sltrib | "No American citizen or institution [should] be labeled by their government as bigoted because of their religious views, and dismissed from the political life of our nation for holding those views," the letter declared. "And yet that is precisely what the Civil Rights Commission report does."
Labeling ideas and arguments with which one disagrees "racist" or "phobic," these leaders argued, "not only cheapens the meaning of those words, but can have a chilling effect on healthy debate over, or dissent from, the prevailing orthodoxy."
The letter closed with a plea to Obama, Hatch, R-Utah, and Ryan, R-Wis., to "renounce publicly the claim that 'religious freedom' and 'religious liberty' are 'code words' or a 'pretext' for various forms of discrimination."
Last month, one of the signers, Charles Haynes, founding director of Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, held up Utah's efforts on behalf of religious freedom and nondiscrimination as an example of genuine balance between the two.
In 2015, with the blessing and encouragement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Utah Legislature approved a measure protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from housing and workplace discrimination while safeguarding some religious liberties.
"Peace between those who worry that religious claims are code for bigotry and those who seek religious accommodations will not be possible," Haynes wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece, "without setting aside name-calling, committing to civil dialogue and working for common-ground solutions."
Though the religious leaders' letter was addressed to Hatch as well as the other two officeholders, Utah's senior senator already has responded to the civil rights report.
"The report adopts a stunted and distorted version of religious liberty, suggesting that claims of religious conscience are little more than a cloak for bigotry and hatred," Hatch said. "I reject the false picture of religious liberty presented."