The Ugly Side of Faith in America

by Senator Scott McCoy
District Two

Senator Scott McCoyRecently Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney took the stage to discuss Faith in America. It was a risky move for him unfortunately precipitated by the ironclad grip that the conservative evangelical rightwing has on the Republican Party. The fallout from the speech and the heightened attention to Governor Romney’s Mormon faith has begun. I was shocked and deeply saddened to listen to the anti-Mormon tirade that spewed forth from political pundit Lawrence O’Donnell on this past Sunday’s episode of The McLaughlin Group. The panel was discussing Governor Romney’s Faith in America speech and the ongoing controversy surrounding his Mormon faith. O’Donnell accused the Mormon faith of being “racist” and “ridiculous” and said the faith is “based on the work of a lying, fradulent, criminal named Joseph Smith.” I was gravely disappointed by this episode and the constant attention to faith and religion in the presidential race.

An individual’s faith (or lack thereof) is a personal affair, not a public issue open to debate in a political campaign. When faith is made a public issue, it becomes open to the very public debate (and prejudice) that we saw on The McLaughlin Group and that we see in the Republican presidential primary. Making faith a public political issue pits different faith groups against each other and drags belief into the oftentimes dirty and low arena of politics. It potentially demeans and degrades religious belief and subjects it to majoritarian rule. Making faith a public and political issue de facto creates religious tests. This was exactly what the Founding Fathers attempted to avoid in outlawing explicit religious tests and seeking to maintain a wall of separation between public affairs and religious institutions. It is as much for the protection of religion as it is for the protection of the people and government. In politics, there are winners and losers. In faith, there should be no winners or losers.

In America, we need religious pluralism and a separation of Church and State and religion and politics. The troubles that Governor Romney now faces based on his religious beliefs stem from the fact that Republican primary voters (mostly evangelicals) demand that Republican presidential candidates publicly and loudly confess their religious beliefs so that those beliefs can be measured against the approved brand of Christian doctrine. A candidate’s failure to wear his religious beliefs on his sleeve risks political isolation and rejection. Unfortunately, the Republican “big tent” has become a revival tent. Governor Romney decided to play this game by making his Faith in America speech. By doing so, he has handed the evangelical extremists and his fellow presidential candidates a can of worms and a can opener. Governor Romney can hardly make faith and religion a public issue and then play the victim and refuse to answer the questions that are begged and engage in the very public debate that he started. If (or when) Governor Romney is rejected by Republican primary voters because of his Mormon faith, then religious pluralism will be truly and openly dead in the Republican Party, and anyone from an unacceptable faith should beware.

If Mitt Romney were running as a Democrat, I don’t think his Mormon faith would be an issue. Democratic voters believe in religious pluralism and impose no religious tests on their candidates. Our track record proves as much. The highest elected Democrat in the country at the moment is a Mormon named Harry Reid. We had a Jewish vice-presidential candidate in Joe Lieberman (He didn’t have to make a “Faith in America” speech). We have the first-ever Muslim member of Congress. In the Utah House, we have a Buddhist. Democrats likely want their candidates to have faith, but past that, which faith is not important. For Democrats, in the world of politics, good positions on issues and public policy trump piety.

So, to my Mormon friends, neighbors and countrymen, I say “You have seen the ugly side of faith in America yet again and you deserve better. In the Democratic Party, you would receive better.”

A Fitting Tribute: The Calvin L. Rampton International Airport

by Senator Scott McCoy
District Two

Senator Scott McCoyToday I read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune suggesting that the Salt Palace Convention Center be named in honor and tribute to the late Governor Cal Rampton. While Governor Rampton surely deserves a lasting tribute, I don’t think the Salt Palace is the right fit. Sure there seems to be a natural alignment between Governor Rampton’s legacy as the champion of economic development and the Salt Palace as an engine of economic development for our state, but when I heard it, it just didn’t seem to ring true.

There is another option for a fitting tribute to this great man and civic leader. Our impressive international airport, the gateway to Utah, should be renamed the Calvin L. Rampton International Airport. The airport is as much a symbol of Utah’s modern economic ascendancy as the Salt Palace. I also think it simply has a better ring to it. It might also be easier to accomplish since the name of the airport falls under the purview of Salt Lake City.

Thank you, Governor Rampton, for your leadership and example. God Speed.

How Does This Make Any Sense?

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoyRecently a constituent called me in distress. He is involved in a case with DCFS. Here are the facts in a nutshell.

Frank is an openly gay man. He is a business owner and has a long-term partner he has been living with for the past 14 years in a home that they own. They are financially stable and do not require aid from the state or federal governments. Frank is an uncle to a four-year-old boy. His brother, the boy’s father, is a drug addict and presently incarcerated. At one point, DCFS took the boy out of the father’s custody and placed him with his grandmother. Frank and his partner helped the grandmother raise the boy for the last two years. They have an established relationship and bond with the young man. Unfortunately, recently the grandmother passed away from cancer and the boy is now in state custody. The boy’s father wants Frank to have custody. DCFS has evaluated Frank and his home and has determined that Frank and the home are fit to raise the boy. Frank is the boy’s blood relative. There are no other living or competent blood relatives to raise the boy.

So this seems like a no-brainer right? Frank should be given custody and should raise him, right? That is not the case. Frank was denied approval by DCFS. How can this be you ask? Well, here is the wrinkle (injustice). Remember that Frank is a gay man, a characteristic that fortunately by itself does not disqualify him from receiving custody of his nephew and raising him. However, also remember that Frank has found his way into a stable, long-term relationship with his partner and they live together, i.e., they cohabitate. This fact, that Frank and his partner are in a stable, long-term relationship and live together, disqualifies them from receiving custody of and raising his nephew under Utah Code Ann. 78-30-1.

Yes, because Frank and his partner are in a stable, long-term relationship, one that happens to be a gay relationship, they are not allowed to adopt and raise Frank’s nephew, even though the biological father wishes Frank and his partner to do so and despite the fact that Frank, as a single gay man, could adopt the boy if only he were not in a stable, long-term relationship with his partner. So, Frank’s crime here is that he was able to form a stable, long-term relationship with his partner. As a result, guess what happens to Frank’s nephew: he goes into the foster care system and goes to live with strangers until one day he might be adopted.

To me, this makes no sense and demonstrates why Utah’s policy prohibiting gay adoption simply does not make sense. This policy, in this case at least, will tear a family apart and contradict the parental wishes of the biological father.

Politicizing the State Board of Education is a Bad Idea

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoyRep. Carl Wimmer is floating a bill that would increase the size of the State Board of Education from its current 15 members to 29 members. It would model the 29 board positions on the current 29 state senate districts. Worst of all, it would require candidates for the State Board of Education to declare party affiliations and subject these candidates to the political convention process (and ultimately straight party ticket voting).

Wimmer’s bill is a solution in search of a problem. The reason this bill is being sought is simple: the State School Board has shown itself to be a truly independent, nonpartisan governmental entity. This, of course, raises the ire of the current Republican leadership because the State School Board has refused to say “how high?” when the Republican leadership says “jump!” The nerve! We have discovered a governmental institution (a constitutionally established one at that) that refuses to mindlessly answer the beck and call of the Republican leadership. Isn’t it obvious that if we don’t reign in this uppity institution, other state agencies and institutions might start getting similar ideas. So how do we get this errant institution back under the thumb? One way is to make sure we pack it with individuals more beholden to Republican leadership than the people who Republican leadership has picked for them to represent.

If Wimmer’s bill were to succeed, then the State Board of Education would simply become another partisan arm of the Republican leadership subject to their gerrymandering and the extremism of the party’s delegates. No longer would sound independent legal analysis and public policy rule the day. One need only look to the most recent voucher controversy to understand this. In that case, instead of the legal analysis that HB 174 was meaningless without HB 148 (a position proffered by an independent State Board and endorsed unanimously by the state’s highest court), we would have the flawed legal reasoning of the Attorney General and the Republican leadership being implemented, resulting in an illegal and unwanted taxpayer funded voucher program.

Politicizing the State School Board will not result in better education for our kids. It will only result in Republican leadership getting their way, right or (mostly) wrong, once again.

Youch! That’s Gotta Sting

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoyWell today the Utah Supreme Court added some clarity to the voucher mess. While it did say that the current ballot title penned by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel will stay just the way it is (i.e., only referencing and analyzing HB 148) the Supreme Court unanimously rejected outright the Attorney General’s and voucher proponents’ legal contention that HB 174 stands alone as a voucher implementation bill. The Supreme Court essentially said that HB 148 and HB 174 are joined at the hip and that without HB 148, HB 174 is meaningless and unenforceable. (“If the voters choose to reject HB 148, HB 174 will not create an additional voucher program.”) So two important implications: 1) a rejection of HB 148 in the referendum will have the effect of also voiding HB 174; and 2) in the meantime until the referendum vote, the Board of Education doesn’t have to implement vouchers based solely on HB 174. Leave it to the Judiciary to maintain a clear head in a crisis.

The biggest loser in this chapter seems to be Attorney General Mark Shurtleff whose legal analysis (and political instincts??) appears to have been dead wrong. I guess Carol Lear and Jean Hill got it right. Instead of trying to fire them, maybe he should listen to them. Note to State Board of Education: Keep taking your counsel from your long-time attorneys and ignore the Big Bully. The Supremes have got their (and your) back. I have a hunch a majority of Utah voters will too.

The Irony of Passing the Voucher Buck (and a response to a little finger pointing)

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoyWell the voucher mess has now moved to the courts. Both sides have filed law suits to try and untangle the disaster that is HB 148 and HB 174. The Utah Supreme Court will hear arguments in the two cases this Friday. It will be great political and judicial theater for sure. What I truly love the most about the latest chapter in the voucher drama is the rich irony that we will be saved by the courts. How wonderful it is to see conservative legislators, such as Senator Bramble, who extol the supremacy of the Legislative Branch, throwing up their hands (after the requisite amount of public platitudes about the will of the people and sufficient wailing and gnashing of teeth) and pleading with the Judiciary to sort out this mess over which the impotent Legislature now seems to have no control (or responsibility). So the solution is not to have the political will and intestinal fortitude (i.e., leadership) to fix this mess of our own making but rather to put our fate in the hands of those five wise Justices, even if they are ever prone to judicial activism (i.e., decisions the conservatives don’t like). Talk about passing the buck.

Oh and by the way, the Senate Site recently suggested that all this is somehow the fault of the voucher opponents for picking a vehicle (i.e., a referendum rather than an initiative) that won’t take them where they want to go. Let’s not forget that the bad process that got us where we are today was 1) a poorly conceived original voucher bill and 2) a poorly conceived separate “clean up” bill. The voucher proponents got lucky and passed the poorly conceived HB 148 by one vote. When critics pointed out some real problems with the bill, the voucher proponents realized that the original bill did result in some bad public policy. It was their reaction in running the second poorly conceived bill that set this current unpleasantness in motion.

What the Heck Does That Mean?

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

Senator Scott McCoy
Today Governor Huntsman, President Valentine and Speaker Curtis issued the following statement:

 

Statement by Utah’s Governor, President of the Senate,
and Speaker of the House of Representatives

Salt Lake City – The following is a joint statement by Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, President John Valentine and Speaker Greg Curtis:

Citizens bear the ultimate responsibility for how their government operates and how their children are educated. As elected officials, we support the constitutional right of the people of our state to ratify or reject legislation through the referendum process.

We encourage a healthy process and a clear public decision on Utah’s Voucher Policy in November. In order for the referendum process to be effective, the electorate takes on the obligation to make an informed decision when casting their vote. We hope people become educated on this issue and engage in a manner befitting the citizens of a free republic.

A Special Session will not be called since an easy and practical remedy does not exist. We, however, are making our intentions clear: we honor the rule of law and will respect the outcome of the election.

So what does that mean? Let’s take it in reverse order.

“We, however, are making our intentions clear: we honor the rule of law and will respect the outcome of the election.”

“…will respect the outcome of the election.”  Huh? So if the referendum on HB 148 succeeds, that is the voters say NO to vouchers, does that mean these three will lead the way in repealing HB 174, too, or does it mean that they will respect the decision to repeal HB 148 and they will push ahead with the implementation of HB 174 which they maintain is not legally the subject of the referendum? How about a clear statement like: “If the referendum succeeds, then we will repeal HB 174.” Now that would be making their intentions clear.

“We encourage a healthy process and a clear public decision on Utah’s Voucher Policy in November.”

Nice sentiment, but the process was not healthy in the first place because the two bills produced this confusing result. The confusion that exists and the messy process that is now resulting cannot be fixed with mere “encouragement.” It takes leadership. Calling a special session and doing the right thing by making HB 174 also contingent on the outcome of the referendum would not only “encourage a healthy process and clear public decision,” it would guarantee it.

“In order for the referendum process to be effective, the electorate takes on the obligation to make an informed decision when casting their vote. We hope people become educated on this issue and engage in a manner befitting the citizens of a free republic.”

Undoubtedly, the people of Utah will educate themselves and make an informed decision on this issue, but the question remains: If and when the referendum on HB 148 succeeds, will the Governor and the Republican leadership interpret the vote as a repudiation of vouchers altogether, that is both HB 148 and HB174?

“Citizens bear the ultimate responsibility for how their government operates and how their children are educated.”

Citizens bear the responsibility for how their government operates, and as importantly, who operates their government. Watch closely, citizens of Utah. Watch your current leadership take a pass on clearing up this voucher mess and watch to see if they abide by your wishes after the referendum. If they don’t get the picture, maybe then it will be time to change how your government operates by changing who is in charge of operating it.

The Utah Legislature Takes a Stand Against Animal Suffering

Senator Scott McCoy

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District Two

The other day I was combing through the Utah Code (yes, I am a crazy lawyer legislator who actually reads the Code) and found a provision that struck me as a bit ironic, especially in light of the vigorous debate over Henry’s Law, the bill to make animal cruelty a third degree felony. Here is what I found:

76-6-413. Release of fur-bearing animals — Penalty — Finding.

(1) In any case not amounting to a felony of the second degree, any person who intentionally and without permission of the owner releases any fur-bearing animal raised for commercial purposes is guilty of a felony of the third degree.
(2) The Legislature finds that the release of fur-bearing animals raised for commercial purposes subjects the animals to unnecessary suffering through deprivation of food and shelter and compromises their genetic integrity, thereby permanently depriving the owner of substantial value.

What struck me as particularly interesting was the second sentence wherein the Utah Legislature expresses its worry about subjecting animals, i.e., the kind that produce nice fur coats to keep them warm during the cold days of the legislative session, from “unnecessary suffering through deprivation of food and shelter”by being released from captivity.

Interesting that the Legislature will jump to the defense of commercially valuable fur-bearing animals and make it a third degree felony if some callous person releases them from posh captivity (where I am sure they experience no suffering at all) into the cold, cruel world where they may experience “unnecessary suffering through deprivation of food and shelter,” but won’t make it a third degree felony when some idiot puts Henry in the oven, causing him “unnecessary suffering” through other means.

Well at least this provision is an admission that animals, in fact, can suffer and that we should punish people who cause such suffering at the level of a felony.

Governor, a Special Session, please.

The STD/Fertility Crisis: Time to Wake Up Utah!

by Senator Scott McCoy
Senate District 2

Senator Scott McCoyUtah has a dirty little secret. There is a little-known crisis brewing in Utah that nobody seems to want to talk about or acknowledge: Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

Here are the ugly facts. According to a Deseret Morning News story last month, Gonorrhea rates in Utah increased a staggering 195% between 2000 and 2005, from 231 to 896 cases. The jump was nearly five times the increase found in other Western states and comes at a time when the national rate is on the decline. At the same time, Chlamydia cases in Utah increased 110% during the same period.

Not only do STDs have potentially life-threatening effects, if untreated, they impact fertility. According to studies by the World Health Organization, 38% of infertility cases are caused by sexually transmitted diseases. The WHO also notes that STDs are the most avoidable cause of infertility. This fact about the fertility impacts of STDs should get the attention of our family-centric, baby factory of a state. The bottom line is that the STD crisis is not only a health crisis, it is potentially a fertility crisis.

Interestingly, at the same time we are beginning to learn about the STD crisis, we also are finding out that our reliance on abstinence-only sex education is not having any affect on our people’s decisions about whether or not to have sex. A recent study by the Mathematica Policy Institute shows that abstinence-only programs do not increase the number of young adults who wait to have sex.

In Utah, state law mandates abstinence-only education. State law also specifically prohibits the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices, i.e., condoms.

Now let me connect these dots. So, while we teach abstinence-only which does not reduce the number of young people who have sex, we also ensure that they are not educated about how to protect themselves from STDs, i.e., condoms, which they are getting and spreading with increasing and frightening frequency. Sadly, the consequence to this “head-in-the-sand” approach is that we are putting our young people’s health and their fertility at risk by not equipping them with adequate information to make informed choices about protecting themselves.

Time to wake up Utah.