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Leavitt's lessons: State archivist is right to keep those records open

Published January 1, 2008 2:13 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When then-Gov. Mike Leavitt delivered his second inaugural address in January 1997, a speech laden with references to God, Mormon folklore and the governor's views on divinely inspired civic morality, we were taken aback.

We questioned in this space whether he could preach his gospel of civic virtue "without compromising his role as chief executive of a civil government pledged to religious neutrality."

What we didn't know at the time was that this speech, and Leavitt's civic virtues campaign that followed, were the products of "Early Morning Seminary" classes the governor convened with some of his closest advisers to pore over the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and draw from them lessons about public policy.

That revelation came when The Salt Lake Tribune obtained copies of papers from the state archives that Leavitt has sought to suppress. We believe, however, that when the leaders of their state government are reading scriptures to mine guiding principles for public policy, the people have a right to know that. There is no valid reason why that information should be guarded as a secret, and the state archivist ruled correctly on Monday to keep those papers public.

That transparency is particularly important in Utah, where the line of separation between the government and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a perennial issue and where that church and the ruling Republican Party are seen to be closely identified one with the other.

We hasten to add that the civic values that Leavitt preached in 1997 are pretty much universal. They could be derived from studying any number of sacred or secular books.

The rub comes when those values are applied to specific policies. If, for example, you are in favor of marriage because it stabilizes the family and creates a solid partnership to raise children, are you then in favor of gay marriage?

When Leavitt asserted in his 1997 address that the Founding Fathers knew from history that morality must be based on a belief in a supreme being, he strayed from the role of chief executive and into a field better left to theologians and philosophers. He was elected to be the state's chief executive, not its preacher.

That's the real history lesson the founders learned, that combining the powers of the church and those of the state often has led to intolerance and bloodshed. A wise chief executive will bear that in mind, especially in Utah.




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