Some Utah legislators and state bureaucrats may get an unwelcome visitor on Christmas and it's not the Ghost of Christmas Past.
A legislative watchdog group, Accountability Utah, plans to knock on the front doors Christmas morning of the homes of selected lawmakers, state attorneys, Human Services department heads and others as part of a protest over the state's handling of child protective custody cases, says David A. Hansen, one of the group's organizers.
But the protesters' timing stinks, says Chris Bleak, executive director of the Utah Republican Party.
"This is an asinine move," he said. "We ask enough of our public officials. They should get a day, like Christmas Day, off."
Hansen said he hopes to have up to 50 people show up to spend a couple of hours knocking on doors and then passing out fliers in the officials' neighborhoods.
Bleak said he notified GOP state senators, House members, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Gov. Olene Walker's office, with the hope that Shurtleff and Walker will give those handling Division of Child and Family Services cases "a warning" that they may not want to be home between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. the time posted on the Accountability Utah Web site for the home visits.
"I'm not notifying Democratic (legislators). My guess is this group will be visiting" Republicans, said Bleak. Republicans hold two-thirds majorities in both the Utah House and Senate, while Walker and Shurtleff are Republicans. And several of the founders of Accountability Utah have been active in GOP politics for years and critical of GOP leaders.
Why Christmas Day for a protest?
"The Grinch may have stolen Christmas, but these unresponsive officials are helping (the state) steal people's children, not just steal Christmas away from these victim families," said Hansen. "Some of these laws they have passed are 1,000 times worse than what the Grinch did. Doing this on Christmas makes a point; an important point."
Hansen then read from an e-mail letter he said came from a single mother, who had her children taken from her by DCFS and plans to attend the protest.
"Holidays are the hardest, especially when you have been diagnosed with chronic severe depression," Hansen read. "I should be enjoying the blessings of watching the gleam in my daughters' eyes as they open their presents on Christmas morning; not wishing Christmas had never been started in the first place."
Bleak said there's plenty of other times for public officials to be contacted.
"And why should (the protesters) be spending Christmas Day this way?" he asked.
Child welfare protection vs. parental rights has been a controversial issue for years in the Legislature. But it blew up this summer over the Parker Jensen case. Daren and Barbara Jensen took their 12-year-old son Parker to Idaho after they questioned Parker's cancer diagnosis, and the state went to court in an effort to force treatment.
Now, some 50 proposed bills dealing with parental rights and child welfare are expected to be introduced in the 2004 Legislature in January.
"It's not just the Jensens," said Hansen. "There are hundreds of cases out there. We have to stop this harassing of families. Stop the kidnapping of our children. We have to tell doctors to stop supporting misdiagnoses, for they are aiding and abetting DCFS. Some people are afraid to take their injured children to hospitals for treatment, afraid the state will take their children away."
Hansen declined to say which public officials' homes his group will visit.
"We have a list. We don't want to warn them. We want them home," he said. "We're going to give them a candle, ask them to stop this. And then we're going to pass out fliers in their neighborhoods so their neighbors will know what is going on."
Said Bleak: "We need to support our public officials in making these tough decisions like child custody. I'm sure our legislators will be glad to make an appointment to meet with Accountability Utah on Dec. 26 or some other appropriate day. Maybe DCFS makes some mistakes. But there are certainly times where it is appropriate for the state to step in and the Legislature has to draw up those guidelines."
Bleak said the Utah Republican Party itself will take no action against any party member even if he holds a party office who may participate in the Christmas Day protest."We believe in freedom of speech," he said. "Although I'm sure most party members would not agree with doing this on Christmas Day."