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Op-ed: World Congress of Families is not a hate group

By Paul Mero

First Published Jul 07 2014 04:56 pm • Last Updated Jul 07 2014 04:56 pm

On Aug. 15, 2012, Floyd Corkins walked into the Washington, D.C., office of the Family Research Council armed with a handgun, intent on killing staff. Fortunately, the security guard he shot was able to disarm Corkins before he hurt any others. The gunman was upset with the Family Research Council’s pro-family politics. As it turns out, the council was listed in 2010 as a "hate group" for its pro-family politics by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Corkins told the FBI he went to the SPLC website to find "anti-gay groups" he could target.

Sutherland Institute is the local host and administrator for the ninth World Congress of Families (WCF), to be held in Salt Lake City next year. The WCF and its corporate owner, The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, also have the dubious distinction of being labeled a "hate group" by the SPLC.

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Historically, the SPLC has been a respected civil rights organization. In recent years, the SPLC has adopted LGBT rights as a cause. Unfortunately, it now seems to equate honest public policy opposition to that cause as tantamount to racism. And after the overheated rhetoric on Utah radio from a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign about our bringing "thousands of extremists" to Utah, I have to wonder where that kind of talk might lead.

The World Congress of Families is about one thing and one thing only: A celebration that family is the fundamental unit of society. Its longstanding statement on family is pulled directly from Article 16-3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations — hardly a "hate group."

The WCF overseers serve in a role akin to that of the International Olympic Committee, accepting bids from local organizing groups to host an official WCF conference. Sutherland Institute submitted a proposal to host a conference in 2015, and the proposal was accepted.

As a vice president at the time for The Howard Center, I administered the second WCF gathering in Geneva in 1999. For several years, since joining Sutherland Institute, I have proudly served on the five-member management committee of the WCF. In other words, I know it well.

Since its initial gathering in 1997, the WCF has hosted world political and religious leaders, among them general authorities and women leaders from the LDS Church, Catholic cardinals, presidents of Baptist seminaries and conventions, U.S. ambassadors, United Nation officials, deputy prime ministers, the first lady of Mexico, and even Middle East royalty.

The WCF interfaith outreach is a model of organizing. It is, in a word, inclusive: People of orthodox faiths set aside their deep religious differences to unite around family as the fundamental unit of society.

It is a remarkably uplifting coalition, if a tenuous one, in a day and age of deep religious and political divisions.

Because of my writings and speeches about the essential ingredients of faith and family to American freedom, including candid debate over LGBT rights, Sutherland Institute and I have been accused of "hate." These accusations are false and dangerous — and anyone who is familiar with Sutherland’s championing of our neighbors in need (poverty policy) and Utah’s undocumented population (immigration policy), and my personal and unapologetic leadership in these matters, should know better than to believe any politicized accusations of hate.

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In 15 years of association with the WCF I have witnessed only inclusiveness and generosity. I have never seen hate there. Yes, there are policy disagreements, deep policy disagreements. In hosting and administering its ninth international gathering, I see my leadership role as reuniting an often distracted pro-family community around the WCF’s historical objectives. To be clear, Sutherland Institute is solely responsible for the ninth WCF.

Salt Lake City is the ideal venue to host this international family gathering. We certainly know the value in recognizing family as the fundamental unit of society.

To those who view life and politics differently, you are obviously welcome to host your own conferences, parades and other celebrations of your beliefs. Will you afford the WCF family, and the vast majority of Utahns who believe that family is the fundamental unit of society, the same dignity, tolerance and compassion you have so passionately asked of the majority?

Paul Mero is president of Sutherland Institute.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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