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In an era marked by rising religious polarity, hostility toward immigrants and refugees, and bouts of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Utah legislators are standing up at least symbolically for civility and tolerance.
On Monday, Gov. Gary Herbert ceremoniously affixed his signature on a concurrent resolution, "Guarding the Civil Liberties and Freedoms for All American People."
In the resolution, the governor and lawmakers commit to "protect the civil liberties, religious freedoms, [constitutional rights] and dignity of all Americans, legal immigrants, and refugees seeking protection against persecution."
The key to "America's greatness is America's goodness," Herbert said in the event's opening remarks. "It is tied to how we treat each other [we have seen] a lack of civility on both sides of the political aisle."
The governor praised Utah's growing religious and ethnic diversity, noting that more than 120 languages are spoken in the state.
Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, who sponsored the resolution, noted that his grandfather came to the Beehive State as an immigrant to work on the railroad. His wife's relatives, he said, came as Mormon pioneers, seeking refuge from persecution.
Immigrants contribute much to the state, he said.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek and the resolution's floor sponsor, pointed to some 150 recent threats against Jewish institutions in particular, including one in Utah.
In late January, for instance, bomb threats targeted Jewish facilities nationwide, including Salt Lake City's I.J. and Jeanné Wagner Jewish Community Center.
Such scares are meant to "spread fear and division," Arent said. "We must speak out. We cannot let these be normalized. We must oppose all forms of intolerance. We need to work together to put a stop to hateful acts."
Khosrow Semnani, community philanthropist and businessman, came to Utah from Iran nearly five decades ago. He was headed to California, he said, but liked Utah more.
The state is "unique," Semnani said. "It is a model, in many ways, of tolerance and openness to minorities."
More than 70 religious and community leaders were on hand in the Gold Room of the state Capitol for the speeches, the signing and the singing by the Bulbuli Children's Choir (Islamic Society of the Bosniaks) including a sweet rendition of "America the Beautiful," by mostly young girls in headscarves.
These singers "are the future," Herbert said. "That's why it's bright, indeed."
Responding to Semnani's quip about having an accent, the governor said, "We all speak with an accent. Mine's from Utah County."
Much more remains to be done in the community to curb these tensions, he said. "We need to work together each in our own center of influence to make sure there is civility and goodness for all."
The resolution issues no mandate against hateful, divisive actions, Pamela Atkinson said, but the longtime advocate for the homeless was pleased by what she called a "first step."
It expressed important sentiments despite being little more than a symbolic gesture, said Jean Hill of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. The wording shows the world that such mean-spiritedness and incivility are "not who we are."
Imam Muhammed Mehtar of the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City applauded Herbert's injunction to see the good in others.
People of all faiths, he said, "can make a major difference in Utah."