SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most important stories of the week received only scant coverage (if any) by many media outlets as the world was rocked by another horrific shooting and Washington was embroiled in the vote against President Donald Trump's emergency declaration of a crisis at the border, which he eventually vetoed.
There's no question the most horrifying story of the week took place in New Zealand, where a white supremacist is suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack on two mosques in the city of Christchurch, killing 50 people and injuring 50 others.
The attack led to an outpouring of support for the Muslim community, including here in Utah at Al Sahaba Mosque in Orem as well-wishers who came to the mosque to show their support were invited to pray with worshippers and were given a copy of the Quran.
The Deseret News also took at look at the rise of white nationalism on college campuses, highlighting some of the action at the University of Utah that prompted the university president to condemn the spread of hatred after flyers were spread across campus in January:
“These cowardly, faceless and non-university sanctioned tactics are designed to disrupt and frighten individuals and communities, and to garner attention for an insidious ideology that has no place on our campus or in our community. ... At the University of Utah, we value free speech and the diversity of ideas, but we also have an ethical obligation to call out hateful speech when we see it,” Watkins said in the statement.
Speech was also in the news at the beginning of the week, when a Utah Jazz fan hurled insults at Oklahoma City player Russell Westbrook. Within a day two fans were banned for life from the arena for the race-tinged speech and the verbal abuse hurled at the NBA star.
The quick response by the Jazz and its players show that any culture of bad behavior in Utah — real or perceived — will not be tolerated. It's a model the rest of the NBA can follow. And for Jazz fans themselves, it's time to embrace the message of owner Gail Miller, who proclaimed:
"We believe in treating people with courtesy and respect as human beings. ...From time to time, individual fans exhibit poor behavior and forget their manners. Some disrespect players on other teams. When that happens, I want to jump up and shout, 'Stop!'"
Which brings us to one of the most consequential yet underreported stories of the week, the reintroduction of the Equality Act in Washington, D.C., comprehensively reported in the Deseret News by Matt Brown out of Washington and religion writer Kelsey Dallas out of Salt Lake City.
Utah and 20 other states already prohibit sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination in housing and hiring. Supporters of the Equality Act say that should extend to every state in the nation, and the best way to do that is on the federal level.
The problem is that this act would also limit the scope of federal religious freedom protections, preventing religious people and organizations from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense against discrimination claims.
In other words, as the Deseret News wrote: "...religiously affiliated schools and other faith-based organizations could face lawsuits over policies on gay, lesbian or transgender students, customers or employees."
Utah has been successful in using a "Fairness for All" approach, balancing the rights of all people as it tries to extend the rights of the LGBTQ community in jobs and housing. Additionally a hate crime law was finally passed by the Legislature this year in the just-concluded legislative session. Stakeholders come to the table and try to work out their differences.
The approach of the Equality Act sets up supporters and detractors for an all-or-nothing fight reminiscent of the acrimonious battles surrounding gay marriage.
But there is a better way, and this may be the start of an opportunity.
To some, the Equality Act is old news. It's been introduced in its current form in 2015 and 2017 and in a similar form multiple times since 1974. This week's announcement from Democratic supporters received little coverage and even fewer outlets offered a broader picture of what would happen if it passed. Perhaps that's because the Republican-controlled Senate is not likely to push the act forward.
But the Equality Act in 2019 is a different animal than it was in previous years. The House will almost certainly take up and pass the bill, and it will do so with the support of a growing group of Americans, including many people of faith.14 comments on this story
So supporters are trying to ride changing attitudes toward successful implementation of a federal law while religious liberty supporters want to preserve the exemptions they say are needed to effectively participate in the public square — in religion-affiliated colleges, philanthropic organizations and other faith-based institutions.
As the Equality Act works its way through Congress, there is an opportunity to have frank discussions about what's best for people on both sides. Stakeholders should look for areas of agreement rather than take advantage of each other.
There's no question that this can be a divisive issue. But the work toward a solution need not be divisive if there is a willingness to find one.