Rep. Chris Stewart says he's working on 'freedom of conscience' bills

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart expressed frustration with how Congress is and isn't doing its work.

But he told state lawmakers Thursday that he is grateful Republicans now control the Senate as well as the House in Washington, D.C.

"We have partners now," he said, who can tackle tough issues facing Congress.

Asked to tell the Utah Senate about all the good things going on in Washington, Stewart replied, "I'll be about 30 seconds then." He also spoke in the Utah House.

Among the issues Stewart said he is working on are returning control of federal lands and wild horses to the states, and ensuring religious freedom.

The two-term Republican congressman said he is involved with a number of pieces of legislation that would define "a person's ability to exercise their free will, their freedom of conscience with regard to their freedom of religion" and praised the LDS Church's recent statements on protecting both LGBT and religious rights.

"I think it moves that conversation forward. But they were adamant, and I appreciate their committment to recognizing that while we respect one another, we also need to respect that ability to exercise our religious rights. "

Stewart said freedom of religion is "a fundamental right. It is a right actually from which all other rights eventually flow. You cannot give up that right of freedom of religion and protect other rights adequately. It has to start with that fundamental right. And I would support what moves us forward to doing that."

He also said that he is committed to working with state and local officials on the proposed expansion of the federal government's Utah Test and Training Range.

"We will not do anything you do not support us in," Stewart said. A former Air Force pilot and now a member of the House Intelligence Committee, he said the range is critical to national security.

While there are those who want to make Washington more powerful, he said, his "absolute conviction is the people are better served when you have far more power than I do."

Stewart also said he's working with federal wildlife officials to not list the sage grouse as an endangered species in Utah.

"All of us want to protect this beautiful bird. But it's not exclusive to doing what we need to do in developing our own resources as well," he said. Email: Twitter: dennisromboy; DNewsPolitics

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