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Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch says he didn't intend to upset people with comments that ventured briefly into politics during a Memorial Day commemoration in Woods Cross.
"If I offended anybody, I certainly apologize because it would make me feel really badly that I did," Hatch said in an interview Wednesday with KUTV-Channel 2.
"I certainly didn't mean to be political, but one of the points I made was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. … There was a lot of applause throughout the remarks they were off the cuff."
The comments of Hatch and some of the introductory remarks by Woods Cross Mayor Rick Earnshaw stirred controversy for seeming to cross a line into politicizing a nonpartisan community event.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars and longtime Utah veterans advocate Terry Schow said Memorial Day commemorations should be reserved for honoring the war dead.
Most of Hatch's 18-minute speech was dedicated to hailing the sacrifices of military men and women and their families. But near the end of his remarks, he ranged into discussing the upcoming Supreme Court case involving Hobby Lobby, the company fighting on religious-liberty grounds a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to include contraceptive coverage in their employee insurance plans.
The senator complained of "liberal" judges, talked about the importance of the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections and said he would run a constitutional amendment if the Supreme Court were to "foul up" the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.
While the seven-term Republican senator said he had no intention of straying into politics, his office sent the standard politics-laced biographical summary to Earnshaw for purposes of introducing Hatch.
It read in part:
"Senator Hatch continues to lead in the fight to repeal the unconstitutional individual mandate and other provisions in the $2.6 trillion health law called Obamacare. He is on the front lines of legislative battles to secure the nation's borders, stop the forced unionization of American workers and to bring fiscal restraint back to Washington by ending the reckless spending that threatens to bankrupt the nation."
Earnshaw said Thursday he hadn't reviewed the material in advance and read it as provided, realizing too late that it had a partisan flavor.
"It was not my intent to politicize the event and it never has been," said the mayor, who along with his wife has spearheaded the Woods Cross Memorial Day event for 18 years.
He regretted the controversy but also said he took a lesson from it.
"I've learned a lot from this experience. I'm not going to not invite key figures or politicians but I am going to ask them to keep their comments to the issue at hand."
Earnshaw said he views the Memorial Day event and always has as a "solemn memorial-type celebration that isn't commercialized to celebrate what our servicemen and women have done for us."