Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: The nation is having debates regarding PC issues — so we will, too

Published: Sunday, Nov. 17 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

American Indians and their supporters gather outside the Metrodome to protest the Washington Redskins' name, prior to an NFL football game between the team and the Minnesota Vikings, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, in Minneapolis.

Jim Mone, Associated Press

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The Holiday season is soon upon us, with much tradition and joy. The PC (politically correct) police also emerge during the holidays, scaring people into sending holiday cards that don’t mention Christmas. Other PC issues have also arisen, allowing Frank to pontificate, as usual, and LaVarr to be thoughtful, as usual.

Professional football is grappling with allegations of bullying, traumatic head injuries, and a PC controversy — is the Washington Redskins name offensive and should it be abandoned?

Pignanelli:“Being politically correct means always having to say you’re sorry.” – Charles Osgood

As a dedicated soldier in the PC army, I have waged the “Redskin” battle with less enlightened opponents in a multitude of places including the grandeur of the state capitol and while naked in the locker room shower (I know, too much information). "Redskin" is a derogatory slur based upon skin color. All the arguments against change do not overcome the most important question — when is the term "Redskin" used in normal conversation? Usage of the word outside football discussions is considered racist.

Mascots that highlight the noble attributes of an ethnic culture (i.e. Braves, Celtics, Canadiens, etc.) are appropriate for sports organizations. I am Irish-Italian and fine with the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish". (However, no team has the courage to label themselves the "Godfathers" or “ Hitmen.") A fundamental element of America is that a person is judged by his or her work ethic, quality of character and commitment to constitutional ideals, without regard to creed color or faith. The Washington football team mocks this ideal and must adopt a new identity. (Now I know why LaVarr enjoys being self-righteous — it's great fun!)

Webb: A lot of jokes are flying around cyberspace asking which word is more offensive — “Washington” or “Redskins.” After all, what ethnic group would want to be associated with Washington these days? A good sports team name should reflect characteristics of its location, so better names might be: Washington Incompetents, Washington Circus, Washington Shutdowns, Washington Fiascos or Washington Gridlocks.

Perhaps in response to the debate over the Washington name, the local Ute tribe is asking the University of Utah to create an Office of Special Adviser on American Indian Affairs and provide Native American students tuition waivers instead of scholarships. Is this an appropriate exchange to continue use of the Ute name as the university mascot?

Pignanelli: I applaud the efforts of the Ute tribal leaders. The University of Utah (who appropriately jettisoned the “Redskins” name in 1971) should undertake reasonable efforts to encourage students with a Ute heritage-especially those in impoverished circumstances-to seek a degree. Thus, I suggest even greater accommodations beyond tuition waivers — living allowances and free campus housing. I am proud that my home state and alma mater carry the name of a noble people, who deserve compensation for sharing.

Webb: A thoughtful response: Reasonable compensation for use of the Ute name is appropriate. But it would be inappropriate to require Brigham Young University to contribute to a fund for big cats. Frank is such a distinguished alumnus that U. of U. teams could be named after him — the Utah Short Sicilians.

Prohibition of employment discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens is fiercely argued in the nation's capital, while Utah lawmakers are again considering legislation to prevent housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Are these laws necessary or just feel-good PC measures?

Pignanelli: An overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the basic civil rights for gay and lesbian individuals including protections against discrimination in employment and housing. Even if the net effect of the legislation is just a statement, it remains imperative to underscore the American dream is open to all, regardless of genetic characteristics or religious choices.

Webb: Civil rights and religious rights are both very important. But they can quickly come into conflict if demands for self-defined civil rights come at the expense of someone else’s religious freedom. Reasonable people agree that statutes and government ordinances should not discriminate against gay and lesbian people in housing and employment. On the other hand, most reasonable people agree that churches and pastors should not be forced by law to violate deeply-held religious tenets. A church should not be required, for example, to hire a gay pastor, or provide housing to a lesbian couple, if doing so conflicts with church doctrine.

But things get murky when it comes to the religious beliefs of private individuals and business owners. Should a private landlord whose religion does not sanction same-sex marriage be forced to rent to a gay couple? Should a florist be required to sell flowers for a gay marriage? Religious freedom, unfortunately, is taking a drubbing in this battle. Religious freedom is being eroded across the country and the world, and thoughtful people need to work to protect it.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D’Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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