Utah's religious liberty bill HB 322Written by Greta Hyland

When I was a kid and my siblings and I would fight, it almost always turned physical and someone got hurt. The fight ended when someone started crying and mom had to get involved. My mom would say, “Your right ends at someone else’s nose.” She now says it to my boys when they fight. Of course, the stream of justifications always follows shortly thereafter:
“But he took my toy!”
“He made me mad!”
“He did it first!”

This is a very small civics lesson. Your right to do something ends where someone else begins. I would offer the same civics lesson to those in the Mormon community who support HB 322, the Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act.

Your right to believe that homosexuality is a sin ends at an LGBT person’s nose. If your belief translates to action, action that hurts, discriminates, or infringes on another’s rights, your religious freedom has become an “act” against another person that is against the law. Trying to make it legal is taking that abuse of freedom and compounding it. At that point, you are infringing on someone else’s rights in the name of religious freedom.

Anyone who sees clearly can see that what is happening both from the LDS Church leadership and from members of the Church in the legislature is a thinly-veiled attempt to expand religious freedom beyond the scope of the Constitution and to protect their right to discriminate at the same time. But as we saw when the federal judge struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, the Constitution trumps Utah law, and if this new bill passes, it will be next in the line of fire.

However, there may be even worse unintended consequences of HB 322. What else will be legal to do in the name of religious freedom? Having sex with children? Sacrificing animal or human lives? Discriminating against religions deemed cults by other religions? If you can think of something that will come out of this Pandora’s box, chances are someone else will too and may act within Utah’s new religious legal limits to do just that.

Furthermore, for a state that overwhelmingly beats its drum about big government and government infringement in their lives, this is the mac daddy of them all when it comes to expanding government.

Wendell Berry, a famous American writer and outspoken Protestant, once said, “One may find the sexual practices of homosexuals to be unattractive or displeasing and therefore unnatural, but anything that can be done in that line by homosexuals can be done and is done by heterosexuals. Do we need a legal remedy for this? Would conservative Christians like a small government bureau to inspect, approve and certify their sexual behavior? Would they like a colorful tattoo verifying government approval on the rumps of lawfully copulating parties?”

Ask yourself if you would like the government–or even better, a religion–monitoring what you do in the bedroom and then deciding what rights you would be afforded in society based on what they saw. It sounds awful, but it’s close to what people here in Utah are trying to do.

The Utah House Minority Leader Brian King is raising a red flag of alarm in regard to this bill. In a Fox 13 report, King is quoted as saying that the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, which “assists the Utah Legislature in the development of sound public policy, ensures the integrity of the legislative process, and preserves the legislative branch in its proper constitutional role in state government,” sent out a Constitutional memorandum stating that Rep. LaVar Christensen’s HB322 “may raise significant constitutional issues.”

The memo said, “The proposed act may be subject to challenge in court because it expands religious protections to an extent not currently recognized by the courts, and because it raises potential equal protection questions and other legal issues … Consequently, it is impossible to effectively evaluate its constitutionality or its practical effect on the balance between civil rights and the free exercise of religion. Ultimately, the courts, by deciding litigation brought in connection with the act, will determine how the act will apply to individuals and their respective religious and civil rights.”

This is not an LGBT group or the ACLU raising Constitutional concerns. This is Utah’s legal counsel raising the concerns. This is the same group of people that warned the Governor and legislature that trying to take public lands was unconstitutional. If that is an indicator of how Utah will proceed, we may be on the path to more costly legal battles that are not only a waste of money but that also put Utah back in the hot seat on gay rights.

No one’s religious freedom is being infringed upon by being required to treat all people the same. What is shocking is that a religion has to be reminded of how to treat others. Renting an apartment or employing a person should have nothing to do with their love life. This looks like bullying and simple bigotry.

To quote Berry again, “Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred. Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness…”

As has been mentioned already in several articles, if the same were being proposed against people of the Mormon faith  (i.e., people could discriminate against Mormons in the name of religious liberty) I can only imagine the outrage that would erupt from the very same people trying to do this to the LGBT community. Utah is demonstrating the very real need for a clear line of separation between church and state. If it weren’t so sad, it would be funny that the civil government has to chastise the religious on what amounts to Christ-like principles. Do unto others?

Greta Hyland has a Masters degree in Environmental Policy & Management and has worked for the BLM and the NPS as well as for non-profit organizations. She is a regular contributor to the Utah Adventure Journal and is the Copy Editor at the Independent. She writes regularly on her blog about environmental policy issues affecting the southwest, as well as personal narratives about outdoor recreation and simple living. Her blog can be found at www.thesouthwestjournal.wordpress.com  A Utah native, Greta is a consummate desert rat and loves exploring the southwest. She can be reached at [email protected]