Utah newspaper slams the state’s public assistance program for violating 'the First Amendment'

Utah newspaper slams the state’s public assistance program for violating 'the First Amendment'
Mitt Romney in 2011, Gage Skidmore

The United States in general has a weaker social safety net than major developed countries in Europe, but red states are especially bad — and that includes Utah, where public assistance for the poor is hard to come by. And the Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board, in a scathing editorial published on December 3, not only slams Utah’s Republican-dominated government for its lack of public assistance, but also, for suggesting that those it rejects need to become Mormons.

“Utah’s rules for giving cash assistance to the poor are so Scrooge-like that almost nobody qualifies,” the Tribune’s editorial board explains. “As recently as 2019, Utah was providing cash assistance, beyond food stamps and Medicaid, to only about 3000 households, out of 30,000 families living below the poverty level. Applications for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — what Bill Clinton put in when he kept his promise to ‘end welfare as we know it’ — are rejected at the rate of 1300 a month in the state. So, state employees often accompany a rejected application with a suggestion that people seek out the leaders of the local ward of the (Latter Day Saints) Church in hopes of receiving aid from its undeniably large and often very generous welfare system.”

The Tribune’s editorial board continues, “By itself, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s legal, and it is very much in the American tradition of supplementing official forms of aid with help from various private and faith-based organizations, providing more help without adding to the taxpayers’ burdens. But two things make the unofficial link between our state and our state’s predominant church a problem. One of them is that it’s not altogether unofficial.”

According to the Tribune’s editorial board, “Once the vulnerable people are shunted over to the church, many of them are expected to accept proselytizing visits in their homes, to attend church services, even to be baptized in the faith, in order to qualify for food, cash or other assistance…. Once a church’s welfare system gets tied to the state’s federally funded welfare operation, in the way the LDS Church’s efforts are linked to Utah’s, it is not so independent anymore. It becomes a de facto arm of the state. That is an obvious violation of the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion in America.”

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