In 1850, my great- great-great-great-grandfather wrote a letter to his family in Manchester, England. He left the year before to join with other LDS Church members in Salt Lake City, and began working and saving so that he could pay for members of his family to join him. In a letter to his wife, William Luke wrote: "I got here in September after enduring many hardships… But this is the place for a man to make a livelihood, where justice is dealt to every man."
The City Council two weeks ago wrestled with making an appropriate response to the Days of ’47’s decision not to allow Mormons Building Bridges to participate in the July 24 parade. Traditionally, the City Council has been invited to join the parade, and has relished being part of Utah’s most revered local holiday. I, along with some of my other colleagues, am a descendant of the very pioneers the parade honors, and their determination in the face of hardship is a treasured memory.
Mormons Building Bridges is one organization that is standing for our common humanity in a time marked largely by underlining our differences. The organization asks us to look through things that might divide us to see the shared connection we all have as people. The group’s inclusion in the parade seems appropriate because Mormons Building Bridges shares Utah’s hard-won culture, its ideals, and its forbears.
Left with an option of making a pointed statement by boycotting the July 24 parade, the Council chose to continue to be part of the parade but to write a letter urging Days of ’47 to reconsider Mormons Building Bridges’ application. The letter included neither threats nor ultimatums. We made the decision in a public meeting after discussing it in public.
On June 3, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah sent us a letter saying to boycott the parade was preferable to writing a letter. Their letter said, "But we believe it is a bridge too far for a governmental entity to use official tactics, like sending a letter on Council letterhead that mentions municipal code, in its attempt to influence private parade organizers to alter the makeup of their parade."
I believe elected officials have a duty to speak out regarding issues of importance – whether related to air quality, bullying, or injustice. City attorneys agree with that First Amendment right. A City Council boycott of the July 24 parade would be like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. We chose to join the community in its celebration of our shared heritage, while stating our position, and encouraging the committee to revisit theirs.
I hope we can return to the focus of the Days of ’47 as a celebration of the bravery and sacrifice of all pioneers. While 1847 is the year the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake valley, the spirit is also shared by the pioneers who fled to Plymouth Rock, who sailed in chains to Charleston, who found refuge on Ellis Island and San Francisco, who crossed rivers and deserts to find the fulfillment our nation promises, as well as those who have stood for equality – regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. Everyone is entitled to that promise. Everyone watching the July 24 parade should feel they belong to our community, for as my great-great-great-great-grandfather said, Salt Lake City is a place "where justice is dealt to every man" and woman and child.
Charlie Luke represents Salt Lake City Council District 6.
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