Should Utahns have a constitutional right to privacy? House lawmakers say no.

Proposed amendment to Utah’s constitution declaring privacy an inalienable right was defeated by the Utah House.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, in the committee room before presenting HB371, which rolls back mail voting on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022.

The Utah House killed a proposal to enshrine a right to privacy in the state constitution.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, argued it’s increasingly essential for the government to explicitly recognize privacy as an inalienable right, which is what his HJR10 aims to do.

“What we’re running into is people are making the argument if rights are not listed, maybe they’re not inherent,” Lyman argued. “We need to make sure this right is listed in the current culture.”

Several of Lyman’s colleagues were skeptical. Some suggested privacy concerns could be handled in statute rather than elevating them to the state constitution. Others worried it might lead to unintended consequences.

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, said enshrining an absolute right to privacy in the Utah Constitution could lead to a breakdown in the social order.

“People say they want more freedom, but what they’re really after is freedom from law. They don’t want the state telling them what to do, whether it’s a vaccination or anything else. If you take this to the logical conclusion, freedom from law is chaos and anarchy,” Nelson warned.

Nelson said a constitutional right to privacy could be used to challenge any number of laws that govern private conduct, including a ban on viewing or possessing child pornography.

Following up on that line of logic, Rep. Tim Hawkes, R-Centerville, suggested laws governing abortion might be affected.

“The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade was premised on this idea of a right to privacy that is not guaranteed in the Constitution. If we adopt this language, does it change our understanding of an issue like abortion? I think that’s a fair question,” Hawkes said.

Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, argued Lyman’s resolution is needed, especially in light of “cancel culture.”

“More and more, our lives are becoming transparent to everyone. Not everyone gets to be in your business all the time, and it’s time we recognize that right in our state constitution,” Brammer said.

Ultimately, the majority was unconvinced, and the bill fell on a 32-42 vote.

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