The LDS Church was within its constitutional rights when its representatives contacted members of the Utah Senate regarding a bill to amend the state's liquor-control laws, an American Civil Liberties official says.
Michele Parish-Pixler, director of the Utah ACLU, said the church has the same rights as individuals to express its opinions about legislation."The principle of separation of church and state does not prohibit churches from influencing the government, but rather it prohibits the government from promoting or interfering with churches," Parish-Pixler said in a prepared statement.
On the closing night of the Legislature's recent general session, church officials contacted a number of state senators regarding legislation that would have permitted consumption of alcoholic beverages by passengers in limousines and charter tour buses.
The bill's supporters say those calls resulted in the Senate's refusal to let the bill come to the floor for a final vote. Of the Senate's 29 members, 28 are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Parish-Pixler said the ACLU took no position on whether the bill should have been passed but simply defended the church's right to participate in the political process.
Church officials say they did not urge defeat of the bill but simply urged senators to take a close look and consider the effect its passage might have. It is not unusual for legislators who are considering liquor-related legislation to consult with church officials.
But Rusty Andersen, owner of Image Limousine of Salt Lake City, says he may file a lawsuit charging the church with illegal lobbying. The two LDS officials who made the calls were not registered lobbyists.
The ACLU statement did not address the issue of whether state laws were violated because the church's representatives were not registered lobbyists.