Faith leaders throughout the state joined together to sign a letter in regards to S.B. 86, “Victim Selection Penalty Enhancement,” sponsored by Sen. Thatcher. They urged legislators to support the legislation, emphasizing the need for Utah to remain a place of safety and refuge for all groups of people. The list of signatories includes leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian faiths (you can add your signature as a layperson here). Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were glaringly absent. Unfortunately, their silence is often interpreted as opposition to the bill, leading many LDS legislators to think they cannot support the bill.
As a practicing member of the LDS church, I am conscious of the delicate balance the LDS church needs to have in relation to political involvement. However, their silence should not dictate the legislators’ votes. The inability of some LDS Legislators to think independently of direct counsel from the LDS church is not only disturbing, it is painfully ironic. Joseph Smith preached that people need to be taught correct principles so that they can govern themselves.
Let me let you in on a little secret: S.B. 86 conforms perfectly to LDS doctrine and beliefs. There is nothing in the bill that could even remotely be seen as an attack on religious freedom, Christian values, or LDS doctrine. Rather, the bill protects vulnerable populations, holds people accountable for their criminal actions, and engenders strong feelings of inclusion, all of which are important principles to the LDS church.
In addition to voting based on their moral convictions, every legislator on the hill was voted in to represent their constituents — all of their constituents. As state representatives and state senators, they swore an oath to represent both LDS and non-LDS, gay and straight, white and black, cisgender and transgender. They have the responsibility to pass laws which protect, benefit, and help all those they represent.
It is no secret that message-crimes, sometimes called hate-crimes, are on the rise in the United States and our state. It seems that some people are feeling more comfortable committing atrocious acts against others based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation, which in turn is causing members of targeted communities to feel increasingly unsafe simply because of their identity; they are worried about being victims of violent crimes. Passing legislation that increases penalties for these message-based crimes sends a different message — a positive message that as a state, as a community, we recognize the severity of the problem and will not tolerate such crimes.
I sincerely hope Utah legislators use the principles that they’ve been taught to make the correct decision and pass this legislation. As Mormons, they have a heritage of being victims of religious-based discrimination, hatred, and violent crimes. Our state was founded on being a safe haven for their ancestors; it is their moral obligation as a member of the LDS church and their civic obligation as an elected leader to support the “Victim Selection Penalty Enhancement” bill.