Natalie Cline, an outspoken conservative member of the state school board, could face official censure in her position after posting a message that was critical of LGBTQ students at a Utah high school — which also led some to threaten violence.
Cline shared a photo on her Facebook page this week with a picture of a Pride flag in a seminary building, where students who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can take classes during the school day. Most high schools in the state offer the faith-connected study program.
In her post, Cline shows a welcome sign at the seminary at Layton High School. It reads: “If you are LGBTQIA+ welcome to seminary!”
Cline identified the school by name and wrote, “Time to make some phone calls. The world is too much with us.”
The elected member of the Utah State Board of Education, who represents the southwestern part of Salt Lake County and a segment of Utah County, has previously stated her disapproval for any signs of acceptance of LGBTQ individuals in public schools.
Her latest message, though, sparked a new fire this time, coming shortly after an apostle for the LDS Church criticized members of the faith — particularly those at the church-sponsored Brigham Young University — who push back against the teachings on same-sex marriage.
In a speech that has created its own stir, the apostle urged faculty and staff to take up their intellectual “muskets” to defend the church, especially “the doctrine of the family and ... marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”
Cline’s post echoes that call, calling out the seminary Pride flag, and caught the attention of some members of the faith who are part of the alt-right #DezNat movement within the church, who picked up her message. One person shared a screenshot of Cline’s post with the comment: “Time to get out our muskets.”
On Tuesday, after the post had been shared widely on social media, the leadership of the Utah Board of Education released a statement condemning Cline’s words and saying her message does not represent the school board.
It notes possible discipline for Cline, too: “We are reviewing this post for potential board bylaw violations.”
The board’s three leaders — Mark Huntsman, Cindy Davis and Laura Belnap — have previously issued two other statements against Cline in the eight months since she took her seat in January, winning by a margin of 38 percentage points to represent District 11. This is the strongest comment to date.
The public body includes 15 members, who serve four-year terms and and oversee public education policy for K-12 schools in Utah.
The leadership has previously noted that because it is an elected position, they have no authority to remove Cline from her seat. But, if she is found to have violated the rules of decorum for members, she can be censured or the board can vote to formally disapprove of her comments. That is the most likely step to come next.
The statement from leadership notes that board members are allowed to express their thoughts freely as private citizens. But in posts on social media, they’re required to include a note that it does not represent the views of the board.
After she was first called out by the board in February for her social media posts, Cline has begun doing that. On her post this week, though, she left off that disclaimer.
The board leadership notes that in its statement, saying her message “contains no statement indicating the post is her personal opinion and not to be attributed to the board.”
The leaders note that the post does not reflect positions of the board, which has voted in recent months to denounce racism and support equity and inclusion in schools.
They add: “The board does not condone rhetoric that is in opposition to these public positions or that inspires any type of hate speech against students.”
Cline did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday from The Salt Lake Tribune.
The original post also appears to be deleted. She has left one up, though, that sends a similar message. On Aug. 18, she shared a photo of another Pride flag at a different school. She wrote: “Does this make YOUR child feel ‘safe’ and ‘included’ at school? Some claim that is the intent, but is it true? This is an important discussion as symbols like this are found in most, if not all, schools across our state.”
That one includes this note at the top, “Not official USBE Board position.”
Several groups have criticized Cline for her message, including Equality Utah. In a statement, the group’s Executive Director Troy Williams suggested that the board member’s “obsession with LGBTQ youth” is “disturbing.”
“She has been leading a one-woman crusade against our community ever since she was elected to the Utah State Board of Education,” Williams wrote. “Her dangerous rhetoric continues to incite hysteria and moral panic among Utah parents.”
Williams also called out the church apostle, Jeffrey Holland, for his statement, as well as Gregory Smith, a former candidate running for North Ogden City Council for adding onto Cline’s post.
Smith had shared Cline’s original message about the seminary on Twitter and added the threatening comment about getting out muskets. He also noted, “Bang bang time is running out!”
On Wednesday, in a conversation with The Tribune, he apologized. “I’m an idiot,” he said. “I’m clearly an idiot. … And I’m very sorry that I posted it.”
Smith deleted his account about six hours later, with a flood of backlash posts calling him “dangerous” and “terrible”. He said he’s never getting on Twitter again.
“I don’t like Pride flags, and I don’t think they belong in church buildings,” he added. “But I think LGBTQ people should be welcome in church. I know it’s especially hard for them.”
He continued: “I want them to be welcome in seminary. I don’t want to use a musket. I made a stupid joke. I’m dumb. I don’t have a defense.”
Smith, who did not end up on the ballot for council after finishing fifth among seven candidates for the seat, has previously come under fire for his connections to #DezNat.
DezNat is a movement of loosely affiliated, often anonymous social media users who defend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That sometimes translates into trolling former church members and members of the LGBTQ community. The DezNat term is short for Deseret Nation or Nationalism.
The church has previously stated that is not affiliated with and does not endorse #DezNat. Top church leaders have repeatedly condemned racism and white supremacy.
Cline has not used the hashtag. But she has twice before drawn attention for her social media posts.
That included in February when she called LGBTQ students “gender-confused” and referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as “indoctrination.” And again, in February, she attacked a teacher on social media — publicly posting the teacher’s name, the school where she works and accusing her, without offering evidence, of instructing students that “communism is better than our form of government.”