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David Rodeback

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April 1, 2014
New Hymns from the Sutherland Institute

How gentle God's commands!
How kind his precepts are!
Now we will do what God forgot:
We'll make them all state law!


In the spirit of Edward Snowden, though I do not particularly admire him, I recently hacked into the servers at the Sutherland Institute. There I found drafts of what appears to be a new hymnal. I can't tell from the files I found whether publication is imminent; nor can I discern the intended distribution. The new hymnal could be just for in-house pep rallies -- devotionals, they probably call them. Or perhaps it's for public sale, aimed at the limited but well-financed subset of Mormons who think actual Mormonism is too concerned with things like freedom and kindness, and not nearly righteous enough.

To make a long story short, I discovered that they have rewritten all or part of some familiar Mormon and other Christian hymns to suit their higher principles. I grabbed some samples to share with you. You'll see some evidence of their preoccupation with quivers full of children, and also their odd idea of religious freedom, which includes incorporating their religious principles into civil law, and being spared the presence in the workplace or neighborhood of anyone who makes moral choices of which they disapprove.

In the Sutherland Institute's defense, I hasten to note that tweaking existing hymns to fit your own doctrine is a common practice among churches; it's not some new, outlandish abuse. So I hope we can set aside that possible distraction and agree to focus on the message of their newly-revised hymns.

(By the way, I thought about leaking the following samples a few weeks ago, but the Utah Legislature was still in session, and I wanted to avoid the risk of having these sung on the floor, and it being my fault.)

"How Gentle God's Commands"
to the tune of "How Gentle God's Commands"

How gentle God's commands!
How kind his precepts are!
Now we will do what God forgot:
We'll make them all state law!

Beneath his vengeful eye,
True saints securely dwell.
That hand which bears right nature up
Will send the left to hell.

Why should that anxious load
Of freedom vex your minds?
Haste to our wholly righteous views
Or sweet compulsion find!

Our goodness stands approved,
Right-thinkers all agree.
Religious freedom's not for you.
God meant it just for me.

"Onward, Utah Mormons!"
to the tune of "Onward, Christian Soldiers!"

Onward, Utah Mormons! Join our righteous war.
We will make illegal all that we abhor.
Jesus loves the Sutherland, looks on us with pride.
All the true believers join us. Be one! Take our side!

chorus:
Onward, Utah Mormons! Join our righteous war.
We will make illegal all that we abhor.

At the sign of triumph, jacks and gentiles flee.
On, then, Utah Mormons! On to victory!
See, our future beckons! Fight for Zion’s sake!
Brother, exercise your priesthood! Sister, bake a cake!

chorus:
Onward, Utah Mormons! Join our righteous war.
We will make illegal all that we abhor.

Fill up every nursery – bundles of great joy.
Full shall be your quiver, stuffed with girls and boys.
Heaven grants our donors grand posterity.
Nothing proves our worthiness quite like fertility!

chorus:
Onward, Utah Mormons! Join our righteous war.
We will make illegal all that we abhor.

Onward, then, ye Mormons! Join our righteous throng!
Let us do the thinking; you might get it wrong.
We are heaven’s think tank. We’ll say what is just.
Cato, Brookings, Heritage – all will eat our dust.

chorus:
Onward, Utah Mormons! Join our righteous war.
We will make illegal all that we abhor.

They appear to have left the first verse of one of my favorite hymns, "In Humility, Our Savior," unchanged, but they have altered the second verse somewhat, after leaving the first two lines intact:

"In Humility, Our Savior" (second verse)
(same melody as "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling")

Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving.
Teach us tolerance and love.
Drive the wicked gays far from us;
They will find no grace above.
Smokers, drinkers, different thinkers,
T-shirt sellers at the mall --
When our perfect freedom dawns here,
We'll have none of them at all.

That's it for now, folks. Please don't be horrified. Every belief system has the potential to offend someone, tends to encourage self-congratulation in some adherents, and looks a little odd from the outside.

If you'll pardon my own self-congratulation for just a moment, I would like to point out that it's only the first day of April, and I've already blogged once this month!


 

March 20, 2014
Why I'm Wavering on the Caucus/Convention System

The Utah Republican Party might be able to extend precinct caucuses somehow to include those who want to attend but cannot, but it doesn't have a history of taking that issue seriously. I'm not sure reforming the system would solve the other problem: the Utah Legislature.


Yesterday, I promised to explain why I've been wavering lately about Utah's caucus/convention system for selecting candidates, despite my satisfaction with a lot of its results, my appreciation for some of its strengths, and my enthusiasm for working within it for the past eight years to select good candidates. Lately, I've been thinking that a pure primary system might serve us better overall.

I know the legislature just passed, and the governor just signed, some legislation to allow a path for candidates to get to the primary ballot without going through a convention, if they have enough money to hire enough minimum-wage, out-of-state workers to get enough signatures on a petition -- sorry, did that sound derisive?-- but similar legislation in other states has failed to survive court challenges, so let's not worry too much about it today. Instead, let's mostly talk about the caucus/convention system as it presently exists.

Caucus Participation

On one hand, the caucus system works much better when attendance is high than when it is low, in terms of both credible representation and resistance to wing nuts and barking moonbats. On the other hand, it's hard to accommodate a dozen or more large caucuses in a given town on a given night. Two years ago, my precinct and another precinct had rather uncomfortable, simultaneous meetings in the same large room, with hundreds of people in each.

On one hand, I'm delighted by the increase in caucus turnout in recent years in many precincts and by its moderating effects. On the other hand, a lot of folks who would like to participate cannot. There are early signs of an absentee voting mechanism emerging, but that only works if it actually works, if people use it, and if there's a way to get to know all the candidates well in advance of the caucus. There's now a way for candidates to register their intention to run for precinct offices and delegate seats. It's a start, but no one in my precinct had used it, as of yesterday. If we can evolve a way to handle a lot of precinct business remotely and still preserve the positive effects of neighbors gathering to conduct politics, sign me up, but I'm not convinced yet. I keep imagining the prohibitive difficulty of having thousands of little elections all at once, with full-fledged registration, voting, and absentee voting mechanisms running separately in each neighborhood, with separate sets of candidates.

Voter Turnout

Some folks believe that the caucus system suppresses voter turnout -- not that they can point to a lot of primaries with great turnout. On one hand, I think every voter should cast an informed, thoughtful vote in every election. On the other hand, increasing voter turnout is not the holy grail for me, because so many voters who do turn out invest so little effort in advance, and many of those who don't now turn out invest even less. Casual voters tend to vote for slogans and sound bites, which don't generally lead to good government.

Notably, improving voter turnout has been the mantra of the Count My Vote movement, which has sought to replace the caucus/convention system with a pure primary in time to defeat Senator Mike Lee in 2016. (No, they don't usually mention that last part.) I question their motives. I think this is partly sour grapes over Senator Bennett's defeat at the state Republican convention in 2010. I was there and helped with that, by the way. The senator cast some impolitic votes and didn't take the caucuses and convention very seriously, unlike Senator Orrin Hatch two years later (for whom I also voted).

The aforementioned compromise legislation, if it stands, has given the Count My Vote crowd enough of what they wanted that they've suspended their drive to put a resolution on the 2014 ballot to replace the current system with simple primaries.

Representative Government

On one hand, I like the neighborhood participation early in the process, and I like the idea of electing representatives who will carefully scrutinize the party's candidates in behalf of their neighbors. On the other hand . . . well, several things.

There isn't much time in a caucus to discuss issues or candidates, unless we let them get unbearably long. Except when someone does some advance campaigning, as I do, we have to choose delegates based on one- or two-minute speeches. Most of the delegates don't manage to say much in their brief speeches, either, and, if there's time for any questions, it's not many. So the level of informed neighorhood participation in caucuses has some inherent limits.

The Count My Vote movement, like the open primary movement, thinks representative government at this level disenfranchises voters in droves. The logic isn't there, but it makes for good sound bites. In fact, the only people disenfranchised are the voters who would go to caucuses but cannot, because they have to be at work or elsewhere on that evening -- a problem we should have been working to solve for years, if not decades, if we were committed to the long-term viability of the caucus/convention system.

Moderates? Ideologues? Wing Nuts?

On one hand, I have seen and participated in the process of voting on gubernatorial and US Senate candidates, and I like the fact that the first ballot inevitably excludes the weakest and most extreme candidates. It did so in 2010, before Senator Robert Bennett was retired on a later ballot, and in 2012, when Senator Orrin Hatch was not retired. In the former case, we delegates gave the voters a primary between Mike Lee (whom I supported from the beginning, as soon as I decided I had had enough of Senator Bennett, whom I still liked in several ways) and Tim Bridgewater. Lee won the primary narrowly and the general election more handily, and I have generally been very pleased with his work in Washington. The Republican establishment in Utah feels otherwise, of course.

In 2012 we delegates gave primary voters a choice between Senator Hatch and (arguably) a more conservative Dan Liljenquist, the only one of several challengers who had much credibility as a candidate. So we cannot say that the caucus/convention system routinely sends incumbents or moderates packing. We can say that it sometimes does, if they (e.g. Bennett) have offended a lot of Republicans with their recent votes, and if they fail to take the possibility of defeat seriously. Senator Hatch took it seriously and won another term.

Assuming Mike Lee runs for reelection in 2016, the politics will be interesting to watch. By the way, don't assume that the recent investigations into supposed hanky-panky by Mike Lee and Harry Reid are legitimate, just because they're coming from a Republican prosecutor and a Democrat prosecutor. Lee has more enemies in the Republican establishment in Utah than he has among Utah Democrats. Just linking his name to Harry Reid is a win for the Republicans who are desperate to defeat him in 2016.

In general, then, I have been very pleased with how the caucus/convention system has handled US Senate races and gubernatorial races lately. These votes involve thousands of delegates -- and, if caucus turnout is high, the delegates themselves tend to be more moderate overall. As I said, the weak and extreme candidates are the first to go, and the convention has in most cases offered the voters a primary election choice between two strong, credible candidates.

You might fairly ask at this point, Why am I wavering? This brings us to -- you guessed it -- the other hand.

On the other hand, the thing that has lately turned my support away from the caucus convention system is contemplation of -- and utter frustration with -- the lightweight, partisan, sectarian zealots club we respectfully call the Utah Legislature. When delegates consider these candidates they are in much smaller meetings, by legislative district. These meetings are usually held just before the general sessions of county conventions, unless a legislative district crosses county lines. Instead of having to sway hundreds or thousands of delegates, state legislature candidates only have to sway a dozen or two, in many cases. The results are decidedly inferior. For a sense of how bad I think the results are, consider my recent essay on my essential unfitness for the Utah Legislature, which, as you will see, was really more about the legislature's general unfitness for the Utah Legislature.

What Would I Prefer?

In summary, then, I am daunted by two major weaknesses of the caucus/convention system: (1) the exclusion of people who want to attend but cannot, and (2) the grossly inferior, ideologically poisoned nature of the state legislature it gets us.

We might, through technology and a lot of trial and error, which we probably should attempt, eventually work out a good, practical solution to the first problem, and thus preserve the caucus/convention system's considerable virtues, including grassroots participation as well as fewer primaries and, when necessary, primaries with better choices.

I am not at all optimistic that we can resolve the second problem within the current system. I think there's a good chance that a pure primary system might get us a better legislature. At this point, I'm willing to try that, despite the virtues of the present system.

In short, I'd like to see the parties reform the caucus/convention system and see where that leads us over time, but I'm now willing to be convinced that its day has passed. In practice, the party hasn't been very willing to reform itself.

In any case, there may not be time for any trial and error, because the state Republican establishment -- which, you will recall, elevated John Swallow -- wants to subvert or bypass the system that elected Mike Lee, before it elects him again.


 

March 19, 2014
A Look Back at Eight Years as a Republican Delegate

For the first time in about a decade, I don't plan to run for delegate at my precinct's caucus tonight. But here on some thoughts on my work in that role in the past eight years and related themes.


It's caucus week in Utah. Tuesday, it was the Democrats. Tomorrow evening, it's the Republicans. As the same thing happens in other precincts across the state, somewhere between a few and a few hundred Republicans from my neighborhood will gather to elected precinct officers and our share of delegates to the county and state Republican conventions, all of whom will serve two-year terms. These delegates will scrutinize Republican candidates for various offices and vote on them in convention. If a candidate gets at least 60 percent of the vote on the last convention ballot, he or she will avoid a primary election and go straight to the November ballot. If not, there will be a primary election between the top two candidates.

I've managed to get myself elected at the last four caucuses (2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012). I've been a county delegate three times and a state delegate twice. One of those terms was as precinct chair, which includes being both kinds of delegate, and one was as precinct vice chair, which includes being a county delegate. I'm not planning to run for anything this time. My reasons are personal, not political: I need those 50 or 60 hours of delegate time for something else.

If I wanted to be a state delegate for the next two years, I would already have begun to study any candidates I could identify for the offices on which I would be voting. I would have obtained from the County Clerk's office a list of registered Republicans in my precinct, and I would have mailed anyone on the list whose name I recognized a letter, inviting them to attend the caucus and explaining why they might consider voting for me. I might have included some unaffiliated voters, too, in case they wanted to register as Republicans and participated.

I would have named a high-profile candidate or two I was likely to support, explained my reasons, and perhaps briefly summarized my position on two or three major issues of the day. That sounds like a lot, and it certainly goes beyond the prudent one-page length for most letters -- I can squeeze it into two pages -- but, each time I've done this, I've had several people tell me they appreciated the detailed discussion, and it helped inform and focus their thoughts and persuade them to attend the caucus. To increase the comfort level of those who have never attended a caucus, I would also have included a separate page describing what happens at a caucus. I'd also have prepared a simple, half-page flyer to pass out at the caucus.

This is more work than most would-be delegates invest in their own election, but I like to hedge my bets a little; if I'm going to run, I want to be elected. If I'm going to be elected, I want the people who elect me to have a pretty good idea up front where I stand as their representative -- more of an idea than they can get from a one- or two-minute speech at the caucus, where I also try to be clear about these things. If you corner me and ask nicely -- I'll try to phrase this gently, so I don't sound completely crass and calculating -- I will confess that I also hope some potential rivals will see my efforts and decide to vote for me, instead of running against me. It's a dash of overkill and a pinch of political shock-and-awe, and it has worked for me so far.

I've heard it's not always this way, but I've noticed that in my precincts over the years, voters have tended to prefer prospective delegates with some well-reasoned and clearly-articulated opinions, rather than those who stand up and proclaim (truthfully or otherwise) that they don't have any firm opinions yet and don't really know the candidates or issues, but are eager to get involved, learn about issues and candidates, and make the best decisions they can. For my part, I'm no more a fan of "you have to elect me to find out what I think" (not that anyone actually says it that way) than of "we have to pass ObamaCare to find out what's in it."

In my eight years as a delegate, I've only missed one convention I was supposed to attend; that was a county convention, when one of my children was hospitalized for three weeks in Salt Lake City. With that exception, I've attended every convention where I was a delegate, from gavel to gavel -- usually about half a day for county conventions or all day for state conventions. This includes both nominating conventions, where attendance tends to be well over 95 percent, and off-year organizing conventions, where attendance is much lower, presumably because delegates care more about nominating candidates for office than about voting on party officers, bylaws, etc.

I've lost track of how many debates, speeches, question-and-answer meetings, and private conversations have combined to inform my votes. And I haven't even tried to count -- or even weigh -- the stacks of letters, flyers, booklets, etc., I've received in the mail from candidates and other interested parties. I can say that I've only been to a few -- I can count them on one hand -- meetings where a candidate who wanted my attention bought my breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Some state delegates like that part of the job, and I don't mind it, but I never did it for the free food.

There. I think I"ve said enough that you'll understand me when I say that I like the caucus/convention system because it allows me personally to have more influence in picking candidates than a primary election does, assuming I can get elected as one of the delegates who makes those decisions. I've been a supporter of the system for this rather self-interested reason, but also because I value the neighborhood participation at an early stage in the election cycle, and because I doubt that any 20 average primary voters combined will spend the time getting to know candidates and choosing between them that I do, when I'm a delegate. Maybe every delegate doesn't spend dozens of hours at this, but a most of them work pretty hard and feel some responsibility to represent their neighbors well.

Tomorrow, instead of running myself, I'll be supporting a friend or two who will run for delegate, chatting casually with friends I meet there (and anyone else who cares to join conversations), and offering a motion to suspend the rules and dispense with the almost unbearably tedious reading aloud of the Utah County Republican Party's sloppily written, sloppily reasoned platform. (I won't word the motion that way.) If 200 people attend, that will save about 50 person-hours of valuable time.

You're welcome.

I have enjoyed serving as a state and county delegate. It has felt like work, but meaningful work, and in most cases I think we delegates gave the voters either the best available Republican candidate on the November ballot or a primary between the two strongest Republican candidates.

That said, in tomorrow's post I'll explain why my past support for Utah's caucus/convention system has decayed quite severely in recent months. In the meantime, you may have guessed or even noticed that I tend to blog about candidates and conventions in my role as delegate. Here are a few samples among many. The last two are probably more fun to read than the first four.

  • my notes before and after the 2013 state organizing convention (offices, issues, the caucus/convention system)
  • my notes before and after the 2012 state nominating convention (candidates, mostly)
  • some playful notes written before the general session of my 2007 county party organizing convention, about the preceding hour or two
  • from the 2009 Utah County organizing convention: "More of the Convention: I Sided with Satan -- Again!" (In the comments after this post you can track some discussion in the media about the Satan thing, including Doug Wright's declaration on KSL, "Thank heaven for David Rodeback!")

 

February 11, 2014
People Get Arrested, the Opposition Reasons Poorly, and There's Something Governor Herbert Could Do to Help

I assert my religious freedom as constituting the right to worship as I please, while respecting others' legitimate rights; the right to preach whatever gospel I embrace; and immunity from being forced to worship in the manner of the state's or majority's choosing. Despite my personal religious views on sexual morality, this freedom is completely compatible with the presence of gays in my workplace and my apartment building.


I've spilled a great deal of virtual ink lately on the related subjects of same-sex marriage, non-discrimination in housing and employment, and the small but loud fraction of Utah Mormons who think it's proper to enforce all of God's commandments in secular law. I won't rehash that today. (You can find it here.) Nor will I belabor the point that I am unfit for the Utah Legislature. Instead, let's look at two items in yesterday's newspapers. To be ecumenical, we'll take one piece from the Salt Lake Tribune and one from the Deseret News. Then I'll describe something Governor Gary Herbert could to relieve a difficult situation.

It Didn't Help

Yesterday, the Utah State Police arrested 13 protestors at the Utah State Capitol. The charges were typical protestor misdemeanors, disorderly conduct and disturbing a public meeting. If they persisted in blocking the entrance to a meeting long enough to get arrested, we may safely assume that they intended and expected to be arrested. It was an act of civil disobedience in protest of the Utah Senate's refusal to consider SB 100, a bill to outlaw discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Remember how, just last week, Republican leadership was saying that they needed to postpone consideration of any legislation bearing on gay and lesbian issues, for fear that some Republican legislators would say stupid, bigoted things (my words), which would negatively influence Utah's court appeal in the matter of same-sex marriage? I suspect that was just the most convenient excuse for most, but in any case I have two lingering questions for these sages.

First, did they think nothing would happen, if they themselves did nothing, despite majority opinion in favor of such legislation? If so, it was a ridiculous expectation.

Second, would dogmatic bigots saying bigoted things in a legislative debate, where cooler heads and better minds could publicly rebut them, really be worse than the message they chose to send? It's a very clear message to the nation, when a legislature which not only refuses to consider reasonable legislation supported by most Utahns, but also decides its fate in a closed meeting. (Is the latter even legal under GRAMA?) We may as well put it up in neon lights now: the Utah state government is willfully dysfunctional in these matters. We're fairly begging federal judges to step in and save us from ourselves.

Arresting people may be necessary, but it only makes the problem worse.

Flawed Reasoning

Local libertarian author Connor Boyack's op/ed in the Deseret News illustrates the flaws in some popular arguments against SB 100 and similar legislation. He helpfully advocates the flawed arguments more clearly than most, as we would expect from a seasoned writer.

Boyack argues that the anti-discrimination proposal violates property rights. He cites numerous cases in other states, in which business owners are being prosecuted for refusing to photograph, host, or provide flowers or wedding cakes for same-sex marriages. I would cite economic freedom, not property rights, but I agree with Boyack that they are improper and unjust.

I'm pleased that he at least avoids arguing that imposing one's religion on others by force of law is a proper expression of religious freedom. We hear that one a lot here in Utah County.

Boyack begins with the idea that a property owner -- including a business owner -- has the right to do business or not with whomever she chooses. Then he moves quickly and hypothetically to the extreme toward which breaching that right tends: a situation in which customers would be prosecuted for failing to patronize businesses run by gays and lesbians. He's not saying we're there yet, just that the tendency is in that direction.

The most obvious flaw in his reasoning about the present proposal is that the legislation has nothing to do with such relative minutiae as photography and wedding venues. It deals with matters far more fundamental than wedding cakes: lodging and employment.

Less obvious, perhaps, but more essential, is the other major flaw in his reasoning. He says, "Individuals either have property rights or they do not. It is not logical to claim that individuals have such rights so long as they use their property . . . in ways that are socially acceptable and approved by others."

On the contrary, it is perfectly logical to argue this, within some reasonable limits. None of our inalienable rights is absolute. If my property rights were absolute, my neighbors' property rights would be severely diminished. I would have the absolute right to conduct any business or activity on my property I wanted, but let's be gentle and say any legal activity. I could locate a paper mill or a small cattle feed lot at the very edge of my neighbor's lawn. Quality of life and property values in the neighborhood would plunge.

No, in society we agree to balance our property rights against others' property rights. This limits everyone's rights, but we understand that this is necessary to preserve those rights. Reasonable zoning and nuisance laws reflect this sort of protective balance.

Furthermore, we must weigh property rights against other rights, such as the right to life. If my property rights as a shopkeeper were absolute -- if they trumped others' rights to life and due process of law -- I would be justified in shooting a six-year-old in the back of the head as he left my store in the act of shoplifting a 49-cent candy bar (my property).

We could have a fruitful discussion of all this, if we could turn down the heat and frame the question reasonably. As for me . . .

My assessment of the matter with the wedding cakes is that the LGBT customers' economic rights do not outweigh the baker's economic freedom. I don't much care whether the baker is motivated by religious beliefs or something else, even if it's a random, foolish stereotype. If he were the proprietor of the only grocery store within 100 miiles and were refusing to let gays buy any groceries, I would take a different view.

My assessment of the housing and employment matters is that they involve substantial threats to rights which outweigh the landlord's or employer's economic freedom. They do not trump proper religious freedom, so we reasonably exempt the home and relevant advocacy organizations. But they do trump the perverted religious freedom which asserts its right to force people with whom you disagree to live and work in some community or workplace other than your own.

I assert my religious freedom as constituting the right to worship as I please, while respecting others' legitimate rights; the right to preach whatever gospel I embrace; and immunity from being forced to worship in the manner of the state's or majority's choosing. Despite my personal religious views on sexual morality, this freedom is completely compatible with the presence of gays in my workplace and my apartment building.

Please Mention This to the Governor

I propose a compromise. It involves taking the other side's concern for influencing the court appeal seriously, even if it's really just a handy excuse for many of them. I can imagine this compromise being within the repertoire of the same wise governor who helped us in an indirectly related situation two years ago. The Utah Legislature was determined to force exploration of human reproductive biology out of the public school classroom and into the hallways and parking lots, where it is limited to ad hoc laboratory experiments. Governor Gary Herbert vetoed the legislation, thus solidifying the otherwise lukewarm support of this Republican state delegate.

Here's what Governor Herbert could do today. He could state publicly and for the record that he will call the Utah Legislature into a special session to consider SB 110, just as soon as the court appeals are resolved. Then, of course, he would have to keep his promise.

It would be an admirable act of leadership. It wouldn't thrill some legislators, but it would send a message to the federal judiciary that, yes, Utah is capable of governing itself in difficult matters.


 

February 5, 2014
I Am Unfit for the Utah Legislature

Not that this is news. I just wouldn't fit in. Lately, this becomes clearer every day.


Every so often, some kind soul or other tells me I should run for public office. I've helped other people do that in Utah, Idaho, and New York, and some of them won. So the news isn't all bad; I probably don't have some sort of reverse Midas touch, where everything I touch turns to something less shiny than gold.

The other day someone said I should run for the Utah Legislature. I smiled wryly and shook my head, as I said, "Thank you, but I'm not electable." Now I'm thinking, that kind person and his kind thought deserve an expanded answer.

If I ran, I'd have to run as a Republican. I'd have no credibility as a Democrat, with myself or anyone else, and the Utah Republican Party itself is so far right that no fringe third party appeals to me at all. So I'm just talking about Republicans here. What I say below may be unfair to some Republican legislators; it is to Steve Urquhart, I know. If it is to others, let them prove it by standing up to their peers, their leadership, and their party.

When I compare myself to most of the candidates who get elected and serve in the legislature, it becomes abundantly clear that I am unfit for the job. In general, the problem is that I believe too many wrong things and disbelieve too many, ahem, right ones. As I multiply examples below, you'll see that SB 100 and the subject of non-discrimination generally (on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity) is prominent in  my thinking right now. 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. With this in mind, look at Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser's handling of SB 100. If he's fit for his office, I am most assuredly unfit for any role in the Utah Legislature.

I'm a Mormon, and I'm no fan of socialism in any of its variations. I nevertheless 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. (At least our methods are different from the Taliban's, even if our mindset on these points is similar.) Therefore, I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

I don't think all goverment is evil; I think excessive government is evil. I don't think all taxes or even all tax increases are evil; I think excessive taxation is evil. On both counts, I am unfit to run as a Republican for the Utah Legislature.

I believe that Utah's Orwellian Truth-in-Taxation law is strangling local governments, but I don't believe that is a good thing. So I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

While in general I think a Republican majority is a far better thing than a Democrat majority, I don't think one-party government with perpetual supermajorities is a healthy thing. I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

For personal, religious reasons, I abstain from alcohol, but I don't see why my religious principles should be binding on anyone else. Saying this during jury selection got me four weeks of jury duty in New York. Thinking it makes me unfit for the Utah Legislature.

As it happens, I am unfit for more than the Utah Legislature. For example, I believe that compelling businesses to be closed on Sunday is tyranny -- or government overreach, to use a term people like to use on me sometimes, when they're trying to be civil. I also believe that other Sabbaths, notably Friday and Saturday, and their adherents deserve equal treatment under the law. So I might be unfit for residency in Highland, if I lived a mile or two further north. I also believe that marriage is properly defined as the union of one man and one woman, but I think the US Supreme Court was right to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, as an unconstitutional federal intrusion into a prerogative of the states. I believe abortion to be morally wrong in most circumstances, and I believe Roe v. Wade was a flimsy, irresponsible piece of jurisprudence. But I don't necessarily believe that any law banning abortion is automatically a good thing. Worst of all, I campaigned for US Senator Orrin Hatch in the last two or three elections. For all these reasons, I am unworthy to be considered a "real conservative" in Utah, even if I am a big fan of Senator Mike Lee. 

But back to my primary list . . .

At a theological level, I believe that freedom exists to allow people to make right choices. But I don't believe we should make wrong choices illegal whenever we can get away with it. I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

We're back to SB 100 again . . .

As I wrote the other day, even if I believe and sometimes preach that one aspect of their lifestyle is morally wrong, I value my gay and transgender neighbors, relatives, and colleagues, friends, and fellow believers. "If [that] incurs the wrath of the God you worship," wrote I, "I am unmoved. The God I worship understands that the worth of a human soul . . . is far greater than the sum of its actual or human-perceived sins." This makes me completely unfit for the Utah Legislature.

I do not have the intellect or the expertise to read a clear statement from the LDS Church, endorsing a non-discrimination law in Salt Lake City, and argue that it means exactly the opposite of what it says. When I see the Church praising the ordinance for regarding "the right of people to have a roof over their heads and the right to work without being discriminated against," and for granting "common-sense rights that should be available to everyone, while safeguarding the crucial rights of religious organizations," I cannot draw the conclusion that the Church clearly was speaking of rights which exist only within the city limits of Salt Lake City. When I read that the LDS Church says it supports the Salt Lake City ordinance "because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage," I have not the power to conclude that what the Church really means is that it only supports the ordinance as a desperate measure to prevent something worse from happening, and that treating gays as full-fledged humans will inevitably lead to the legalization of gay marriage. Lacking these gifts for spin and self-deception, which so many others clearly have, I am unfit for the Utah Legislature.

I pride myself on a degree of intellectual flexibility, among other things, but I cannot bring myself to make this argument, even privately: "My Church is true, which means I'm right, and my Church leaders are saying what they have to say, not what they really think, and relying on us to move forward despite their actual words." I am wholly unfit for the Utah Legislature.

When State Senator Stuart Reid stands up at a rally and says, "If a moral society is to be preserved, we must organize and petition all branches of government and other leaders and rulers to protect the moral well-being of the many," my skin crawls, and I want to lecture him on the proper, limited role of government, to say nothing of the privileged place of freedom in our civic morality. Obviously, I am unworthy to be his peer in the Utah Legislature.

Besides all that, I hate fund-raising, and I have to work full-time to make a living. I shall have to be content to be a gadfly and a curmudgeon.


 

January 31, 2014
Rights and Rites and Right and the Right: Part Five

Whatever happens in the tempetuous saga of marriage and the law, we must fortify a defensible position which allows us to protect religious freedom. We must counter the work of bullies and opportunists. And we must forsake a popular definition of religious freedom which doesn't even make sense.


Most of the people who favor same-sex marriage are decent, reasonable human beings, but, like any group, this one includes a few bullies and opportunists. The bullies want to force everyone to believe the right things, or at least act as if they believe. It's not enough for them if two gay people can get a marriage license and tie the knot. They insist that everyone cheer the happy couple and never utter a dissenting syllable -- and, ideally, never think a dissenting thought. For their part, the opportunists want to use the dynamic state of our laws and morals as a opportunity to legalize certain other lifestyles and, if possible, remove their social stigma. Polygamy comes to mind. I'll reluctantly mention some others below.

The legalization of gay marriage nationwide may be inevitable, likely, or just a strong possibility. I'm comfortable with the idea of opposing it now politically, within limits, but we should also prepare a strong fall-back position.

Meanwhile, no matter what happens, one of the best things we who favor the traditional definition of marriage can do is to have the best traditional marriages we can, raise the best children we can, and teach those children by word and deed to be active, intelligent, responsible citizens of a free nation.

Opposition

Let us preserve a healthy respect for freedom, remembering that God's will, as we variously understand it, does not constitute sufficient grounds for preserving or creating a law. Within these bounds, we should feel free to oppose changes in the legal definition of marriage.

I previously noted the circularity of my view: We should actively participate in our public mechanism for measuring society's moral consensus -- our government, at various levels -- with respect to this issue, until we see that the requisite general agreement on the definition of marriage no longer exists in our state or nation. At that point, even if we're still in the majority, we must cease to use the law to impose and promote our view in this thing. In deference to others' rights and freedoms, we must thereafter confine our efforts to persuasion and example. If a general consensus still exists, but our legitimate institutions through legitimate processes determine that gays' right to marry is a fundamental right, we must similarly limit ourselves. We protect fundamental rights even from very large majorities or cease to be Americans.

I readily acknowledge a risk here. We could freely choose self-destruction as a civilization by prioritizing freedom over state enforcement of the will of God as a majority (or someone else) understands it. But that's only if our other means for promoting moral law (e.g. preaching and persuasion) fail. I think we're certain to self-destruct, and more quickly, if we allow or require our government to act as the arm of whatever God we worship.

Risk and circularity notwithstanding, this is my present view. I wish I knew how to describe it more simply. Reading my first post in this series may help.

I'm comfortable with the idea that you may disagree. I'd love to hear your reasoning. 

Utah

Meanwhile, I support the Utah Attorney General's effort to defend Utah's constitutional definition of marriage (Amendment 3) in the federal courts. Not only is this part of the established and legitimate process of measuring society's moral consensus. It also is a defense of the most crucial and legitimate part of that mechanism: the people's vote.

In some other states, legislatures voted, then the people voted. When the result of that process was the legalization of same-sex marriage, we might think the people were unwise, but we can't say the process was illegitimate.

In Utah, by contrast, a federal district judge unilaterally ruled Amendment 3 unconstitutional. While it's true that the judiciary is part of our formal mechanism for measuring the moral consensus in society, this judge didn't want to be part of the mechanism. He wanted to be the whole mechanism. Otherwise, he would have immediately stayed his ruling, pending the inevitable appeal, as one of his more respectful colleagues in Oklahoma did later. Then we might simply have said, "This is our process. We have to let it work." Instead, Utah had to petition the US Supreme Court to stay the lower judge's ruling.

Utah has hired a high-powered constitutional lawyer from the DC area, Gene Schaerr, to lead its case. As a taxpayer (among other things), I'm okay with that. I'm also enjoying a small-world moment. The summer before last, I was a guest in his home for a few days. I won't claim that we're close friends, but I did find him and his family to be very gracious and kind, and I savored the intelligent conversation over breakfast. I'd love to have more of that conversation, during and after his new adventure. I wonder what we'd find to talk about.

There has been much hand-wringing, in places ranging from the New York Times to the Salt Lake Tribune, because Schaerr told his colleagues that he considers his role in this to be a family and religious duty. These folks don't think that he'll appear before panels of judges, declaring the will of God and calling them to repentance. That would be legal malpractice, among other things, and I would want Utah's money back.

Their actual objection is to people who make political or legal arguments rooted in religious convictions. This hostility to religion is toxic to good government, but I can't say that the animus against religion and religious people is altogether misguided. Look how may Utahns, for example, demand that their sectarian moral (religious) principles be codified in the law. See how many Utahns only refer to freedom in these debates when they're insisting that the presence of people who think differently violates their own religious freedom. I would insist that religious people belong in the public square in any case, but I would rather the anti-religious crowd were completely unjustified in their fears.

When Schaerr argues in the federal courts, he will not argue that homosexuality is an offense before God or that licensing same-sex marriage will lead us inexorably to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. He's not an idiot. He knows the courtroom isn't a church. He will likely make a constitutional and procedural argument about respecting the duly determined will of the people of the State of Utah. He will likely oppose the assertion that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments' language about equal protection requires states to sanction non-traditional marriages. He may question the federal claim of jurisdiction over marriage. He will argue in the realm of case law and legal philosophy. He will not mock the people and our institutions by channeling Moses or (a bonus for you Mormons out there) Abinadi.

If the higher courts uphold the district judges' rulings, I think we must concede that the legitimate processes have determined there is no longer the moral consensus in American society to support a ban on same-sex marriage. I won't be happy about that. I'd rather it were decided by the legislative process, not the judiciary, and at the state level, not the federal. But the federal judiciary is a part of our mechanism.

If that happens, what are we to do?

The State's Interest in Marriage (Beware the Opportunists)

Some who oppose same-sex marriage want to remove the state (meaning government generally) from marriage, to prevent the state sanctioning marriages which offend them. But I still see an important state role in regulating marriage.

I wrote last time that the strongest case for the state's interest in traditional marriage is the welfare of children and the resulting long-term health and stability of society. It is more than the permanent union of two people who love each other. Losing that vision, as we mostly have, invites more grief and destruction than same-sex marriage itself could ever cause.

That loss leaves us with a narrower state interest in marriage. Difficult as it may be, if we sanction same-sex marriage, we need to find a way to keep polygamy and other even less savory lifestyles illegal -- at least so long as there is a general (not necessarily universal) moral consensus against them. We also need to keep reasonable age limits for marriage, with and without parental consent, to protect as many young people as we can.

None of this will be automatic. Depending on the zeal, the haste, and the particular legal reasoning with which we redefine marriage, we could lose our legal grounds for prohibiting polygamy.

We could lose a lot more. I'm sorry even to mention it, but we could lose prohibitions on bestiality. (Don't google it. Use a dictionary.) We could forfeit the legal protection a gay twelve-year-old boy should have against his addled parents marrying him off to the 53-year-old local chapter president of the Man-Boy Love Association. (Remember them?)

So let's not get the state out of marriage altogether.  There are too many of those opportunists I mentioned in the beginning, and some of them are predators.

Looking Ahead (Beware of Bullies)

Those who wish to reinstate a traditional view of marriage in the law, once it is lost, will have to confine themselves to persuasion and example, and they will have a huge task in trying to persuade the generality of society. It's hard to put legally-dispensed toothpaste back into a tube.

However, the prospects are not all grim. Those who choose traditional marriage will still be allowed it. One only rarely hears someone advocate the wholesale abolition of marriage, and no credible voice for gay marriage proposes to limit marriage to gays. I can live my personal religious principles just as well in a society which allows gay marriage as I can in a society which bans it. I am more concerned with freedom in other senses, which is threatened by the bullies I mentioned above.

Religious freedom can be adequately protected in a society where same-sex marriage is recognized, but there is no guarantee that it will be. We should be bending more effort than we are in this direction. If we are to have same-sex marriage in our society, we must insure that it is no crime -- "hate speech" or otherwise -- to promote the traditional view, even to the point of preaching publicly that someone's lifestyle is evil.

We must guarantee churches, chaplains, and clergy the right to refuse to marry anyone for any reason; we must not use law to force a church, chaplain, or priest to perform gay marriages as the price of performing any marriages at all. Similarly, if the Catholic Church does not wish to extend its adoption services to same-sex couples, the law should not force them out of the adoption business, as it did in Massachusetts.

As a matter of economic freedom as much as any other kind, we must not force people, businesses, or institutions who support or participate in traditional weddings to provide their services to same-sex weddings, if they do not wish to. If Joe's Photo Shop wishes to confine its wedding services to traditional couples, and Mary's bakery wishes to decline to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, they must be free to do this without the threat of civil or criminal penalty. (This only contradicts my position on non-discrimination in housing and employment if you value the right to purchase a wedding cake at the bakery of your choice as highly as the right to live in the city of your choice.)

If you're paying attention to the news in this decade, or even yesterday, you can see that we already have a problem or two. In this realm of policy there are more bullies than opportunists.

If we are vigilant and wise, we should be able to defend religious freedom as I have described it here. We have better tools and stronger traditions here than in Europe, where they're struggling in that respect.

Some people argue, these days, that my religious freedom is infringed by having people in my workplace and my community who disagree with me and live accordingly. T hink about that: If my religious freedom is contingent upon my ability to infringe upon your religious freedom, yours must include the ability to infringe mine. So neither of us is free. So that must not be how religious freedom works.

If we're to be effective, we must not waste any time, energy, or credibility defending an odd, contradictory, indefensible notion of religion freedom. We'd best occupy ourselves with the real thing.