Handed down from Mount Tribune: Ten Commandments for the Utah Legislature

If lawmakers want a list of rules posted in public schools, here’s one for their own offices.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The House Chamber as the Utah Legislature in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 25, 2022.

State Rep. Mike Petersen, R-North Logan, thinks every public school in the state should display The Ten Commandments.

Yes, he proposed HB269, which would put this excruciatingly awful idea into law. Even though it would clearly amount to an unconstitutional establishment of religion by a public agency.

There is more than one version of The Ten Commandments out there. Petersen’s bill transcribes them thus:

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Honour thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet.”

If members of the Legislature are so keen to have a Top Ten list of rules posted somewhere important, perhaps a Ten Commandments for the Utah Legislature should be required for each legislative chamber, hearing room and member’s office?

We took a stab at such a document.

The Ten Legislative Commandments

I. Thou shalt always remember that thy duty is to the people of the state of Utah and put no private interests before them.

The Republican supermajority in both houses of the Legislature sometimes forgets that it is not in office to serve its own interests, or to help their friends with state contracts, weak regulations, tax codes that favor the rich or culture wars legislation that distracts too many voters from the real work of the state. In any representative democracy, the people come first.

II. Thou shalt not pledge thy loyalty to any politician, cult leader, business or campaign contributor.

The strength of lobbyists and donors to influence legislation is too great in any lawmaking body, Utah’s among them. The fear of some lawmakers that their reelection will be challenged in the next caucus or primary, or that they will lose the favor of a state or national demagogue too often distracts them from doing the people’s work.

III. Thou shalt not take the name of democracy in vain.

Utah’s political class has spent much time and energy over the past several years passing laws and rules that make each Utahn’s vote mean less and less. Legislative and congressional districts have been shamelessly gerrymandered to further protect the Republican supermajority and leave its incumbents unaccountable to the electorate. A ballot referendum calling for a nonpartisan means of drawing those districts is shoved aside. A popular and effective vote-by-mail system is criticized with false accusations of fraud and error. The constitutional power of the citizens to use the legislative power though initiatives and referenda is undermined with more and more difficult routes to the ballot. Those who gain office by elections should not pull the ladder up after them.

IV. Remember Utah’s many natural gifts and keep them sacred.

Individuals, households, even businesses and associations, cannot do much to protect the quality of our air and the quality and quantity of our water. It requires state action — legislation and funding — to make our air worthy of our children’s lungs and to keep the Great Salt Lake from becoming a pit of toxic dust that will drift across the already choking Wasatch Front. Yet, so far, not a single piece of legislation to improve Utah’s air quality has been put before the 2024 session.

Utah lawmakers should also stop trying to stir up the passions of their more vocal constituents by pretending that we have either the right, or the wisdom, to manage lands that by law and title belong, not to us, but to the people of the United States.

Our state’s natural resources, wonders and beauty are not only what make Utah what it is, they are also the foundation of a sustainable economy that will keep us going long after the last ton of coal or barrel of oil is extracted from the land.

V. Honor all fathers and mothers, and their children and grandchildren.

The simple fact is that not all families have the resources or ability to properly raise their children, no matter how much they may love them. It is no violation of parental authority or responsibility for the state to ensure that all of our families have access to affordable housing, physical and mental health care, nutrition and child care. Pretending that those are not the responsibility of government is to trap families in generations of poverty.

VI. Thou shalt not invade the physical autonomy of any person.

Our state’s political class worries far too much about what individuals and families are doing with their own bodies and health. Repeated efforts to limit or even end the right of women to choose abortion assumes that elected lawmakers know more about personal needs and medical science than do the individuals affected or their health care professionals. Their focus should be elsewhere.

VII. Thou shalt ensure the future prosperity of all of the people by providing education for all.

The ability of all Utahns to take full advantage of the life-building power of a good education is dependent on our Legislature to not only provide the necessary funding generally, but to take note of where educational offerings are falling short. Specifically, too many of our Native American neighbors and other minority groups are not getting the education they need.

Instead of feeding the right-wing political beast with nonsense legislation about funding private schools, banning books or stopping efforts at welcoming students and families of all description, our legislators must be doing all they can to build a public school system worthy of our state.

VIII. Thou shalt protect the needy, be they without shelter, food or necessary care for their physical or mental health.

The shameful number of homeless human beings on our streets has gone without sufficient action for far too long. Service centers and more emergency housing are finally being created, and getting people into housing is a necessary first step to helping them face their other problems and get on the road to self-sufficiency — or as close to that as each of them can manage. But the process has been slow and even good housing won’t be enough to help people who need physical and mental health care, treatment for addictions, sometimes even enough to eat. Seeing to the least of these must be a priority for our Legislature.

IX. Thou shalt not seek after power through division, for the welfare of all citizens is your responsibility.

Too much political discourse these days is about separating us into tribes and factions and not bringing us together as Americans, or Utahns. While outreach to bring minority and left-behind groups to the table remains in order — after 400 years of institutionalized racism — defining any group as “the other” is immoral and anti-democratic.

X. Thou shalt not covet power for its own sake, remembering always that serving the public is an honor.

Remember who you work for.