On the EDge: Please, don’t tell me there’s no theocracy in Utah

Composite L-R: Mormon Temple, Utah Capitol Building, Salt Lake City, Utah | Stock images, St. George News

OPINION – Please, save your breath and don’t try to convince me that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have a stranglehold on Utah governance.

All I have to do is point at a proposed hate-crimes bill that was quashed recently when church officials opposed it.

Don’t insult my intelligence by trying to argue with me when I say that the Utah Legislature gets its marching orders from church headquarters.

All I have to do is remind you of how a compassionate bill by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, proposing legalized medicinal cannabis was killed by the House Health and Human Services Committee, an action Madsen said was a “spit in the face” of patients in need of a safe alternative to the addictive and dangerous opioids now being prescribed in alarming numbers by doctors from Logan to St. George.

Please, don’t try to convince me that the LDS church is not a politically charged organization.

All I have to do is remind you about the ridiculous Zion Wall legislation it pushed forward to hide bartenders as they mixed drinks for restaurant customers.

Please don’t tell me the church is not trying to impose its will on the people of Utah.

All I have to do is remind you that we have no lottery, no gaming in a state whose residents flock in large numbers to Nevada, Arizona and Idaho for a roll of the dice or a shot at a Powerball jackpot.

And please don’t tell me that this is simply a matter of the church representing a large number of Utah residents, because then I’ll be forced to remind you of the millions of dollars the church spent on trying to overturn same-sex marriage in California and in fighting the Equal Rights Amendment nationwide from the pulpit as well as the halls of Congress. I’ll also remind you of the church’s influence in severely watering down gay rights legislation in Utah that had, in reality, more to do with church protections than the LGBT community. I’ll remind you of 3.2 beer, attorneys general who turned a blind eye to polygamy and church opposition to immigration reform.

What is regrettable is the fact that Utah lawmakers, who are elected to represent the entirety of the state, only seem concerned with their fellow Mormon constituents and church leaders.

It’s time for that to end.

I will agree that most churches have an obvious legislative agenda.

But, in most instances, leaders of integrity understand that they are representatives of all the people and not just those who practice a similar or majority faith.

Catholic politicians have been threatened with withholding of the sacrament of Holy Communion and the threat of excommunication for supporting abortion rights. Some political analysts have said that interference contributed to John Kerry’s loss in his campaign against George W. Bush when a large number of “traditional Catholic Democrats” crossed party lines and voted for Bush.

Although the Catholic church in the United States was originally allied with unionization and worker’s rights, it has drifted to the hard right in recent years, but despite threats and posturing, it has not been doing wholesale excommunications of political leaders with whom it disagrees.

In fact, last week the church proved that it can hold onto its beliefs while working within a system that ensures equality for all when the Michigan Catholic Conference — which oversees health care for Catholic employees in the state — announced that it is modifying its policies in a way that will make it possible for gay employees of the church to provide health benefits for their partners and spouses.

The new policy was, to be sure, driven by the desire to remain compliant with the law, but it signals an understanding that one can still remain firm in personal religious beliefs while extending equal rights to all.

You are not likely to see that in Utah, where the LDS church has had everything its way for so long that it is not about to relinquish its stranglehold on government.

The LGBT bill passed last year was tepid at best, with more emphasis on protecting the rights of those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds than those members of the LGBT community who wish to marry.

The opposition to the medical cannabis bill – the broader one written by Madsen, rather than the very shallow bill sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City – is rooted in cultural and scientific ignorance.

The Vickers bill received the church stamp of approval because the medication it supported is very limited in the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – that it contains. The medication is very narrow in the scope of its use. But it doesn’t get you high.

Madsen’s bill would have allowed oils, edibles and extracts that contain effective dosages of THC. Smokable cannabis would have remained illegal. Like any other painkiller, the oils, edibles and extracts would still have a side effect of intoxication to a certain degree, but that is the nature of most meds. Don’t believe me? Go to your medicine cabinet and start reading labels. Most meds can make you dizzy, sleepy or have an effect that can make it dangerous to operate any kind of machinery. Even the over-the-counter meds can do that.

The advantage of cannabis is that dosage can be much more effective because there are times when you can cut back enough to relieve pain while not crossing that threshold into incoherency.

A blended bill was suggested that would broaden the Vickers measure and kill Madsen’s. It would leave us with a watered-down compromise that would cut the amounts of THC in certain oils, edibles and extracts. Sort of like a cannabis equivalent of 3.2 beer.

What the church state refuses to acknowledge is that there is no physical addiction or overdose danger with medical cannabis, and that is of probably the utmost importance in Utah, which ranks eighth in the United States in prescription drug deaths with more than 20 a month, about the same as the number of motor vehicle deaths.

Regardless, the church opposes the safer alternative because of cultural and religious reasons.

That’s why, although I was happy to see Mitt Romney’s comments about Donald Trump last week, his motives remain suspicious.

I would like to think that he was perhaps thinking of the good of the nation when he made his comments.

But I’m not so sure. Romney could very well be looking to fulfill the White Horse Prophecy, as expressed by both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, that predicts the church will rush in to “save the Constitution when it is hanging by a thread.”

We have had fears of church interference in our governance in the past, particularly when John Kennedy was running for the presidency and there was fear, as many pundits put it, that he would follow the will of the Vatican rather than the will of the people and constraints of the Constitution.

Kennedy bravely stepped up to the question and, during a historic speech delivered to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, declared his belief in separation of church and state eloquently.

“I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office,” he said.

“I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.”

Unfortunately, the Utah Legislature lacks the courage to do the same.


Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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  • Tracy March 8, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Ed, thanks for your opinion. Here’s mine. The cool thing about the United States, if you don’t like the way things are run in the state where you are located, you have a whopping 49 other choices. Please don’t be unhappy here, move to some other state where the status quo is more liberal. Sounds to me that would suit you better.

    • Uncle Lenny March 8, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Tracy: What a sorry response saying if you don’t like it, leave. Try telling that to all the PC folks who bend over backwards to accommodate newcomers. Ever heard of separation of church and state? Elected officials should represent all of their constituency, not just like minded folks.

    • Kelly March 9, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      The central premise of Democracy is engagement, not isolation. So when I hear someone say “if you don’t like it, leave,” what I’m really hearing is “I’m not very interested in adult discussion.”

  • BIG GUY March 8, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    With progressive politicians marching ever farther to the left into cultural and religious values issues, those who have held consistent beliefs and standards find themselves obliged to object and where possible, to oppose those changes. The Catholic church is not “hard right.” Its positions have changed little over the years. You are “hard left” and embrace an ever changing set of values that, like Obama’s stance on same sex marriage, “evolve” with each new cause the progressive left embraces. Progressives are moving ever farther to the left while daring to call those whose positions have not changed “hard right.”

    Progressives are unwilling to accept most religious beliefs because those beliefs are based on unchanging values and standards. Are there unchangeable truths and standards in the universe? Most religious people answer yes, most progressives answer no. There is room for interpretation in applying those standards in new situations, but for the religious, the truths and standards themselves are unchanging. This conflict of values is typified by the abortion issue, still an open wound unresolved by the the ill-advised 1973 Supreme Court ruling.

    Rail all you want about the LDS and Catholic churches, but Utah has a large majority that accept and embrace unchanging standards in areas where the progressive left wants to impose its latest cause. In Obama’s words to Sen. McConnell in 2009, “Elections have consequences. You lost.”

  • chupacabra March 8, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    By no means am I a Liberal and the Utah Conservative base only spews vomit. Our government is corrupt in every way possible. How is it that the populace has become so ignorant and blind that they believe we have a representative government. We have NO say in the way things are done, everything is done through back door deals that line the pockets of those who proclaim to be public servants. We are told how to think, what to eat, and what types of medicine to use. Our minds have become darkened as we choose the plan of exercising Dominion over others who choose to act differently than we do.

    Wake from your slumber ye inhabitants. Our nation’s collapse is inevitable, and the majority is asleep at the wheel.

  • Accountable March 8, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    It is ridiculous to promote the sale and use of alcohol and opiates versus cannabis as a prescription for chronic pain — especially when marijuana is a viable medical solution for scores of people. Marijuana is not toxic unlike opiates like Percocet, Oxy, or morphine. It is impossible to die from an overdose of weed. Based on those documented facts, an increased use of marijuana, instead of opiates, for chronic pain would result in a reduction in overdose deaths and associated medical issues and would put drug dealers out of business. Seems pretty obvious.

  • Dylan March 8, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    First of all when you start an OPINION article telling everyone else theirs is wrong, you make yourself out to be intolerant/ignorant. I’ll try not to repeat other comments but the writer here is in essence exactly what is wrong with and ruining this state. Liberals ruin their state, move to another one, and bitch when that new state isn’t doing the same practices that ruined their original state. And FYI explain to me all the other states that, like Utah, still don’t allow medical Marijuana use? (It’s probably the damn mormons there too huh?)
    Author obviously has beef with the LDS church.
    And FYI you might want to look up the Prop 8 history. Cause you’re very wrong in your lack of information. Like who were the main sponsors against? How much did those individual sponsors spend? And why was prop 8 even necessary?
    Stupid hippie.

  • mesaman March 8, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    I really support the ideas offered by the two other comments. Ed, seems like you knew there was a majority here that had similar values and goals. I guess that would be called a culture, wouldn’t it. I further guess that when one enters a culture he/she/it can assimilate, accomodate, or challenge these values and ultimate goals of life. Probable outcome? Those who assimilate seem happy and contented, those who accomodate seem tolerant and even accepting, with reservations. But those who would bring a culture 180 degrees from it’s roots are cynical, angry, frustrated, and isolated. Culture will endure the dissidents and many will forgive and reach out. Some of us are less tolerant and would probably be more content to find that they have moved on to cultures more closely related to their values.

  • Libertina March 9, 2016 at 7:11 am

    “If you don’t like it, leave” I think that is a typical response. Really doesn’t require much thought to throw out there. Utah is slowly changing, and thank goodness. I can forsee a better place as time goes on as more and more diversity is coming into the state. Mormans have always failed to realise they DO NOT own the state, although their beliefs tell them differently. And time will prove that. The only power they have is in their numbers right now. Just wait.

    I’m so glad more people are speaking up. This needs to be done.

    • mesaman March 9, 2016 at 11:03 am

      Simple minded people are constantly trying to simplify complex social dilemmas. Without information about this complexity we are left to shake our heads and wonder; do these kinds procreate or enact?

      • .... March 10, 2016 at 3:37 am

        Yeah I always wonder the same thing about you

  • radioviking March 9, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    The LDS Church leaders claims that they only get involved in the “moral” issues of local and state government. But where are they drawing that line between “moral issues” and other issues? Seems like the Church has something to say on every issue that matters. Is that in violation of being a non-profit tax exempt organization? Hmmmm. The church should stick to ecclesiastical duties and leave the politics to the politicians (not to mention leaving science to the scientists – but that’s another issue for another day!).

  • 42214 March 9, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    The state of Utah is not a democracy. It’s an hypocrisy. They don’t even try to give an image of separation of church and state. They are one in the same. I was told when I bought a second home here that the separation of church and state in Utah is about 2 blocks. Boy is that true.

    • eddantes56 March 11, 2016 at 8:10 pm

      You might want to check your facts. First, the U.S.A. Is not a democracy; the Founding Fathers specifically stated (there are primary and secondary sources galore on this) that democracies tend to break up into bickering factions. Our country was founded as a constitutional republic with the three branches of gov reflecting the people’s will. Adherence to a fixed constitution was put in place as a check on the “democratic” impulses of the mob.

      Second, this idea of ‘separation of church and state’ is a red herring used by the Lef, successfully for years. If you read the letter Jefferson wrote where he used this phrase, he was specifically speaking to the history of tyranny reflected when countries allow one religion to be the ‘religion of the State’. In our FF’s case, the Church of England had reigned in conjunction with the Kings/Queens to usurp power. Even Jefferson, who was skeptical of the many religions and offshoots of his day and their interpretation of God, the gospel, et al, believed that religious values were a part of the founding of the country and a key ingredient to the same


  • James March 9, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Excellent now the only way to stop this is for every person to register to vote! You want to stop theocracies…get the vote out. Utah is known as one of the lowest voting rates. Apathy will get you nowhere. Go and vote out these clowns and vote people who speak for all of Utah and not just a church.

  • Ladyk March 10, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    It is interesting to watch someone who believes everyone else is the bigot, be a bigot. This has to be one of the most disgusting pieces you have ever written. Your points are short sighted, misguided and just a complete farce. Granted there has been some good come from medical Marijuana but the damage from it far outweighs the good. Every person I know that has ever used pot thinking that it was no big deal has ended up with life long problems because of it. You may not like the term “gateway drug” but that is exactly what it is. One good friend of ours had smoked it for years and is now finally off of it. He spent many years high on pot which meant he lost money and time that he can never get back. He now says that “anyone who says pot is harmless is lying”. As for medical use I am not opposed to it but only in certain circumstances, which means that there needs to be more research done before we go allowing it for anyone who claims they feel a little depressed just to get a medical card to waste their life away smoking it. Who do you blame in all the other states that don’t allow medical Marijuana, is it the influence the the Utah Mormons everywhere else too?

    You want to complain about the prescription use in Utah and how many are dying because of overdoses, yet we have always ranked lowest on the list for alcohol and smoking related diseases and deaths. You conveniently never want to look at those stats yet alachol is a chemical that changes chemistry in the brain just as other chemicals/medications do. I have watched as a family member who was active in church leave it only to find themselves drinking and now on antidepressants because they hate their life. Yet the answer is obvious to us, quite drinking the alcohol (a depressant) and get your life back. To you it is just have another drink and you will feel better or to relax only to see many loose their families or destroy others because of alcohol related accidents. How many of you come home and before you can do anything you have to pop open a beer or pour a glass of wine or something stronger? Are you not self medicating? While most of you may be able to stop at just one drink, many can’t. If you really want to have an honest conversation about medicated brains then you must include alcohol related statistics. Including drunk driving and other alcohol related bad behaviors.

    As for the mix of church & state, since the LDS church is run by people who are from the community it is only natural that members of the church, wheather they are leaders now or in the past, want to do what they can to promote healthy lifestyles. Why is that so difficult for you to understand? I know many communities back east who’s Catholic leaders meet with and have great influence on the political leaders. You just expect us to roll over and let you destroy our communities little by little because what you believe is more important than what we believe. Is OK for you to have your influence but not anyone who belongs to the LDS church? You want to take every little issue and complain about us but from our side we see you and those outside of the church moving here because of the good things we have created then little by little destroy our way of life. For instance the new Salt Lake city Mayor is a lesbian and NOT LDS, yet all you can say is that we run the government? It is well documented that Utah is close to an even mix of LDS and non LDS.

    Our ancestors moved here to do what they could not do in other states. They were told if they wanted to live and to worship as they choose to move somewhere else so they did. Our leaders and early members were tortured and murdered for the sole reason of belonging to a specific church not because they broke any laws. Their property and farms were stolen and their churches and temple burned. It was state law that allowed people to murder members of the church. Can you name any other group that has had this happen to them simply because of their religion since the beginning of this country? So how can you even question why we would want a place to live where we feel safe to worship how we choose without having to defend ourselves over and over. You want what you want but we can’t have the same desires? You use your position to abuse and disrespect us over and over for wanting a certain way of life and you call us bigots but you want the exact same choices so what does that make you?

    So i ask you this, what good does your article even do? Look at the comments your “opinion” piece has garnered and ask yourself if you are really proud. If you are then that tells us a lot about who you are as a person.

    • Rainbow Dash March 11, 2016 at 11:19 am

      Well, well, looks like somebody REALLY wants to be the next relief society president.

      • Ladyk March 11, 2016 at 4:54 pm

        Dash….been there…done that. I considered it an honour and would again if called. But thanks for cementing my point.

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