The Utah Board of Education has disciplined one of its most outspoken and conservative members, Natalie Cline, in response to her social media post last month that was critical of LGBTQ students and led some of her followers to threaten violence.
The board’s leadership issued a letter of reprimand to Cline for her message, and the full board voted to affirm that action during its meeting Thursday. It is the first time the board, which oversees public K-12 education in the state, has ever taken disciplinary action against a member.
“Your divisive rhetoric has repeatedly marginalized the LGBTQIA+ community,” the letter reads. “Instead of sending messages of dignity, respect, safety, hope, and inclusion regarding a marginalized community, your social media posts convey an attitude of prejudice, exclusion, and scorn for a population of students that suffers disproportionally with incidents of bullying, depression, and suicide.”
It is the strongest response yet from the board, which has repeatedly tried to distance itself from Cline’s controversial comments on the LGBTQ community, the Black Lives Matter movement, and unfounded allegations of teachers indoctrinating students with lessons about communism.
The board’s three leaders — Mark Huntsman, Cindy Davis and Laura Belnap — have issued statements against Cline in two previous incidents in the eight months since she took her seat. This is the first time they have formally undertaken a discipline process, concluding that she violated the board’s bylaws.
They have previously noted that the board cannot remove Cline from her seat, because she was elected by voters to serve a four-year term; she won in November, the first partisan elections for the board, by a margin of 38 percentage points to represent District 11.
Members can, however, be censured, or the board can vote to formally disapprove of her comments. The leaders note in the letter that they disagree with many of Cline’s actions and social media posts.
“Since being sworn in as a board member approximately eight months ago, you have engendered controversy, frustration, and anger toward the board, certain schools, certain educators, and certain student populations with statements you have posted on your social media regarding our LGBTQIA+ community,” the letter notes.
Cline did not respond to requests for comment Friday from The Salt Lake Tribune.
The full board approved the letter after a closed session Thursday night to discuss Cline’s character. When they came back to a public meeting, they voted 12-2, with Cline and fellow conservative board member Jennie Earl voting against. Member James Moss abstained.
None of the members commented then. But the letter states that Cline’s messages do not represent the board. It has recently voted, as a body, to denounce racism and support equity and inclusion in schools.
The Tribune received a copy of the letter through a public records request.
In her most recent post that drew the formal reprimand, Cline shared a photo on her Facebook page 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 religious 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!”
She then identified the school by name and wrote, “Time to make some phone calls. The world is too much with us.”
Cline, who represents the southwestern part of Salt Lake County and a segment of Utah County, previously stated her disapproval of 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, apostle Jeffrey R. Holland 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, calling out the seminary Pride flag, caught the attention of some Latter-day Saints who are part of the #DezNat movement. Some of these self-appointed defenders of the church picked up on her message. One person shared a screenshot of Cline’s post with the comment: “Time to get out our muskets.” That individual, Gregory Smith, a former candidate for North Ogden City Council, has since apologized and deleted his Twitter account.
But the leadership for the Utah Board of Education said the threats from him and others that followed Cline’s original message caused Davis School District — which includes Layton High School — to hire additional security to patrol campuses “to discourage potential violence.”
The leaders said in the letter to Cline: “This happened because of your post.”
Board members are allowed to express their thoughts freely as private citizens. But in posts on social media, they are 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 last month, though, she left off that disclaimer.
The board’s leaders added in closing to their letter of reprimand to Cline: “We hope that in the future you would be more circumspect and mindful of all of Utah’s students when posting about sensitive issues.”