The Mormon Church is trying to block a hate crime bill in Utah.
“The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year [with S.B. 296] in arriving at legislation that protected both religious liberty rights and LGBT rights. Interests from both ends of the political spectrum are attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained.”
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Stephen Urquhart, a Republican and Mormon, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the Church’s response was “silly.”
“And, you know, the statement is silly for two reasons. I mean, one, it talks about balance, you know… maybe… maybe the Church doesn’t like hate crime legislation although it has historically. Um, but there is perfect balance in the bill. It specifically protects religion and sexual orientation the exact way.”
Urquhart wondered if the Mormon Church meant he needed to balance his bill against another bill meant to restrict transgender students from using bathrooms that correspond to their identity. If so, the Senator claimed, there is “no moral equivalency.”
Samantha Allen of The Daily Beast pointed out that the Church’s stance ironically undermines protections against “the faithful,” who have been on the receiving end of more hate crimes than those in the LGBT community.
“Of these categories, far more anti-religious crimes are reported in Utah than anti-LGBT ones. Nineteen of the 62 hate crimes reported by the Utah Department of Public Safety in 2014 were anti-religious in nature: three anti-Protestant, two anti-Muslim, one anti-Catholic, one anti-Jewish, and 12 “anti-other religion.” This presumably includes Mormonism, which is not considered to be a Protestant form of Christianity. Only two of the 62 reported hate crimes were anti-LGBT.”
According to Urquhart, S.B.107 gives a one-level enhancement to crimes motivated by hatred against a community. Urquhart claimed that under previous criminal codes, setting fire to a Mormon chapel would be treated in the same way as someone setting fire to woodsheds.
Some worry that the bill could punish free speech. Derek Monson, Director of Policy at the Sutherland Institute, worried that a person who supported traditional marriage could have that used against her or him in a court of law.
Urquhart, however, wrote off that complaint, saying that S.B. 107 is accompanied by Senate Joint Resolution 13 (S.J.R. 13), which narrowly restricts acts to those directly related to the crime.
Monson backed the Mormon Church’s claims and defended the balance of last year’s S.B. 296, saying that the Sutherland Institute was worried that S.B. 107 could “jeopardize” that balance.
“The political situation is there’s folks on both sides pushing bills that could potentially lead to a jeopardizing of the balance, of the compromise, of the cooperation that was established last year.”
Monson claimed his group is not against hate crime legislation, saying there is room for protections for people with “historical realities that they face of being persecuted.” He listed blacks, Jews, and Mormons as examples.
Urquhart did not believe it, and claimed what while Monson was “a good guy” he had to speak for the Sutherland Institute, which was just “dead set against hate crimes,” a claim that Derek Monson flatly denied.
Monson claimed that S.B. 107 was dead before the Church spoke out against it, but claimed his group and the Church were still open to a conversation about it.
Senator Urquhart denied this, pointing out the bill’s 5-1 passage in the committee. He also claimed that if the S.B. 107 were dead, the Mormon Church would not have spoken out against it.
Urquhart said he believes the Church is abusing its power, and in a press conference on Thursday, he implied he was losing faith in his religion, claiming that the light the Mormon Church once shined in his life “has flickered.”
[Photo by George Frey/Getty Images]