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Sen. Harry Reid, the most powerful Latter-day Saint in the federal government, added his voice Friday to the chorus of those applauding and defending the singer who resigned from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rather than perform at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration.
Jan Chamberlin, a member of the famed group for five years, sent a resignation letter to the choir president and her fellow singers Thursday, saying she could not participate in any event that seemed to be an endorsement of a man she considers a bigot.
"I understand completely the difficult choice Jan had to make," Reid told The Salt Lake Tribune. "She loves the choir, she loves to sing, she loves to promote the values she holds dear, and she loves her church the same church that Trump's top adviser, Steve Bannon, mocked when he ridiculed Mitt Romney's sons."
Chamberlin, who won cheers and jeers for her exit, "refuses to be part of the wave of hatred unleashed by Donald Trump," the Nevada Democrat wrote. "She should not be castigated or repudiated for acting on her sincere beliefs."
These days, many Americans "will have to make equally difficult decisions," added the outgoing Senate minority leader. "I admire and support the people like Jan who reject tyranny and fascism and do what they can to stand up for what is right."
The decision to leave the choir was not easy for Chamberlin.
"Since 'the announcement,' I have spent several sleepless nights and days in turmoil and agony. I have reflected carefully on both sides of the issue, prayed a lot, talked with family and friends, and searched my soul," she wrote in the resignation letter she posted on Facebook. "I've tried to tell myself that by not going to the inauguration, that I would be able to stay in choir for all the other good reasons. I've tried to tell myself that it will be all right and that I can continue in good conscience before God and man."
But she could not do it, Chamberlin wrote. "I could never look myself in the mirror again with self-respect."
The choir's participation would "severely damage" its "image and networking," she said, adding that many "good people throughout this land and throughout the world already do and will continue to feel betrayed. ... I know that I too feel betrayed."
For the singer, who did not respond to Tribune requests Thursday and Friday for an interview, it was a moral issue. "I only know I could never 'throw roses to Hitler.' And I certainly could never sing for him."
A petition started by a lifelong Mormon and calling on the choir to bow out of the inauguration has now topped 26,000 signatures.
Others back the group's appearance and have lambasted Chamberlin. She wrote late Thursday on Facebook that she had been attacked as bigoted, self-righteous, closed-minded, disrespectful, unpatriotic and unfaithful to God.
She then took steps to limit access to her social media account to "friends," blocking the public from seeing either the resignation letter she initially posted or her commentary on the response.
But Reid is in her corner. Complaining that the president-elect's campaign appealed "to the worst side of human nature," the longtime senator said he has "called on Trump to reject hatred and tell his supporters that every person in America has the right to pursue the American Dream, but he has chosen not to do so."
That poses a problem to many Americans, Reid said, who normally would want to celebrate democracy during the swearing-in of a new president, but fear they cannot do so without also endorsing Trump's "racism, xenophobia and misogyny."
Reid is retiring from the Senate after serving 30 years in office, including a stint as the chamber's majority leader.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors the choir, pointed to nonpartisan, democratic principles as reasons for accepting the inaugural invitation.
"It is a demonstration of our support for freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power," church spokesman Eric Hawkins has said, noting that choir members can choose whether to participate at the Jan. 20 event.
Not all 360 singers will make the trip, but church officials have said about 215 are expected to volunteer.