Veterans advocates are pushing back against the injection of partisan politics into Memorial Day events as occurred with U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and a Utah mayor during an event attended by about 300 people Monday in Woods Cross.
"It is not appropriate to use Memorial Day events to talk politics," Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis said Tuesday.
Terry Schow, former longtime director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs and fierce advocate for veterans, expressed a similar view.
Schow said people need to keep in mind the purpose of Memorial Day.
"At the end of the day, it’s to honor the war dead."
Woods Cross Mayor Rick Earnshaw, during the celebration in that Davis County city, praised Hatch for leading the fight to repeal "the unconstitutional individual mandate and other provisions in the $2.6 trillion health law called Obamacare."
Hatch, while devoting most of his 18-minute speech to the sacrifices of the military, members of their families and veterans, circled back to Obamacare to talk about the upcoming Supreme Court decision on whether a private company — Hobby Lobby — must provide insurance coverage for certain types of contraceptives that its owners say violate their religious views.
"I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t screw that up is all I can say. I don’t think they will but there is a 5-4 majority on the court right now that may not last forever. It might not even last ’til the end of this president’s tenure, which points to you how important 2016 may be. But don’t get too lost in that — 2014 is here," Hatch said.
"This may be the most important year in our country’s history, to see whether we’re going to have people who really believe in this flag, who really believe in the religious freedom that our Founding Fathers put in the First Amendment as the most important right, who are really not people who forget freedom and patriotism and the things that have made this county the most important country in the world."
The seven-term senator didn’t specifically prod people to vote for Republicans, but mentioned earlier in his speech that he had traveled the country working for candidates supported by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and encouraged everyone to vote.
Hatch also warned that if the Supreme Court were to "foul up" the Hobby Lobby case ruling, he would consider running a constitutional amendment. "I believe I can put one on that everybody in this country but the nuts can support."
Asked for a comment Tuesday, Hatch’s spokesman Matt Harakal said, "It’s a real shame that The Salt Lake Tribune chose to cherry-pick a few comments out of context instead of accurately [reporting] on the full message of Senator Hatch’s speech, which was honoring American heroes and their families who have given so much for this country."
Earnshaw, contacted Tuesday, said, "None of my remarks in my mind were political. … All I did was read the bio I was sent from Senator Hatch’s Office."
However, he said the description of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate as "unconstitutional" — the law was upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional — was not in the material provided by the senator.
Earnshaw, who has been in charge of many of the Memorial Day events for Woods Cross, noted this was the second appearance for Hatch and said he found his comments "appropriate" and based on his own political views.
"I didn’t put any credence into [those remarks] being a distractor" from the main purpose of the event, he said.
"It was one of the best Memorial Day celebrations our city has ever had," Earnshaw said. "There were nothing but great comments."
Utah Democratic Party spokeswoman Anna Thompson called the comments at a Memorial Day service "jaw dropping."
"It’s a real shame that Orrin Hatch chose to bring [partisan politicking] back to Utah and particularly to a Memorial Day event designed to honor our service men and women," Thompson said. "With all the proud things there are to say about Utah’s military men and women, it’s a shame Orrin Hatch missed that opportunity."
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