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The Salt Lake City police officer who was placed on paid leave last year after refusing to ride his motorcycle in the Pride Parade has taken a fundraising and community-outreach job with the Sutherland Institute.

Perhaps teaming up with one of the most vocal antagonists to the gay-rights movement was Eric Moutsos' true calling all along.

In an email Sutherland sent to newsletter subscribers recently, Moutsos said that after he was placed on leave, he quit the department, citing its "hostile" environment.

"We [Moutsos and his family] wanted to be part of the solution, so no one else would ever have to experience what we were going through," he wrote. "It was then that I was introduced to Sutherland Institute through a mutual friend, which was a great blessing to me."

Moutsos noted that his assignment was to ride at the head of the parade and perform "celebratory maneuvers in my police uniform and on my police motorcycle."

Because of his religious convictions, he said he did not feel comfortable with that task and asked to switch for a lower-profile job such as traffic control or security. He said such swaps were customary, but "for reasons known only to them, the department subsequently took my badge and gun and, through the media, publicly accused me of bigotry, saying that police officers should leave their personal beliefs at home."

For the record, the police department did not release Moutsos' name when it announced it placed an officer on leave for refusing the assignment.

Chief Chris Burbank told me Moutsos never brought up the religious argument until the legislative session, seven months after he resigned — when lawmakers were considering a religious-liberties bill.

"All I heard was he didn't want to ride because of the gay people," Burbank said. "I then placed him on paid leave because I needed to make sure he could be an effective officer" without biases getting in the way.

Dave Buer, Sutherland's director of communications, however, said he has interdepartmental emails that were written before the parade in which Moutsos' religious concerns were brought up.

Burbank said the department did not dock Moutsos' pay, but the officer chose to quit after being placed on leave. The chief agreed that switching assignments is common, but for scheduling conflicts — if, say, an officer's family is going on vacation and he needs to swap shifts.

"That's not what happened in this case. He just didn't want to ride in that parade," Burbank said. "It's my job to protect the integrity of the department, and that means making sure biases" don't affect the job.

In the email, Moutsos listed a phone number and invited subscribers to call him to learn more. When I phoned, I was routed to Buer, who told me the conservative Salt Lake City think tank and Moutsos got to know each other during the legislative session, when anti-discrimination and religious freedom were under discussion.

Several years ago, Sutherland published a natural-family treatise describing a legitimate family as a husband, a wife and a "full quiver of children," and urged local governments to adopt the document. Kanab City Council adopted the resolution, triggering calls by some outdoor and tourism publications to boycott the southern Utah city.

Sutherland also had a tight relationship with lawyer Gene Schaerr, who was hired by the Utah attorney general's office to defend the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Schaerr was unsuccessful, but has joined a coalition filing briefs opposing gay marriage with the U.S. Supreme Court.

He recently drew fire from Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank for arguing that same-sex marriage would diminish the interest in marriage among heterosexuals, leading to many unmarried women and eventually 900,000 abortions.

Sutherland also has worked closely with Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, who sponsored the resolution to get the since-overturned same-sex marriage ban on the ballot in 2004. This year, he pushed a bill that essentially would have allowed folks to freely discriminate against certain groups if it was to protect their religious beliefs.

Had that measure passed, Moutsos may have been able to sue the Salt Lake City Police Department.


Didn't get the memo? • Gov. Gary Herbert has said that scarce winter snowfall could result in water rationing this summer. So it was curious that, after three days of steady rainfall, the sprinklers at the Utah Department of Workforce Services were watering the already-soaked lawn Monday morning.

So much for leading by example.