The state of Utah, while an extraordinary place to live, lacks a certain separation between church — that is, the LDS Church — and state.
Utah has been home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints since 1847, and 62% of the state’s current population are members. Because of those deep roots and constant representation in office, the Mormon Church’s power remains ever-present in Utah’s Capitol Building. Impacting more than politics, the predominant faith dominates education, legislation and the daily lives of non-members, who are becoming increasingly outraged. Time and time again, Utah legislators take the LDS gospel and turn it into policy that greatly affects non-Latter-day Saints. This forcing of beliefs onto others is a direct violation of the United States Constitution. Utah blatantly fails to respect a division between church and state, and it is time that the Church recognizes their influence as damaging to Utah policy and inconsistent with the Constitution.
One of the reasons that Utah policy deeply reflects Mormon ideals is that nine out of every ten legislators are LDS members. And while many policymakers try to downplay the severity with which the Church involves itself in governmental affairs, some of them recognize the faith’s influence. As then-House Representative Rob Bishop said in 1993, “Perception is reality, whether it’s true or not. The perception out there is that the Mormon Church does control the state of Utah.”
With one word, the Mormon Church has the ability to exercise control over the legislative body. Once they issue a stance on a controversial policy, legislators follow suit, citing scripture and Church leaders’ remarks as aiding their decisions. Utah lawmakers continuously demonstrate that their covenants to the Church are considerably stronger than their oaths of office. The Church’s extensive reach into politics and legislation is ever prevalent in Utah’s laws. Abortion, alcohol-concentration levels and even medical marijuana policies exhibit the Church’s stance. This transgression is unconstitutional, and because of this, some citizens are fighting back against the Church’s influence.
To illustrate, a policy debated between the Church and non-LDS citizens is 2018’s Proposition 2. Prop 2 legalizes the use of medical marijuana and expunges minimal criminal offenses regarding it. The majority of Utahns voted in favor of this proposition, but it was met with blatant opposition from the Church. In response, people who need life-saving treatment are creating petitions to prevent Church interference. Such action should not be needed or expected, because the Church should not be allowed to override Utah constituents’ clear support for a piece of legislation.
Another policy with pushback from the LDS Church is SB-132, which raises the alcohol percent level allowed in Utah’s liquor stores. It is no secret that the LDS Church prohibits alcohol consumption among members, yet their beliefs have led to the watering-down of alcohol in stores. The bill, which Utahns voted for, received pushback from the Church based on covenants to which only its members adhere.
Once again, Church interference in Utah legislation not only pushes religious beliefs onto non-Mormon Utahns, but it also undermines the basic idea on which our Constitution was founded: that the citizens of a state can vote for and uphold policies in their best interest. It is time the LDS recognize that the power is with the people — not the Church.
For LDS members, the Church’s influence on legislation makes little to no difference in how they live. The policies advocated and created by Mormon leaders reflect and encourage the practice of current LDS lifestyle and values. However, what many members fail to recognize — or recognize as a problem — is their Church’s impact on the daily lives of non-LDS people.
Due in large part to the Church’s stance on homosexuality, same-sex marriage was banned in Utah until 2013 when a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional. In addition, even alcohol was watered down for the sake of enforcing Mormon ideologies. These policies are based entirely on religious beliefs, yet all of these decisions and laws affect non-LDS members who wouldn’t normally adhere to the religion’s rules and expectations.
The LDS Church is infringing on our religious freedoms by pushing their beliefs onto us non-LDS through policy. The LDS Church is also not adhering to the Constitution’s rule of separating church and state. Elected officials need to serve us, the American people — not the prophets of the Church. If our legislators believe serving the Lord means manipulating others into keeping their commandments, maybe they shouldn’t be on Capitol Hill.