Employee Protections in the new Utah Anti-discrimination Ordinance

The Church and gay rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign both came out yesterday in favor of S.B.296 entitled Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments. This bill strikes a good balance between anti-discrimination and religious freedom because it essentially just adds sexual orientation to existing legislation regarding race and gender which in Utah is quite protective of the Church.

There are a couple of nice new additions such as an exemption for the Boy Scouts which is Constitutionally required by the 2000 Boy Scouts v. Dale Case (though I though I found it strange that the Boy Scouts were singled out even though there may be other expressive organizations which fall under the Dale decision), and making it clear that “a religious leader, when that individual is acting in the capacity of a religious leader” is not an employer for discrimination purposes. There were also a couple of novel provisions needed for the addition of gender identity to the group of protected classes: Employers are expressly allowed to have separate gender facilities (bathrooms etc) and also allowed to have uniforms, but must offer reasonable accommodations to trans-gender individuals. I think all of this is quite rasonable and strikes the right balance.

There is one section which is substantively completely new that I have seen little to no focus on. It is a provision that I would expect would elicit much more controversy especially from libertarian groups who focus on employer freedoms. This section makes it illegal for an employer to fire an employee for the expression of religious belief in the work place and also prohibits firing employees for “expressive activity outside of the workplace” on “the person’s religious, political, or personal convictions.”

 34A-5-112. Religious liberty protections — Expressing beliefs and commitments in
workplace — Prohibition on employment actions against certain employee speech.
(1) An employee may express the employee’s religious or moral beliefs and
commitments in the workplace in a reasonable, non-disruptive, and non-harassing way on equal terms with similar types of expression of beliefs or commitments allowed by the employer in the workplace, unless the expression is in direct conflict with the essential business-related interests of the employer.
(2) An employer may not discharge, demote, terminate, or refuse to hire any person, or
retaliate against, harass, or discriminate in matters of compensation or in terms, privileges, and
conditions of employment against any person otherwise qualified, for lawful expression or
expressive activity outside of the workplace regarding the person’s religious, political, or
personal convictions, including convictions about marriage, family, or sexuality, unless the
expression or expressive activity is in direct conflict with the essential business-related
interests of the employer.

The first provision regarding religious speech in the workplace might be of limited applicability. It is clear that an employer can ban all expression of belief or commitments” such as discussion of politics,or religion. However, if the employer allows some such expressions he must also allow religious expressions. The speech must also be done in a “reasonable,” “non-disruptive,” and “non-harassing” way which gives pretty wide latitude to employers to determine that religious speech is not reasonable or unacceptable. Finally, if the speech conflicts with the essential business-related interest of the employer it can be prohibited. I think this provision will likely just cause employers to draft stronger policies against speech on controversial issues in the workplace. The threat of possible litigation might help deter an employer from firing a religious individual for mentioning her belief, which seems to me to be a net positive. It also sends a strong message that religious speech is equivalent to speech and can not uniquely be excluded

The second provision on expressive activity is on the other hand a really big deal. This would make Utah one  of a  select few states where individuals cannot be fired as a result of their political views. While Utah would not join Louisiana, California, Connecticut and South Carolina which guarantee employees the right to talk about politics in the workplace as well as outside, it would join a small group of states such as California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota which offer off-duty protections. The religious liberty protections also seem strong here, as it would likely prevent things such as the firing of the Atlanta Fire Chief for the publication of a book critical of homosexuality.or individuals fired for content on religious blogs. This provisions also has the exception for the business-related interests of the employer, but this seems much narrower in the context of off the clock expressive activity.

These changes are major and have significant implication, which is why I am surprised they have not gotten much attention yet.

I admit that I am really pleased by the second provision in particular. As one who blogs about religion and touches on controversial political and social topics such as gay marriage and abortion I am heartened and excited that Utah is passing protection for such speech. Though I do not hope to work in Utah for long after graduating law school, I hope that this approach spreads to other states. While I think employers should have great freedom about the employees they argue, I think that such provisions strike the proper balance in offering protection from termination over expressive activities unrelated to the business. It has always seemed somewhat wrong to me that individuals could be fired for private speech done outside of the confines of work.

I hope that this provision gets more attention and debate before the bill is voted on, and that these provisions become templates for other states as well.


Reactions to My Husband is not Gay

My wife and I watched the highly highly controversial TLC special My Husband is not Gay tonight along with some friends of ours. I think uniformly, our reaction to the show was that it certainly wasn’t as good as it could have been, but also wasn’t as bad as it had the potential to be. Our main criticism was that the interactions within and between the couples just felt inauthentic and inappropriate at times.A lot of that might be skewed by the bias of those filming and what they were hoping to see.

For those who haven’t been following the show, it focuses on three mixed orientation marriages in Salt Lake City as well as a single adult with same-sex attraction. In each, the husband has same-sex attraction but does not identify as Gay. Each seem to be happy and successful. I enjoyed seeing the couples and thought they had a good relationship with each other. I thought that there were some very positive aspects of the show. Mostly, I loved that it showed that a healthy and loving relationship could exist in such a situation.

However, there were a lot of problems with the show that took away from the positive message:

First of all, practically the only thing the three couples talk about throughout the show is same-sex attraction. We learn very little about them aside from that. We learn that one of the husbands is a nurse and that his wife is pregnant after having a miscarriage. Other than that, we know little to nothing about their occupations, hobbies, callings etc. Instead, in practically every seen we see them talking about same-sex attraction (or SSA as they call it – I was also bothered by how the couple’s continually referred to their attractions as SSA. Not same sex attraction … SSA) They repeatedly used this acronym to the exclusion of other terms. ). This was very strange to me and perpetuates stereotypes of these men as repressed and obsessed with their attractions.

This was especially problematic in the scenes where the men spent time together. They continually spoke about the guys around them that they found attractive. They developed a danger scale to rank guys on attractiveness from 1-4. They even joked about how attractive they found men around their wives. I found this incredibly distasteful. I would never think about talking to my wife about how attractive I was to the waitress or to someone I met at the gym. I would never joke with guy friends about wanting to sleep with another women, or how hot she was on the danger scale. The couples claimed that this openness was helpful for them, but you could see the hurt on the wive’s faces as these conversations proceeded. There are just certain things that one should not to in a committed relationship or marriage. Such conversations seem to me to invariably lead to jealously and trouble.

Indeed, I was generally bothered by how much these couples talked and joked about sex and sexuality. Especially knowing the church culture, this seemed quite inappropriate. It seemed like being attracted to people of the same sex was an excuse to repeatedly joke about things that otherwise would be completely taboo. Of course, having a support network is helpful, but it seemed that here the support network of these couples instead obsessively focused their thoughts on sex, sexuality and attraction.

Probably the worst moment of the show was when one of the husbands discussed with his wife a camping trip he wanted to go on with some guy friends. His wife interrogated him about who the guys were. This really grated me, because it just felt like it perpetuated the stereotype that guys who are attracted to guys of the same sex cannot have healthy relationships with those of the same-sex. Especially if someone is going on a trip with a group of supportive guys, it seemed really strange to have the wife so lacking in trust.

I think a lot of these problems that I raise are ones that are made worse by the choice of those filming. Most of all, they reflected the choice of those producing the show to only focus on three couples who all saw their sexuality in the same way. I wish they would have shown couples where the husband does identity as gay,or even more of those who chose otherwise. I would have loved to see couples who did not spend all their time with other couples with the same challenges and see these couples interacting with other friends and members of their wards and communities. The myopic focus of the show was distorting and problematic.

Moral Elevation and the Sacrament

Conservative pundit Arthur C. Brooks recently wrote a fascinating op-ed in the New York Times entitled The Trick to Being More Virtuous.  In that post, Brooks talks about an experience he had when speaking at BYU. After he spoke, he was given a variety of BYU swag including a briefcase with a prominent BYU logo. Although not a member of the Church or an alumni or BYU, Brooks decided to carry around the briefcase. He noticed that as he did so, he subconsciously and at times consciously began to act more kindly to others and to try to “live up to the high standards of Mormon kindness, or at least not besmirch that well-earned reputation.” As Brooks describes it, “Almost like magic, the briefcase made me a happier, more helpful person — at least temporarily.”

Brooks goes on to describe a psychological phenomenon called “moral elevation” where those who are exposed to examples of positive behaviors and emotions tend to emulate those behaviors. Brooks goes on to apply this concept to political discourse and urges his readers to be a good and virtuous example even amidst the tumult and rancor of contemporary politics. Brooks message is needed and powerful, and I urge everyone to read his thoughtful piece.

Reading Brooks article got me thinking about the role of moral elevation in the church and in our lives. As I did so, I thought about the perfect example of the savior. Clearly, if any one person or thing can elevate our sights or inspire us to greatness, it is the incomparable example of the savior of mankind. As we remember how he overcome temptations or responded with charity to rancor and vituperation, we too can be inspired and uplifted.

This helped me think about the sacrament that we partake of in church each week in a new light:

“O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”

During the sacrament we take upon ourselves the name of Christ and covenant to remember him always. As we wear the name of Christ and remember him in our day to day conduct, his example will uplift and inspire us. The sacrament itself is a weekly token or physical reminder of the savior and his perfect example.

However, something is unique about the sacrament and the savior’s atonement. Unlike any other source of moral elevation, the atonement provides not merely a reminder of our goals and aspirations, but the means by which we may truly become transformed and sanctified. Unlike Brook’s BYU briefcase, the impact of remembering the Savior and his atonement is not temporary or transitory. The atonement is a power which can propel us upward to heights we never could achieve on our own.

I am grateful for the weekly opportunity to partake of the sacrament, as well as other sources of moral elevation in the Church which help us remember our covenants and strive to be more like the savior (temple garments for instance are another very tangible daily reminder of our covenants. We need these daily and weekly reminders of our savior, because we are quick to forget and easily drawn in by the temptations of the world. We need him in our lives every hour of every day. By his grace, we will be uplifted and transformed, of this I bear witness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ.

A Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Today, I read American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church which is written by Alex Beam and non-Mormon writer. It was a competent history of the martyrdom (and a somewhat more flawed account of early Church history) and a highly enjoyable read.

As I put the book down, the spirit strongly confirmed to me once again that Joseph Smith truly was Prophet of God. Although he was imperfect and deeply flawed, he was an instrument in the hands of God for the restoration of his Church and many many doctrines vital for our salvation and exaltation.

I was reminded of Elder Anderson’s masterful talk on the Prophet from General Conference. Elder Anderson recounted the prophecy that Joseph Smith’s name would be known for both good and ill across the world, and warned that “The negative commentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith will increase as we move toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The half-truths and subtle deceptions will not diminish.” While Beam’s book was not what I would categorize as negative commentary (indeed, for a history written by a non-member it was mostly quite fair), I was reminded as I read how important it is to have a firm testimony of the restoration when reading of the history of the early church. Without that firm foundation, it would be easy to allow small imperfections to grow and to distort the magnificent fruit of the restoration.

Elder Anderson emphasized that “Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.” This is a moral imperative for each of us. No matter how strong we think out testimony is, we should continually seek to strengthen or testimony of the savior, the restoration, and the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I also loved Elder Anderson’s depiction of the process of acquiring that vital testimony:

“A testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith can come differently to each of us. It may come as you kneel in prayer, asking God to confirm that he was a true prophet. It may come as you read the Prophet’s account of the First Vision. A testimony may distill upon your soul as you read the Book of Mormon again and again. It may come as you bear your own testimony of the Prophet or as you stand in the temple and realize that through Joseph Smith the holy sealing power was restored to the earth. With faith and real intent, your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith will strengthen. The constant water balloon volleys from the sidelines may occasionally get you wet, but they need never, never extinguish your burning fire of faith.”

I remember how I first acquired a witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his divine mission. Soon after I first gained a witness of the truth of the Church, my ward had a camp out at the Joseph Smith birthplace in Shanon, Vermont. As we camped out there, I reflected on the stories I had heard of Joseph Smith and was filled with a sweet confirming spirit. I knew then, and know now that Joseph Smith was truly called of God. Over the years, I have sough to strengthen my witness of that truth through personal study and prayer. In the Sacred Grove in Palmyra for instance, I felt especially strongly that Joseph had truly seen the Father and the Son. Like Elder Anderson suggests, my testimony has also been strengthened through reading the Book of Mormon again and again.

If your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith has weakened due to critical accounts of his life, I urge you to follow Elder Anderson’s advice and go straight to the source of all truth. If you diligently seek it, God will distill upon your soul truth from on high. As Elder Anderson mentions, your burning fire of faith will be inextinguishable.

Unshakable Faith and the Mighty Change of Heart

Today all of Utah and Wasatch Counties as part of Stake Conference watched a broadcast with addresses by Church leaders including Elder Clayton, Sister Stevens, Elder Scott, and Elder Nelson. I really enjoyed the conference, and enjoyed Elder Clayton’s remarks in particular.

Elder Clayton began with a story from a recent trip to Texas. On a lake, he saw tall trees that had sunk their roots deep into the water. Amidst the trees were also weeds that were withering and wilting due to a drought. They had completely failed to sink their roots into the water.

Elder Clayton urged all of us to become deeply rooted in the Gospel. Our roots need to be deep enough to overcome any challenge, endure any affliction and withstand any challenge to our faith. Indeed, Elder Clayton emphasized the importance of have a through enough conversion to withstand even subtle enemies of our faith.

Elder Clayton also emphasized that being ridiculed by non believers has always been the lot of believers. In our modern day where messages critical of the Gospel can go viral in an instant, we especially need to be vigilant and prepared. Elder Clayton explained that criticism of the Church is like a mirage which can be alluring to those who have not become rock solid in their faith. Yet, those who listen to the seductive voices of dissidents, will miss the grandeur and scope of the restored gospel and ultimately will pay a heavy price in the breaking of covenants and the loss of eternal blessings.

As I listened to Elder Clayton’s talk, I thought about my testimony and my conversion pre mission. I had a miraculous and powerful conversion experience, and so I felt that my testimony was firm and secure. I received an unmistakable answer to my prayers. I knew without a doubt that the Church was true. Yet, despite all of that, looking back now I realize how fragile my testimony truly was. I didn’t really have a testimony that the leaders of the Church were inspired. I believed that my views on political and social issues were far more enlightened than the Church’s position.

On my mission, I don’t think there was a particular moment or experience that changed my views. In the MTC and even months into my mission I still was uncomfortable with some of the things the Church taught on gay marriage and the family. Yet, as I left all of that behind and labored with all of my heart. As I did so, my roots become more deeply grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I labored, the spirit transformed my heart and reinforced my faith. I am deeply indebted to my father in heaven for my mission and the mighty change of heart that I experienced.

Elder Clayton offered some very valuable advice to those seeking to deepen conversion. Specifically, for those with doubts he urged us to spend more time reading the scriptures and far less time dwelling on the words of dissidents in blogs. He urged us to not look for flaws, but instead to study the doctrines of the Gospel. We also need to accompany faithful study with a devoted righteous living. We need to maintain a temple recommend, and continue to build upon the rock of the savior. If we do these things, Elder Clayton promised that we would be able to develop an unshakeable faith in the savior that would withstand all of the challenges of life.

I second Elder Clayton’s testimony. I know that as we continue to develop faith in Christ and serve him, our doubts will melt away with time. Our doubts will be replaced by a firm foundation of faith. I have been deeply blessed as a result of this miraculous change of heart.

The Rock of Revelation: Continuing Revelation and the Living Prophet

Today I was reading through the most recent General Conference and was struck by a quote from President Harold B. Lee that I have had a complex relationship with:

“The only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.”

When I first jointed the church, I had a really hard time accepting this quote. Having come from a very different political, religious and social background, the idea that one would change ones political or social views based on the teachings of the Prophet struck me as strange. Indeed, I came from a Jewish tradition that strongly encouraged divergence of views on just about everything. Even as I left to serve on my mission, this quote and others such as the Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet drove me crazy. It wasn’t until my mission, that I truly began to understand how fundamental this truth is.

As I began to interact with good and sincere people of faith in Russia, I was struck that they were built on a shaky and uncertain foundation. Without a source of revelation about divine truth, each person became a light unto him or herself. Of course, because people need sources of knowledge, they turned to alternative sources for knowledge. Some turned to political leaders, others to the Russian Orthodox Church, others to drugs and alcohol seeking inspiration in oblivion. Teaching people in Russia truly helped me appreciate and be grateful to have actual answers to difficult questions in life. 

As I looked back on my youth, I realize how much of my soul searching and hunger came from a lack of answers. Judaism provided an endless series of questions and paradoxes without resolution. No one could give a clear answer to eternal questions. No one could definitely speak in the name of God. I had felt aimless and lost. 

I came to really love and appreciate the rock of revelation upon which the Church is built. The powerful words of D&C 21 (4-5) resonated with my need for answers and inspired truth. 

Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory. 

Today, I have a strong testimony for the living Prophet and Apostles and continuing revelation even when it touches on controversial topics such as politics. Indeed, because such political pronouncements are relatively rare, I pay especial attention when the Prophet or First Presidency speak out about issues of public concern. If they find it important enough to speak out, then I am convinced that those rare topics are ones that we should listen to especially closely. I know that if we truly do hearken unto the Lord and his servants that we will be blessed in all that we do.

Elder Maxwell’s prescient words on the efforts to legalize marijuana

Almost 40 years ago (1976) Elder Maxwell (at the time a member of the Presidency of the Seventy) wrote about the continued relevance of the Word of Wisdom’s warning of “evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” In so doing, he gave an example that today has increasing relevance given the successful efforts to legalize Marijuana in several states:

Combine the profit motive with the fanning of human appetite in things narcotic, or near narcotic, and the warning is not too dramatic at all. Suppose those who now profit from cigarettes were to seek dominion over the legalized use of marijuana. You can be quite certain that those who were resistant to calling attention to the harmful effects of nicotine will end up extolling the harmlessness of “pot.” There is already a built-in, national constituency favoring such legalization.

Now, if such were to happen, and time and real research were to demonstrate the harmfulness of marijuana, how easy do you think it would be for a whole society to disengage? Whose lock-them-in style does this sort of consequence suggest? Such a condition would be brought about by the very “conspiring men in the last days” who brought us accelerated alcoholism, prostitution, and gambling. Such conspirators will not view with favor a minority of sin-resistant souls who seem to block their path, any more than their evil counterparts tolerated the Old Testament prophets who were an irritating interruption centuries ago!

Maxwell, Neal A. (2009-08-17). Deposition of a Disciple (Kindle Locations 802-808). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

I admit that my feelings about the potential legalization of marijuana have been mixed. As a teenager, I had many friends that were potheads and I saw them waste their life away in a blaze of marijuana smoke. It can be an addiction and a lifestyle as harmful as any other addiction even if not quite as physically addicting as tobacco. Yet, I have also had friends and family members benefit from the medicinal use of marijuana to cure physical and mental ailments. I also feel like throwing young pot users into prison has wrecked havoc in certain communities and is grossly disproportionate and inequitable. As such, I support the legalization of medicinal marijuana with strict controls on availability, as well as a decriminalization of simple marijuana possession (although a continued criminalization of illegal sales of marijuana).

However, reading Elder Maxwell’s words helps to solidify my opposition to full legalization of marijuana. Legalization opens a gateway that once open can never be again closed. There are too many individuals who will become invested with selling marijuana as the newest craze. Just as with alcohol and tobacco, a harmful substance will be sold as sexy and cool.

Right now in Colorado, small businesses and marijuana dispensaries are thriving. Does anyone doubt that in five years or ten, the marijuana industry will be made up of the same large players that peddle alcohol and tobacco? As Elder Maxwell predicts, they will move in and seek to profit in this lucrative potential market.

Although I know that many smoke today despite marijuana’s illegality, it is self-evidence that legalization and increased availability coupled with increased marketing will increase demand. Indeed, Marijuana will be marketed as the “safe” alternative to tobacco and this legalization will undo decades of exceptional progress in the war on tobacco. I am also cognizant for the potential discovery of yet unexpected harms as marijuana consumption reaches critical mass. Even though it now appear that marijuana is less harmful on the whole than tobacco or alcohol, it is with an eye to the future that I stand in opposition along with Elder Maxwell to the out and out legalization of marijuana.