On Religious Discrimination | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

On Religious Discrimination 

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It wasn't long ago that English kings, among others, were God's own anointed protectors of the faith, assuming the roles of political leader and religious pontiff combined. Well, folks, state religion is alive and well in Utah, defined and implemented as prejudicial treatment of non-Mormons. And it isn't just social, it's economic as well. Here's a little background:

When I was a teenager, my Swedish immigrant grandmother told me about her own childhood, and how Sweden had an official state religion. In 1593, the Convocation of Uppsala made the Evangelical-Lutheran Faith the only religious denomination recognized by the Swedish government. Later, its official name was changed to the Church of Sweden, with the King and Queen at its head.

Grandma Olga told me that the state religion had been involved in legislation and the courts, and that dissenting religious views were actually criminalized and severely punished. On the other hand, loyal church members received favorable tax status and other financial perks. I was flabbergasted; separation of church and state was a staple of my beliefs—though I had been aware that other countries had followed different paths.

After centuries of its official state religion, and swept up in the growing trend of secularism, Sweden eventually developed tolerance for non-members. That transition continued. In 1951, Sweden passed the "Religious Freedom Act," which made it legal for citizens to leave the church, and, in 2000, Sweden severed the official ties that tethered church and state.

As Americans, the separation of religion and government is a fundamental belief. Those who attempted to create theocracies, including Mormondom's Brigham Young and others, were thwarted by the broad understanding that, though not actually stated in the Constitution, the mere presence of a government-favored faith constitutes religious prejudice. Young envisioned the State of Deseret, which would have encompassed what is now Utah, along with parts of Nevada, California, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming and Idaho. The sovereign territory was to have been, essentially, governed by the Mormon church. Young's plan failed after only a year, when multiple petitions were unsuccessful in finding favor with the federal government.

Historically, religions have used a variety of devices to persecute those who don't share the faith, and Mormon-led politics has been guilty of favoring its own while marginalizing and penalizing so-called "gentiles." There are many examples of this, but, perhaps the best is the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Drawn as a highly visible line in the sand, the use of alcoholic beverages has been used, effectively, to warrant special taxation of non-Mormons, and, indirectly to lighten the financial load of the faithful.

The DABC, in a direct affront to the principle that government should be restricted to serving its citizens, has instead engaged in a state-run competition to legitimate private enterprise. While the imposition of so-called "sin taxes" is not confined to our state, one can't help but ask the question: Why is our government in the liquor business, when that is something legitimately left to private enterprise? It is one thing to create health-related taxes on liquor and to properly regulate that business, just as any other; but it's a very different thing to actually be in the business of buying and selling a commodity that Mormon doctrine forbids to its followers.

Along with its incursion into private enterprise, and directly in violation of the principle of competition, the DABC gouges buyers with prices that are as much as 100 percent higher than liquor in surrounding states. It's perfectly understandable that, in violation of Utah law, thousands of Utahns flock to neighboring states where they can purchase their booze at competitive prices. When you think about it, this mini-rebellion is not so different than the Boston Tea Party. (I know, it's about prices, not taxes, but the effect is still the same.) A Utahn with a trunk-load of bottles can be stopped, arrested, his contraband taken, and incarcerated, just because he rebelled against the predatory, extortionary pricing of Utah liquor.

Since Utah is one of the biggest—if not the biggest—purchasers of wholesale booze, another question comes up: What does the state do with the $100-million annual profit that is now generated by gouging the religious underdogs? With the Mormon belief that they should have as many babies as possible to house the spirits of people who are yet premortal, it's no surprise that Utahns have some of the highest birthrates and largest families in America. So it is the ill-gotten gains from the DABC's prejudicial anti-gentile model that are then used to supplement the state's general fund, and help support the sorely underfunded public schools, flooded with the children that the non-Mormons elected not to have. Then, when April 15 rolls around each year, secular Utahns subsidize their Mormon counterparts because children are a substantial tax deduction.

What's the matter with this picture? In a country where religious discrimination is an absolute no-no, the concept of an official state religion is very much alive. Mormons, as patriotic Americans, should be equally interested in doing away with this biased system.

It’s time to go back to the basics: 1) End the DABC’s abuse of private enterprise and allow competition. 2) Allow Utah’s non-Mormons to get what they want at non-discriminatory prices. 3) End the practice of forcing non-Mormons’ to pick up the tab for the state religion.

This is America, for heaven's sake, so Utah needs to start living by the precepts of the founding fathers. Utah still promotes pure-and-simple religious discrimination through its DABC, and that needs to go.


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