Republican senator draws ire on Twitter after saying Utah faiths have failed to care for the poor

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, speaks with Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, on the floor of the House of Representatives, Feb. 6, 2014. McCay last November was elected to the state Senate.

Utah Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, triggered a small storm on social media Saturday after posting about a coalition of faith and community leaders who are urging the Legislature to enact full Medicaid expansion under the voter-approved Proposition 3.

Suggesting an “alternative headline” to media coverage of the coalition, McCay derided the faith leaders for turning to the government after their religious organizations had, he said, failed to care for the poor.

“Alternative headline,” McCay wrote, “40 faith leaders acknowledge the failure of their faith to follow Jesus’ command to care for the poor and ask the government to be Christian.”

McCay ultimately deleted the twitter Monday afternoon, but not before dozens of Twitter users replied with comments critical of the senator’s tone.

“Mocking the religious beliefs of those from other faith traditions is not funny or appropriate,” wrote Bill Tibbitts, associate director of the Crossroads Urban Center.

Holly Richardson, a former Utah legislator and opinion contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, responded that McCay’s tweet “rings hollow.”

“Churches and church groups can only do so much,” Richardson wrote. “Haven’t yet seen a neighborhood bake sale that could raise enough money to pay for the in-home care of a severely disabled child.”

Some Twitter users suggested that McCay resign, or characterized his tweet as religious bigotry. McCay, like nine out of 10 Utah lawmakers, is a Latter-day Saint. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not among the faiths calling for lawmakers to let the voter-approved initiative stay on the books without a major overhaul.

Roughly eight hours after his initial tweet, McCay elaborated on his comments and began engaging with critics on the social media platform. Those additional comments by the senator were deleted on Monday as well.

“I’m sure none of these [faith] leaders prefers to turn to the government and wishes, like me, that our religious tenets would solve all problems,” McCay wrote.

Asked to comment, McCay told The Tribune he regrets that his tweet was worded poorly, and that the way it was interpreted does not reflect his feelings and intent.

“I want to highlight that it is frustrating when spiritual leaders need to call on the government because our religious tenants of caring for the poor are failing,” McCay said. “No one is so mean-spirited that they’d want anyone to be without care. Despite Prop 3 failing in my district, I’m working to respect the will of the voters to expand Medicaid while protecting the state budget.”