Press Release: Better Utah Speaks in Support of S.B. 86 Following Letter From Faith Leaders in Utah

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 24, 2018
CONTACT: Katie Matheson | Alliance for a Better Utah
katie@betterutah.org

BETTER UTAH SPEAKS IN SUPPORT OF S.B. 86 FOLLOWING LETTER FROM FAITH LEADERS IN UTAH

Salt Lake City, UT –  As the legislative session ramps up, Alliance for a Better Utah spoke in favor of a letter signed by 24 of Utah’s faith leaders of Jewish, Islam, Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, Unitarian, and Presbyterian faiths. The letter which can be found here, written by Bishop Oscar Solis of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, states in no uncertain terms the importance of S.B. 86, sponsored by Senator Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley City).

S.B. 86, “Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements,” would provide increased protections for vulnerable populations in the face of “message crimes” – crimes which are specifically targeted towards an individual on the basis of their race, religion, or sexual orientation in order to intimidate those within the individual’s community. For the past two years, community members, policy groups, prosecutors, and legislators have pushed for the penalty enhancements contained in S.B. 86 because current state law does not sufficiently protect vulnerable communities within our state.

“From the very settlement of this state, Utahns have had a strong history of religious independence because of their ancestors’ terrible experiences with bigotry and intolerance. Utahns are sympathetic to the need for effective protections against hate crimes because of their unique past,” said Josh Kanter, Chairperson and Founder of Alliance for a Better Utah. “The rate of hate crimes across the country has risen since the last time this legislation was introduced, and as such we see a clear need for swift action from the legislature. We have been told by our trusted law enforcement that the status quo of hate crimes law is ineffective in Utah. It is time we listen to the legal experts and faith leaders and pass S.B. 86.”

The history of this bill has unfortunately been fraught with disagreement. In 2016, the “hate crimes” bill sponsored by then-Senator Steve Urquhart died following concerns raised by the LDS church. More recently, Utah Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, who is credited with killing a similar bill in the 2017 Session, has criticized this bill because it would, in his opinion, lead to different penalties for someone who beats up a BYU fan versus someone who beats up a U of U fan.

“Unless a prosecutor could show beyond a reasonable doubt that a fan from BYU was targeted specifically because of their LDS faith, this law would have no bearing on such a crime,” said Kanter. “Unless we’re mistaken, it does not seem that university affiliation is a protected class under this proposed law and Senator Adams’ example is entirely without merit. What this bill does is protect people who are the victims of crime because of their affiliation with an entire community. It protects communities of citizens from fear. It allows the Jewish community to go to their community centers with less fear of a bomb threat. It allows the LGBT community to walk down the street at night with less fear of being attacked. And yes, it would even protect those within the LDS faith. This bill, quite simply, denounces hate against entire communities.”

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Alliance for a Better Utah is a good government advocacy and watchdog organization based in Salt Lake City. The organization works to improve the lives of all Utahns by ensuring balance, transparency, and accountability in Utah politics, policy, and government. More information, visit www.betterutah.org.

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