Salt Lake City — (KUTV) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a statement responding to a bill on Utah's Capitol Hill that would toughen penalties for hate crimes and specifically protects LGBT and transgender people from those crimes.
Senate Bill 107 defines a hate crime as any offense committed against someone because of their ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
"The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year in arriving at legislation that protected both religious liberty rights and LGBT rights," said church spokesman Dale Jones in a statement Wednesday afternoon which was released in response to media inquiries. "Interests from both ends of the political spectrum are attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained."
An LDS spokesman told 2News the church considers the hate crimes bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, as one of those attempts to alter the balance. The bill passed out of committee last week 5 to 1 and is now before the full Senate.
The church spokesman did not provide any other specific instances where it feels the "balance" achieved by last year's Senate Bill 296 -- which forbid discrimination against the LGBT community in housing and employment while also protecting religious liberty -- has been altered.
Urquhart, the hate crimes bill sponsor, declined to comment Wednesday to the LDS church's statement. He and other supporters of his bill plan to respond Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at the State Capitol.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who voted against the bill last week in committee, said he is not surprised the church is commenting.
RELATED: Hate crimes bill clears Utah legislative committee
"I think we make the best policy when every stakeholder weighs in and gives us their opinions," Weiler said.
The lawmaker wondered if the hate crimes bill may come too soon after last year when the Legislature adopted a landmark law forbidding housing and employment discrimination for the LGBT community.
"What I think a lot of people are asking was, if they get hate crimes this year, then what are they going to be coming back next year for and then the year after that," Weiler said, adding he partially feels that way too. "I think that's certainly one of the factors at play here."
Urquhart has said his legislation is a natural extension of last year's work with LGBT rights. Critics have said the bill would criminalize thoughts and beliefs and goes too far.
So how many hate crimes happen in Utah? According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, 62 were reported last year. Of those, 41 were racially motivated and 19 targeted victims based on religion.
Two hate crimes were reported targeting members of the LGBT community in 2014, according to the statistics.