The Idaho Legislature adjourned on March 25. I am still feeling frustrated and unhappy about the issues our lawmakers consider vital, and the ones they appear unwilling to deal with.
Politics is usually thought of as separate from religion and spirituality, but it deals with moral and ethical issues that are the concern of all faiths. We of many faith traditions have a responsibility to keep an eye on our lawmakers and political leaders, to affirm just and compassionate behavior, to condemn its opposite.
Unfortunately, the Idaho Legislature has this year transgressed basic moral principles espoused by most faiths. The Legislature has acted, and failed to act, in ways that are morally bankrupt and fly in the face of the human, spiritual responsibility to take care of each other, especially the least among us.
There are two major issues that fell to the floor this session, apparently less important than guaranteeing that felons and mentally ill people can carry concealed weapons anywhere, or forbidding towns to raise the minimum wage in their own boundaries, or criticizing a fine attorney general for offering opinions based on law.
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One issue is the Add the Words legislation, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s existing Human Rights Act. Currently, a person may be fired or refused housing because of sexual orientation or gender identity. This ought to be a no-brainer — what sense does it make to discriminate in this way? I applaud Utah’s religious and civic leaders: the Mormon Church and secular leaders have worked to “add the words” to Utah’s Human Rights Act. Those words are now added, that particular discrimination now illegal. Why on earth can our legislators not do the same, and work with the many, many clergy and lay people who want to see justice done?
The other issue is health care. Our Legislature chose not to pass legislation that would bring health care to 78,000 of our neediest citizens, including a lot of children. Religious people from many traditions worked hard and long to persuade legislators of the importance of this issue, upon which the lives of some people literally depend. On behalf of the Inter-faith Alliance, religious leaders delivered a letter signed by more than 80 faith leaders, to the governor and to Senate and House heads. This letter urged our lawmakers to do the right thing, to act with equity, justice and compassion and put people before politics.
They did not act.
It can be depressing, angering and bewildering, that our Legislature refuses actions that improve the lives of its citizens, particularly those who have been neglected and oppressed. I plan to get more deeply involved in speaking and working for justice and compassion, before and during the next legislative session. I am hoping to be joined by more and more people concerned about the unfairness perpetrated by Idaho lawmakers.
I have seen our state move in compassionate, fair directions in the past, and I have faith that compassion and fairness can be brought forward through passage of Add the Words and access to health care for our poorest citizens — if we work to persuade and convince our lawmakers. These are not partisan issues, mingling church and state inappropriately. These are issues of human lives, human dignity — truly religious issues, and also deeply fundamental to government.
Let us not give up hope. Let us continue to live our faiths, by reaching out in the name of justice, equity and compassion.
Rev. Elizabeth Greene is Minister Emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.