronger with each passing year. Epitomizing the relationship is Princeton professor Robert P. George, one of the most influential Catholic conservative activists in the country, who partnered with the Mormon Church to create the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). He also joined the editorial advisory board of the Mormon Church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News. George is also the founder of the Witherspoon Institute (responsible for the debunked Mark Regnerus study – which was reported first by the Deseret News), was the primary author of the anti-LGBTQ Manhattan Declaration, and is one of the top national strategists leading the charge to redefine religious freedom into a sword religious institutions can use to force their doctrinal positions on individuals. This week, Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University awarded George an “honorary Doctor of Law and Moral Values” degree, calling him “one of the most able and articulate advocates of the proposition that faith and reason are not incompatible.”

Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Mormon Church’s 12 Apostles, has been deeply involved in the effort to redefine religious freedom. He sits on the board of the World Congress of Families, an international culture-warring collection of Religious Right organizations that works all over the world to use (redefined) religious freedom arguments to enact anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive health laws (such as the Russian law that criminalizes any positive speech about homosexuality). In recognition of his work with WCF and frequent speeches before conservative groups extoling the benefits of using one’s faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws, Oaks received the 2013 “Canterbury Medal” for his “defense of religious liberty” from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative Catholic legal organization responsible for the Hobby Lobby ruling at the Supreme Court and one of the top groups in the Right’s religious freedom campaign.

Speaking earlier this month at the Mormon Church’s semi-annual General Conference to all 15 million members worldwide, Oaks quoted a speech given by Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput at Brigham Young University. “Speaking of ‘concerns that the LDS and Catholic communities share,’ such as ‘about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life, and the urgency of religious liberty,’ he [Chaput] said this: ‘I want to stress again the importance of really living what we claim to believe. That needs to be a priority—not just in our personal and family lives but in our churches, our political choices, our business dealings, our treatment of the poor; in other words, in everything we do.’” Chaput continued, in his speech to BYU, “Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

“Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

Another of the Mormon Church’s top leaders, Henry B. Eyring, met with Chaput and Pope Francis in November 2014 at the Vatican. Eyring described their strengthening alliance and mutual dedication to opposing civil liberties for LGBTQ people and women, saying “I think the thing was, even with other faiths, they have exactly the same feeling that the root of good society is good families.” Another of the Mormon 12 Apostles, D. Todd Christofferson, will be one of the featured speakers later this year at the Catholic’s anti-LGBTQ World Meeting of Families, where the Pope will also be speaking.

The crowning, and perhaps most insidious, achievement thus far of the Mormon-Catholic alliance is the much-hailed Utah nondiscrimination/religious freedom law. While the Christian Right’s state-level Hobby-Lobbyized RFRAs (with their overt anti-LGBTQ intentions) have generated a significant national backlash (particularly in the cases of Indiana and Arizona) and are susceptible to court challenges, the Utah RFRA “lite” law actually won endorsements from LGBTQ groups. The Mormon Church enlisted the help of Christian Right operative Robin Fretwell Wilson, who works closely with right-wing Catholic groups like The Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom, to co-write the law. The end product was a bill written in such a way that LGBTQ groups hungry for a “win” in a Red state could claim victory in the form of a watered-down nondiscrimination law. The price—knowingly or otherwise—was the endorsement by high-profile LGBTQ groups of the Right’s false contention that religious freedom is somehow at odds with LGBTQ rights, requiring a compromise – or, as some LGBTQ groups described the creation of Utah’s law, “a collaboration.” Such endorsements have set a dangerous precedent for the advancement of RFRAs and other efforts to corrupt actual religious freedom in various state legislatures. Right-wing groups can (and do) point to LGBTQ support in Utah as a means of mainstreaming their agenda and deflating their opposition.

Catholic news agencies have hailed the “Mormon law” as a model to be repeated across the country. If that happens, we may well see more such pyrrhic victories, in which gains in non-discrimination legislation are overwhelmed by the emerging “right to discriminate” on the basis of religious convictions.. This is where compromising on the true meaning of religious freedom could lead. We may also see the Mormon Church emerge as a more prominent—albeit less public—partner of the evangelical and Catholic elements of the Christian Right as they continue their quest to corrupt the meaning of religious freedom.

The Religious Right Operative Who Helped Write Utah’s Nondiscrimination Law

Posted By on March 19, 2015

**Originally posted to Political Research Associates

Was the non-discrimination/religious freedom law in Utah really the “historic compromise” it’s being touted as, or a Trojan Horse for the Religious Right’s agenda? There now seems to be little doubt with the discovery that one of the law’s authors has spent years working with the country’s most prominent Religious Right leaders and groups to advance right-to-discriminate laws across the country.

After my article last week asserted that the much-hailed Utah LGBTQ rights law was really an attempt by the national Religious Right to gain legitimacy for their agenda to redefine religious liberty as a religious license to legally discriminate, many have begun looking into how the bill actually came into existence.

As Queer Nation recently pointed out, Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois, has a long history of seeking to develop loopholes in civil rights laws. In 2014, as the proposed RFRA in Arizona was causing national headlines for its provisions allowing both private and government individuals to opt-out of civil rights and public accommodation laws if done so for religious beliefs, Wilson and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) teamed up to send a letter to Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer, claiming the law was being “egregiously misrepresented.” ADF (formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund back when it was working as part of the legal team defending California’s Prop 8, which stripped marriage rights from same-sex couples), was one of the authors of the Arizona bill. Following massive protests and national outcry, that bill was eventually vetoed by Governor Brewer, but less than a month later a nearly identical bill became law in Mississippi and ADF has worked to pass similar legislation in over a dozen states since.

Robin Fretwell Wilson

Robin Fretwell Wilson

In 2008, Wilson teamed up with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty—the group behind the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case—to co-edit their book Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, where she claimed states must proactively pass “conscience clauses” for religious freedom—the right for individuals, business owners, and government employees to use their religious opinions to legally discriminate against others.[1]

Wilson was more explicit in an op-ed to The New York Times, following the state legislature’s passage of same-sex marriage in 2011. “Without such [individual religious exemptions],” Wilson argues, “groups that hew to their religious beliefs about marriage would be at risk of losing government contracts and benefits and would be subject to lawsuits from private citizens.” She goes on to claim that organizations receiving government funding should never be in danger of losing those tax dollars just because they discriminate against LGBTQ people.

In 2010, Wilson authored a paper in the Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy titled Insubstantial Burdens: The Case for Government Employee Exemptions to Same-Sex Marriage Laws, in which she lamented that (at that point) “not a single state has shielded the government employee at the front line of same-sex marriage, such as the marriage registrar who, if she has a religious objection to same-sex marriage, will almost certainly face a test of conscience.” She concludes with what she believes to be a fair scenario: “Same-sex marriage applications comprise a miniscule part of the overall workload in the local marriage registrar’s office. If that office is staffed by three clerks, Faith, Hope, and Charity, and only Faith has a religious objection to assisting with same-sex marriage applications, allowing Faith to step aside when no hardship will result for same-sex couples is costless.” This, of course, ignores the vast implications of allowing a publicly-funded government employee to deny civil rights to citizens—not to mention the real threat of “Hope” and “Charity” following “Faith’s” lead. Wilson also took it a step further in her 2014 paper, Marriage of Necessity: Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty Protections, where she advocates for the Religious Right to focus on inserting its corrupted view of religious freedom into state laws.

Wilson is also famous for co-writing an op-ed in The Washington Post in 2014 with Bradford Wilcox, claiming that if women want to stop being sexually abused, they should just get married. Co-author Bradford Wilcox is currently the head of the Religious Right’s “National Marriage Project.” But until 2012 he was a director at the Witherspoon Institute, where he played an integral role in the creation of the thoroughly-debunked study by Mark Regnerus, which claimed that children of same-sex parents turn out much worse than children of opposite-sex parents. Wilcox not only acted as an advisor on the project, but was a paid consultant.

And speaking specifically about the Utah law she helped write, Wilson went so far as to lay out that “if the religious right does not believe that they are going to have those [religious exemption] protections, it cannot push forward the other rights.”

Wilson’s true motives in writing Utah’s “compromise” SB296 laws are clear.

LGBTQ supporters of the law are arguing that the religious exemptions in SB296 do not undermine the workplace/housing protections for LGBTQ people. But that misses the entire point of the critique of the bill. It didn’t matter what legalese actually went into the law. In fact, it behooved Wilson, the Mormon Church, ADF, and the other Religious Right actors to make the bill appear favorable to LGBTQ people who desperately need workplace and housing protections.

No, the real agenda was to obtain the endorsement of LGBTQ groups. The Religious Freedom Restoration Acts currently being pushed through state legislatures, particularly in the South, are vulnerable to court challenges. But now that the Religious Right has high-profile endorsements of their false framework of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights being opposed to each other, unfortunately, the ability of LGBTQ activists and organizations to oppose RFRAs and other efforts to codify discrimination—all dressed up in the language of “religious freedom”—has been curtailed.

[1] Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008.

Utah LGBTQ Rights Bill a Trojan Horse for Religious Right’s Agenda

Posted By on March 17, 2015

**Original published at LGBTQ Nation magazine and The New Civil Rights Movement**

There were both cheers and tears as many in the Utah LGBTQ community celebrated the passage of a workplace and housing nondiscrimination law in the conservative Utah legislature. But behind closed doors, I suspect it’s actually the leaders of the Religious Right who are cheering the hardest.

As someone who began as an activist in the Utah LGBTQ community, and fought for years alongside countless others for full workplace and housing protections, I was overjoyed at the possibility that 2015 might finally be the year we stepped closer to equality. Too many LGBTQ Utahns, myself included, have faced that discrimination firsthand. But once the legislation was unveiled, my heart sank. While there is much to be happy with in the legislation, and the protections it offers to some of the most vulnerable citizens in the Beehive State, the law also contains a tiny Trojan Horse individual religious exemptions clause.

The Utah bill is being called a “model” to be used in states around the nation, but we must be forewarned. The individual religious exemption in the law, as small and seemingly noninvasive as it is, could put the civil liberties of everyone at stake for decades to come.

Religious freedom is important, and as a principle has existed since before the writing of the U.S. Constitution. The 13 original colonies were a fractured bunch of near-theocracies, with various Christian sects dominating different colonies—to the detriment of anyone not a member of the particular sect in power locally. Thanks to the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the principle of religious freedom in the Constitution set in motion of the disestablishment of the state churches, and the advantages they held in the public sphere. Jefferson’s famous Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which predated the Constitution and was the first such law to be enacted in the world, said one’s beliefs or non-beliefs cannot “enhance, diminish, or impact” one’s “civil capacity.” Individuals were shielded from the tyranny of churches who had previously sought to force them to adhere to their beliefs, and religions were shielded from governments elevating one religion over another.

It has taken us a long time to make it work and, in truth, we are still working on it.

But the Religious Right has launched a campaign to redefine the meaning of religious liberty, stripping away those protections and once again giving religions the power to circumscribe the rights of individual conscience.

This coalition, led by right-wing groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as Alliance Defense Fund), the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Liberty Counsel, is systematically working the courts and state legislatures to enact religious exemptions—essentially a right of religious institutions and individuals to decide which laws they will or will not follow.

In practical terms, this could play out as a business owner invoking faith to deny service to a LGBTQ couple, or refusing to hire Jewish employees. Or a man refusing to promote women to managerial positions because he doesn’t believe men should be subservient to women. We cannot allow such freedom of conscience to become a legal sanction for these and other forms of discrimination.

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks receives a "religious freedom" award from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (right) receives a “religious freedom” award from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

One of the Religious Right leaders heavily involved in this campaign is Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ (Mormon) senior leaders and member of their Quorum of 12 Apostles. The Mormon church frequently finds itself at odds with members of other faiths who don’t believe it to be a true Christian religioun. However, unlike some of his brethren in the all-male leadership, Oaks is deeply involved in the work with the Religious Right. He sits on the board of the international culture warring organization World Congress of Families. He received the 2013 “Canterbury Medal” for his “defense of religious liberty from the Becket Fund. In speeches before conservative groups, Oaks frequently extols the benefits of individuals being able to using their faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws.

That’s why, when just a few weeks ago Oaks held a press conference to announce that he and the Mormon church were ready to endorse a statewide nondiscrimination law for LGBTQ people if only the leaders of the local LGBTQ community would sit down and negotiate a “compromise,” many were suspicious.

Oaks was up front about what he was looking for. He and other leaders of the Mormon church enumerated the religious exemptions they wanted included with a nondiscrimination law, including a right for government and health care workers to deny service to LGBTQ people.

SB296, the bill that resulted from those negotiations, was hailed by equality groups and the Mormon church as a “historic compromise” of nondiscrimination and religious freedom. The bill does indeed ban workplace and housing discrimination against LGBTQ people in Utah. But buried underneath those important protections, is a small clause guaranteeing the right of individuals to express faith-based anti-LGBTQ views at work.

It’s a small exemption. Seemingly inconsequential in comparison to the benefits the new law could bring. Viewed purely as a standalone piece of legislation, SB296 does a lot more good than bad and it’s unsurprising to see so many social justice-minded people supporting it.

But the equality movement cannot survive if we view legislation through a short-term and narrow lens. To do so is to ignore the context of the long-term consequences of the Religious Right’s national agenda—which only needs to get a foot in the door to get the ball rolling.

Oaks’ goal with the nondiscrimination law was not to pass full individual religious exemptions all at once. To use the analogy of the unfortunate amphibian, the frog will jump out of the pot if put directly into boiling water. But turn the heat up slowly, and the frog cooked to death. For the LGBTQ community to endorse the Religious Right’s corrupt redefined version of religious freedom, even in this one seemingly minor way, opens the door for the expansion of religious exemptions in both breadth and number.

And as if to confirm this suspicion as quickly as possible, within two hours of the “compromise” SB296 passing the Utah legislature, conservatives in the Utah House of Representatives had also passed two other bills that had not been part of the negotiations: one granting county clerks the right to refuse to perform any marriage they opposed on religious grounds, and the other paving the way for full individual religious exemptions in the public marketplace.

It’s a victory for the Right not only in the success of imposing their agenda into law, but in winning the larger PR battle at a critical moment in time.

As I discussed in Resisting the Rainbow: Right-Wing Responses to LGBTQ Gains, the Mormon church has only ever given in to pressure by the LGBTQ community when its back is against the wall in a public relations battle. After months of heavy protesting over their involvement in California’s Prop 8, they endorsed a municipal nondiscrimination law in Salt Lake City in 2009. In 2010, after 2nd-in-command Mormon leader Boyd K. Packer claimed that there was no way God would allow people to be born gay, protests around the church’s headquarters garnered international attention and prompted Packer’s comments to be officially stricken from the church’s records.

So why did the Mormon church unexpectedly come to the table? Could it be a delayed response to their highly-publicized excommunication of faithful feminist members for asking for a public discussion about why the patriarchal church does not allow female leadership? Unlikely, that was months ago and the discussion has largely died down.

A more plausible explanation is the forthcoming World Congress of Families (WCF) event scheduled for Salt Lake City in October. The international coalition of U.S. culture warriors held a conference last year in Moscow—their name was removed just before the conference started to prevent negative publicity over the situation in Ukraine—where attendees unanimously voted to urge their home countries—like the United States—to pass laws modeled on the Russian anti-LGBTQ law. (That law criminalizes any positive speech about LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting children from “propaganda.”)

WCF attendees and other U.S. conservatives, such as Rick Warren, Sharon Slater, Brian Brown and others, are known around the world for their work in exporting the culture wars abroad, which has resulted in outcomes like the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda.

Dallin H. Oaks is a member of the WCF board of directors.

Thanks to Oaks’ work in helping to pass the “compromise” legislation, the WCF and the Religious Right’s goal of codifying their redefined version of religious freedom into law has taken a giant step forward. Once Pandora’s Box is opened, there’s no shutting it.


**RELATED: The Religious Right Operative Who Co-Wrote Utah’s Nondiscrimination Law

Utah GOP Lawmakers Blame Outrage Over Rape Comments on the Press

Posted By on February 5, 2015

Utah GOP Representatives Curt Oda (left) and Ken Ivory (right)

Utah Republican Representatives Curt Oda (left) and Ken Ivory (right)

After one of their own faced a severe backlash this week for implying that having sex with an unconscious spouse isn’t really rape, some Utah Republican legislators are circling the wagons—blaming the outrage on the media.

Utah state representative Brian Greene (Republican – Pleasant Grove) touched off a firestorm this week when he commented on a proposed law that clarifies that sex with an unconscious person is always rape. “If an individual has sex with their wife while she is unconscious … a prosecutor could then charge that spouse with rape, theoretically,” said Greene.”That makes sense in a first date scenario, but to me, not where people have a history of years of sexual activity.”

Those comments have gone viral, appearing everywhere from the Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Political Capitolto The New York Times,  and the Daily Mail in London.

Greene walked back his statements in a private email to all of his fellow lawmakers Wednesday evening. He apologized for “any embarrassment to this Body that my statements have caused.” And said that he was simply trying to demonstrate “how changing that statutory language by removing the element of consent might have some unintended consequences.”

But rather than siding with those who may have felt hurt or betrayed by the remarks, some of Greene’s Republican colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives replied (cc-ing all state lawmakers) that the blame for the outrage should rest with the press, rather than Greene.

“Don’t let it get you down. Media sensationalism,” said Representative Curt Oda (Republican – Clearfield).

“Media taking things out of context to sell papers,” added Representative Ken Ivory (Republican – West Jordan).



Democrats & Religious Leaders Announce Bill Creating “Religious Freedom Day” in Utah

Posted By on January 20, 2015

**Originally published on Utah Political Capitol**

Brian King RFDUtah House Democrats and local religious leaders held a press conference Friday afternoon to announce legislation designating January 16th in Utah as Religious Freedom Day, honoring the first religious freedom law in the country.

In 1786, the Commonwealth of Virginia passed into law the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom Law. It was written by Thomas Jefferson a year after he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and was ushered into law by James Madison a year before he became one of the principle authors of the U.S. Constitution.

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is widely regarded as the taproot of how the framers of the Constitution approached matters of religion and government, and was as revolutionary as the era in which it was written—during a time when the framers were fighting to create one nation out of 13 fractious colonies which were still finding their way after a successful revolt against the British Empire and contending with a growing and religiously diverse population.

The law disestablished the Anglican Church as the official church of Virginia, and provided that individuals are free to believe or not believe as they will and that this “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” In other words, what you believe or don’t believe cannot be used as a litmus test by government or government’s agents to deny you civil services.

House Minority Leader Brian King (Democrat – Salt Lake City), who is authoring the legislation honoring the 229 year old law, along with Reverend Patty Willis of South Valley Unitarian, Pastor Curtis Price of the First Baptist Church, and Sheryl Ginsburg of the Jewish Congregation of Kol Ami, say it is important to remember that original meaning of religious freedom, because the rights the law proscribes are now being threatened.

“Religious Freedom means the right of individuals to believe or not believe whatever they choose, without the fear of powerful institutions dictating what they must think,” said King.

January 16th has already been set aside on the national level by Congress, who designated the day as Religious Freedom Day in 1992. It was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, and has been renewed by presidential proclamation by Presidents Clinton, W. Bush, and Obama each year since.

“Religious Freedom was designed as a shield to protect the rights of individuals over the rights of powerful institutions like the government or religions. What we are seeing now is a coordinated effort to strip individuals of their freedom, and tell them that government and governments’ agents can mandate what they need to believe in order to access civic services,” says King, alluding to recent attempts in various states to pass religious freedom laws that don’t necessarily align with the definition of religious freedom espoused by Jefferson and Madison.

HB 66 – Marriage Modifications, being proposed by Representative Jacob Anderegg (Republican – Lehi), was mentioned by King as an example of a bill opposed to the original definition of religious freedom. The bill is in response to the recent court cases which have allowed same-sex marriages in Utah. If successful, the legislation would allow any government agent empowered to perform civil marriages to refuse to perform a civil ceremony on the basis of faith (either the agent’s or the the couple’s). Under current Utah law, religious leaders are already exempt, and cannot be forced to perform religious ceremonies under any circumstances, but Anderegg’s bill would go a step further and exempt government officials as well. King, who is LDS himself, strongly disagrees and says there should be a bright line between religious leaders acting in their religious capacities, and government agents acting on official business.

“The right of individual conscience must be held paramount,” says King. “No citizen of Utah should ever be denied a governmental service because of their beliefs or non-beliefs, or because of the beliefs or non-beliefs of any governmental employee. No one who is Catholic should ever be denied service because a government agent is Baptist, no LDS person can be denied services because a government agent is Protestant. No Athiest can be denied service because a government agent is Evangelical. No person of Jewish faith can be denied services because a government agent is Catholic. We are a country founded on religious pluralism, where every individual has the right to choose what to believe and what to not believe.”

Copy of Representative King’s proposed legislation, which has not been submitted yet so does not have a bill file number:


Utah Religious Freedom Day HCR