SB 296, SB 297, Religious Freedom, and Nondiscrimination

My readers may know two things about me, based on statements in public meetings, private conversations, or what I wrote at this blog’s predecessor, LocalCommentary.com.

First, for a long time I have supported local and state legislation to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.

Second, the level of my confidence in the Utah legislature is perennially low.

These two themes came together last year at about this time, as the Utah legislature sat on its hands and refused even to debate last year’s version of a non-discrimination law (SB 100). I wrote:

It’s an extraordinarily discerning litmus test, where Mormon Utah Republicans are concerned. It tells us where people land on the freedom-versus-using-my-power-to-compel-universal-righteousness spectrum, which sometimes seems to be the primary axis of Utah politics.

Beyond the moral principles on which society generally agrees, and finds suitable for regulation by law, I believe that sinners as I define them and sinners as you define them deserve political, economic, and religious freedom. I believe that a person’s violation of someone else’s sectarian principles (or his own) should not jeopardize the roof over his head or his means of earning his daily bread, assuming he doesn’t work for an organization with a primary mission to promote those principles. . . .

I . . . believe that the greatest and most constant threat to free and healthy society and good government in Utah is the subset of Mormons who think the law is a suitable tool for imposing their principles on all people — and who think that this is somehow a proper exercise of their religious freedom. (“I Am Unfit for the Utah Legislature,” February 5, 2014. See also “Rights and Rites and Right and the Rights” and “Tonight in American Fork.”)

When the Utah Legislature took up the topics of nondiscrimination and religious freedom this year, I was skeptical of their competence to produce wise legislation on such a topic, and skeptical of their good will, too.

What Is a Democracy?

Author's Note

An American Thing?

In its simplest definition, democracy is rule by the people — in Greek, the demos. On the face of it, you’d think that this would be not only a very good thing, but also a very American thing. The famous first three words of the Preamble to the United States Constitution are a statement of the people’s authority to establish a government and its Constitution. “We the People” sounds very democratic.

Then there’s that short, most celebrated speech by President Abraham Lincoln. In the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address, delivered at the famous battlefield on November 19, 1863, he speaks of “a new birth of freedom,” and the desire “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That sounds pretty democratic too, doesn’t it, especially the words “by the people”?

So democracy must be a good thing. Or maybe not . . .