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Community leaders react to LDS Church press conference on religious liberty, nondiscrimination

Community leaders react to LDS Church press conference on religious liberty, nondiscrimination

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)



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SALT LAKE CITY — Legislators, community leaders and advocacy groups responded to a press conference held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Tuesday morning in which high-ranking leaders reemphasized the need for religious liberty and nondiscrimination.

Leaders from both sides of the aisle lauded the church’s call to action for civil discourse, nondiscrimination and protection of religious liberty.

“We laud the LDS Church's statement of support," said Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams. "The church joins a growing number of faith, civic and corporate leaders who also stand on the side of compassion and fairness. We believe that gay and transgender Utahns can live and work beside people of faith. Many within the LGBT community are themselves people of faith. We look forward soon to the day when all Utahns have the opportunity to live and work freely in the state we call home.”

Church leaders, including Jeffrey R. Holland, set the tone of the conference by emphasizing that “nothing is achieved if either side resorts to bullying, political point scoring, or accusations of bigotry.”

Elder Holland was joined by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Sister Neill Marriott.

Community leaders added their voices to the discussion, commending the church on its willingness to work together for the protection and good of all people.

"I think that the press conference reflects a very good approach and a good attitude on the part of the (LDS Church) in that they are asking for respect and tolerance that we all show one another," said the Most Reverend John Charles Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City. "I think it's a call for respect so that in our democracy we can have these conversations about very delicate and sometimes difficult issues but do so in an atmosphere where we can all get along."

Sen. Jim Dabakis took the opportunity to talk about working together.

"Since serving as a senator, and as the only LGBT member of the Utah legislature, I can say one of the joys of the job has been to meet and enjoy the company of LDS officials,” Dabakis said. “I know that, together, we can build a community that strongly protects religious organizations, constitutional liberties, and, in addition, creates a civil, respectful, nurturing culture where differences are honored and everyone feels welcome."

Both the Sutherland Institute and LDS Dems applauded the emphasis on civil discourse.

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"We also reiterate our position that Utah can address valid concerns of mistreatment in employment and housing and public services without contributing to an environment of intolerance toward people of faith and moral conscience," the Sutherland Institute said.

"It is Christ's example of nondiscrimination and tolerance that motivates us as Democrats," it said in a statement. "We applaud the LDS Church for including a female general auxiliary leader in this historic news conference."

Governor Gary Herbert said the press conference was an "important step to help us find common ground on these important issues."

"It will be helpful in our effort to resolve these difficult and emotional matters," he said. "I firmly believe that, in order to protect the personally held values of people on all sides, any advancement of non-discrimination legislation should be coupled with legislation to safeguard protections to religious freedom. I am confident that, as elected officials, we can work together with religious, business and civic leaders as well as the LGBT community to craft policies that treat all people with dignity and respect."

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch spoke to the church’s call for protection of religious freedom.

"Religious freedom is a fundamental right of all Americans and is an essential part of how we define ourselves as a nation,” he said in a statement. “In working towards reasonable nondiscrimination standards, we must not undermine religious liberty. I will continue to help ensure that legislation designed to promote greater equality includes robust religious exemptions and non-retaliation provisions."

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said he supported the call for nondiscrimination as both a civil servant and member of the LDS faith.

“Treating people with dignity and equality under the law and protecting constitutionally granted religious liberties are compatible goals,” he said in a statement. "...As a policymaker and public servant, I'm ready to join in a mutually respectful and constructive dialogue with all who would make Utah a place where nondiscrimination and constitutionally-granted religious freedoms are the rule."

Utah House Democrats talked about the impact the church has in the community as an employer, as well as a moral leader.

"Non-discrimination has always been about supporting and protecting Utah families,” Democratic Leader Rep. Brian King said. “As a large employer and moral leader both in Utah and abroad, the LDS Church's impact reverberates through the world. Democrats are grateful to all the stakeholders who have taken a seat at the table to work to make our state better."

Celeste Tholen Rosenlof

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