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Is religious bigotry alive and well in Salt Lake City?

Salt Lake City is one of the most liberal metropolitan areas of the country. So it is ironic and unfortunate that a mayoral candidate’s religion has become an issue. We explore what is happening.

Deseret News composite photo.

Salt Lake City is one of the most liberal metropolitan areas of the country. So it is ironic and unfortunate that a mayoral candidate’s religion has become an issue. We explore what is happening.

For weeks, a whisper campaign has swirled around the fact that Sen. Luz Escamilla is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This criticism did not come from the Erin Mendenhall campaign, but from others. The matter erupted publicly in social media and in the news media when a high-profile Utah liberal posted on Facebook, “Now we are threatened with the prospect of a Mormon mayor (Escamilla) who seems to be willing to do the bidding of the church …” Is it appropriate to make the faith of a candidate an election issue with the implication she will do the bidding of her church and not of constituents?

Pignanelli: “Religion doesn’t make people bigots. People are bigots and they use religion to justify their ideology.” — Reza Aslan

Religious tolerance is universally defined as “willing to recognize and respect others’ beliefs, practices, etc., while not sharing them.” A bigot practices the opposite, and is characterized as an intolerant person. Statements that Escamilla will not act thoughtfully as mayor but instead “do the bidding of the church” are condemnations based on her religion. Replace “Mormon” with “Jew” or “Catholic” or “Gay” or “Black”, etc. and the appalling nature of the statements are further clarified. Those who espouse or condone such condemnations against Escamilla are bigots.

The Mendenhall campaign commendably refuses to engage in such sleazy antics. So, these “enlightened” bigots are employing fifth column tactics in social media to enrage other narrow-minded haters. Sponsors of this sludge are no better than the white supremacists and anti-Semitics plaguing our society.

Fortunately, this fraudulent intelligentsia are a minority in our open-minded, tolerant and wonderful state.

Webb: Escamilla checks off every box any liberal Salt Lake City voter could wish for. To oppose her simply because she belongs to the predominant faith is the definition of religious bigotry.

As a Republican living in downtown Salt Lake City, both Escamilla and Mendenhall are too liberal for me. However, I believe both of them are fine people with integrity and passion for the city and its residents. To effectively lead the city, either of them will need to work with the church, the Republicans and the Legislature. I believe either can do so cooperatively and effectively.

Anyone who has worked with Escamilla knows she is a liberal Democrat who fights for liberal causes. Born in Mexico, she has a compelling personal story. She fought long odds to make her life a success and has spent much of her career serving minority communities. To her credit, she also places family and faith as guiding influences in her life.

Mendenhall is also a solid, hard-working candidate with broad city council experience, a proven track record, and good relationships with all stakeholders.

In 2018, Rep. Patrice Arent’s election opponent injected religion into the campaign by quoting a well-known battle cry from the Book of Mormon. Arent is Jewish. Numerous LDS adherents (including Gov. Gary Herbert and this newspaper) publicly defended Arent and criticized such tactics. No such outpouring from nonmembers or liberals have condemned the attacks on Escamilla. Is there a double standard in Utah on religious discrimination?

Pignanelli: It was a proud day in Utah when, without hesitation, many church members across the political spectrum denounced this intolerance against Arent. The attack against Escamilla was more direct and personal. Yet, other than an articulate statement from Mendenhall, an op-ed piece in the Tribune and the occasional tweet, there was silence — especially from the left.

Double standard is a kind phrase for hypocrisy running in the undercurrent of Utah politics. Most church members observe this but are too kind in responding. We nonmembers, who possess affection for church members’ incredible legacy of generosity and courage, must openly confront this vile hate in order to destroy it.

Webb: The progressive community ought to take a hard look at itself and do some soul-searching. Even with significant policy and doctrinal disagreements on certain issues, I know the church seeks common ground, productive dialogue and real compassion. Is the progressive community willing to reciprocate?

Some believed that “anti-Mormon” sentiment was dissipating in the capital city. Is this true?

Pignanelli: Because hostilities were not open, many observers fantasized a peace among the tribes. But these recent actions demonstrate the ridiculous animosity percolating in the sewers.

Webb: One only has to pay a bit of attention to social media to see the bigotry and hostility aimed at the predominant church. But I don’t think it exists in large measure among intelligent people who are actively involved in the community. Millions of church members and people of other faiths or no faith at all work side by side in employment and many other causes with mutual respect and admiration.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: