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Op-ed: Let’s keep the Creator in our national monuments

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Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah.

Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah.


People across the country and the world recognize that Utah is blessed with some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on earth. For Mormons and other Christians, these spectacular examples of God’s handiwork enrich our lives, help promote cherished values of humility, self-reliance and personal responsibility and reinforce faith in our Creator.

It is no surprise that early settlers saw these wonders as evidence of God and gave them faith-inspired names such as Zion Canyon, Angels Landing, Great Temple, Cathedral Mountain and Jericho Ridge.

Motivated by his faith to protect the creation, this state’s first Mormon U.S. senator, LDS apostle Reed Smoot, strongly supported the Antiquities Act and was instrumental in creating the national park system. He was also good friends with President Theodore Roosevelt, a devout Christian and a fellow Republican who shared Smoot’s strong stewardship ethic.

By contrast, consider current efforts to fight against safeguarding these creations. Take HR3990 for example. This bill tries to rewrite the 112-year-old Antiquities Act by redefining the term “object of antiquity” to exclude “objects not made by humans.”

The bill aims to block the protection of anything made by God.

In Orwellian fashion, the legislation is titled “National Monument Creation and Protection Act.” It does exactly the opposite. Too many local Utah politicians seem to loath the Antiquities Act.

In a 2015 speech, Rep. Rob Bishop, a sponsor of HR3990, said: “If anyone here likes the Antiquities Act the way it is written, die, I mean (get) stupidity out of the gene pool.” He then referred to the law as “the most evil act ever invented.” We hope Rep. Bishop was deploying hyperbole for rhetorical purposes.

While one can reasonably disagree with laws, it is hard to square faith-based stewardship obligations with disdain for time-tested tools that allow us to safeguard America’s natural and cultural heritage from unfettered exploitation and plunder.

The Antiquities Act reflects the faith, wisdom and foresight of the law’s author, the late-Republican Congressman John Lacey of Iowa as well as Sen. Smoot and other Republicans who pushed it through Congress, and President Roosevelt who signed it into law.

If passed, HR3990 will shut down the Antiquities Act and make national monument designation practically impossible — not just in Utah, but nationwide.

For perspective, if, in 1908, the Antiquities Act had left God’s handiwork out of consideration, Roosevelt could not have protected the Grand Canyon. Sen. Smoot and President Taft could not have used the act to protect Zion Canyon, the centerpiece of what is now Zion National Park.

In fact, under Bishop’s approach, every one of Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks, Zion (including Kolob Canyon), Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef and Canyonlands, would have all remained unprotected. These wonders of creation, with their magnificent beauty and intricate design, are important evangelical tools that man can never replicate. People of faith should be their most ardent defenders.

As one wise religious leader once pointed out, “Nature helps us to see and understand God. To all His creations we owe an allegiance of service and a profound admiration. … Love of nature is akin to the love of God; the two are inseparable.”

Furthermore, those who work against the Antiquities Act and other efforts to promote conservation and earth stewardship pursue their agenda despite polling that shows the vast majority of Americans love national monuments and support the Antiquities Act. A national poll by McLaughlin & Associates late last year found that 90 percent of all Americans — and 85 percent of Republicans — support keeping existing national monument designations in place or increasing their number.

Smoot, Roosevelt and Lacey were Christian stewards and patriots. Their actions were the epitome of reverence. The dogged determination to undermine their accomplishments, on the other hand, is the definition of impious.

Christian author and poet T.S. Elliot got it right when he pointed out, “A wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God.