Announcing our new Director of Policy

September 2, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Libertas Institute is excited to announce our latest hire, filling an open position for our Director of Policy role.

mm2Michael Melendez has been a liberty activist since his days in high school. His involvement includes work with the Campaign for Liberty, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), and Students For Liberty. Michael served as the Utah state chairman for YAL from 2013-2015, helping recruit, educate, and mobilize college students throughout the state in support of the cause of liberty.

Michael has managed and worked on dozens of campaigns for liberty-minded candidates all over the country, including South Carolina, Kansas, Michigan, Illinois, and Utah.

During the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions, Michael served as a staffer to state senator Howard Stephenson, helping pass significant reforms in education, government drone use, and civil asset forfeiture. Most recently, he worked at the Waterford Research Institute, a digital education non-profit, as their state government affairs manager.

A native Californian and Brigham Young University graduate, Michael is a historian by trade and enjoys genealogical research, watching old films, and talking about old baseball heroes.

Contact Michael at

William Penn and the Fight for Religious Freedom

August 14, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Students of history understand how precious religious freedom can be, since governments of ages past so often tended to regulate and restrict a person’s religious behavior and belief. In America, the freedom of religion can be traced in part to the bold civil disobedience of William Penn, 346 years ago today.

portrait_tAmericans are familiar with Penn as the founder of the province of Pennsylvania, a colonial refuge for religious dissidents. But his contribution to the cause of religious freedom came many years before his migration.

Despite being born into a distinguished Anglican family as the son of an Admiral, young William decided to join the Religious Society of Friends, or “Quakers,” at the age of 22. Two years later he wrote a pamphlet titled “Truth Exalted,” in which he criticized all religious groups except Quakers. He soon thereafter published his second, titled “Sandy Foundation Shaken,” a doctrinal critique of the Trinity. This led the Bishop of London to order Penn to be indefinitely detained until he publicly recanted his fiery theological attack.

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Here’s What Utah’s SWAT Teams Have Been Up To in 2015

August 1, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  3 comments

Utah is the only state with a law requiring police transparency regarding “forcible entry” (no-knock or knock-and-announce) warrants and the use of SWAT teams. Last year’s report provided the first look into the use of force in Utah. This year’s report—showing data for 2015—has just been released.

As with last year, many law enforcement agencies did not comply with the law, and failed to complete the report when contacted by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. 149 agencies were contacted, and 110 completed the report. As the report summary notes, “the information presented… is only as accurate as the data reported by each individual law enforcement agency.”

Here is a summary of the data that was provided:

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Announcing Audrey Mortensen, Our New Policy Analyst

July 19, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  One comment

As Libertas Institute’s success rate continues to climb, and as our portfolio of policy work keeps expanding, our need to hire additional staff members grows. As such, we are excited to announce a new policy analyst joining the Libertas team!

Audrey Mortensen brings a wealth of experience to this position, having worked for several years in related fields. Most recently, she worked in New Mexico both in the governor’s office and the Republican Leadership office in a variety of capacities—legislative analysis, constituent liasing, office management, event planning, and more. Audrey comes recommended with extremely high praise from those she worked with in these offices, all of whom commended her for her excellent work and great personality.

Before that she worked for the Republican Party in New Mexico, training and managing hundreds of volunteers and interns, and for the Republican National Committee, helping with fundraising and finances.

Audrey is a graduate of the University of Utah, where she double majored in political science and international relations, also receiving a business minor. While in school, she interned at the Utah Legislature and the Scottish Parliament.

Send Audrey an email at

With this new hire, Josh Daniels—who has previously been serving as policy analyst—has been promoted to Director of Policy.

Our Lawsuit Over HB43 Settled: A Victory for Free Association in Utah

July 14, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Last November, along with the Utah Taxpayers Association, we sued the state seeking to overturn a clearly unconstitutional law requiring disclosure of information about our donors. Today, due to the great work of attorneys from the Center for Competitive Politics, who represented our organizations in this lawsuit, we are happy to announce a settlement—and a victory for free association in Utah.

House Bill 43, passed by the legislature in 2013, was sponsored in response to a political consultant’s illegal use of non-profit organizations to hide the identity of the source of his donors—from the payday lending industry—to fund a negative campaign against Representative Brad Daw, who had sought to regulate the industry’s practices. The bill passed the Senate 20-8 and passed the House 60-13.

The law compels private non-profit organizations—such as Libertas Institute—to publicly disclose the personal information of their donors when the organization spends $750 or more on political activity in a single year. This creates a substantial chilling effect, harming our potential to raise funds from people who may not wish to be publicly identified with their ideological and financial support, whether for family, business, religious, or personal reasons.

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Utah Governor Calls for State’s Withdrawal of Common Core Education Standards

May 4, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  17 comments

Following a defeat at the State Republican convention where the Common Core education standards were a central point of contention between gubernatorial challenger Jonathan Johnson and incumbent Governor Gary Herbert, the latter has just issued a letter to the State Board of Education asking them to dump the standards.

This comes as a shock to many, as Herbert has long been an ardent proponent of the standards, dismissing and denigrating the concerns raised by critics.

The letter takes an about face, conceding that “there are legitimate concerns that I share with those opposed to the Common Core” and asking the Board to “consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

The Governor also states that “it is critical that we not repeat past mistakes made during the 2010 implementation of the Common Core standards,” noting that “we must work with parents and students to understand what works and what can be improved.” We find this interesting, as this argument was the basis of our lawsuit against the State Board of Education. Utah law specifies that in “establishing minimum standards related to curriculum and instruction” the Board shall consult with local school boards, teachers, parents, and others.

This was not done. To rebut the arguments outside of the court, the Governor asked the Attorney General to review some of the concerns about Common Core—concerns that Herbert has not conceded until today. That legal analysis, signed by Attorney General Reyes, inaccurately states that the language regarding consulting parents was not in statute in 2010 as the Board was adopting Common Core. That is completely incorrect; the statute had been in place for years prior. It was utterly disregarded during the rushed process of adopting the Common Core standards.

It is important to note that the Board of Education adopted an experimental set of standards for which there was no evidence. No trials had been done. Nothing had been tested. They rushed the state into its adoption not because of any empirical data, but because its adoption was required in order to qualify for a potential federal grant that, in the end, Utah did not receive. For filthy federal lucre, hundreds of thousands of Utah children were turned into pedagogical guinea pigs.

We welcome the Governor’s newfound concern with the Common Core standards and encourage the State Board of Education to follow suit—this time actually consulting with the parents and teachers who are impacted by their top-down decisions.

In a pre-written letter released mere minutes after the Governor’s letter to the Board, Board chairman David Crandall states that the Board “is cognizant of the issues surrounding the 2010 adoption” and that they will “always look for ways to improve upon” the standards. Nothing is stated in direct response to the Governor’s suggestion about the Common Core standards specifically.

Read the Governor’s letter here.

Yet Another Poll Confirms High Support for Medical Cannabis

April 27, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Poll after poll confirms what is now common knowledge: a majority of Utahns want to see medical cannabis legalized statewide. The latest survey, done by Dan Jones, finds that 66% of adult Utahns support the legal change, while 28% are opposed and only five percent don’t know.

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The ideological breakdown revealed that 90% of Democrats and 76% of independents are in favor, whereas 55% of Republicans support legalizing medical cannabis. Even more “very conservative” respondents are in favor—49% versus 44% of them who oppose.

Despite LDS Church opposition to Senator Madsen’s recent bill, a majority of Mormons still support legalization—55% to 40% in opposition.

With recent legislation having failed, medical cannabis patients and advocates are now looking to file a ballot initiative that would give the option directly to the supportive public, rather than allowing the skeptical House of Representatives to substantially restrict (or opt not to pass) a medical cannabis program.


Summer Research Internships Announced

April 19, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Libertas Institute has two summer research internships available for college students or recent graduates. Join our successful organization to help advance the cause of liberty in Utah!

We are in need of policy research assistance to prepare some of the legislative proposals Libertas will be advancing in the 2017 general session beginning next January.

Job responsibilities

  • Research assigned policies spanning a broad spectrum of subjects
  • Compile, sort, and analyze data
  • Prepare reports and summarize data
  • Write articles on assigned topics


  • Must be interested in and aware of the political process
  • Understanding of, and passion for, liberty
  • High attention to detail
  • Excellent research and writing skills
  • Social media experience


These are unpaid positions, though we will gladly work with your school to provide credit if that is an option. Any necessary expenditures related to assigned work will be reimbursed. 

Interns will work in Lehi on a part-time basis, either a morning or afternoon shift.


Interested students should submit a resumé and two writing samples to with “Research internship application” in the subject line.

What Liberty Means to Me

March 22, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

Who cares if Joe down the road can’t keep bees? I don’t want to, don’t think I ever will want to, so why should I care? They can fight to change the law if they want to. I’m not interested in renting out my home while I’m out of town, so why should I care if there’s a law keeping my neighbor from doing so? I’m not sick or in constant pain and am not interested in using medical cannabis, either. So why should I worry that it’s not legally available to those who may need it? I heard a story about police seizing a guy’s property when they pulled him over—and they kept it, even though they didn’t charge him with a crime… but who cares? That wasn’t me so it’s not my concern. Right?

… Right?

Definitely not to that careless degree, but in a certain way with certain issues, that was me six months ago before I joined Libertas Institute. Outside a few specific issues I did care about, if it didn’t affect me directly… I wasn’t very concerned if a law was unconstitutional or violated someone’s personal rights. And then one day Connor Boyack hired me.

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The Utah 2016 Defenders of Liberty

March 11, 2016  |  Posted in: Blog  |  No comments

With the 2016 legislative session now having concluded, we’re able to see how each elected official fared in protecting (or violating) liberty. Here’s the Legislator Index for this year.

First, kudos to those who scored a perfect 100%: Representatives Brian Greene, John Knotwell, Dan McCay, and Marc Roberts. These gentleman are truly champions of liberty and work hard to defend our freedoms on a wide range of policies.

They are joined by ten other legislators who will be receiving the Defender of Liberty award this year—given to those who score an 85% or higher.

Interestingly, many Republicans scored worse than Democrats. In fact, the seven lowest scoring Representatives were all Republicans. The highest scoring Democrats were Rep. Briscoe, with 57%, and Senators Davis and Escamilla, tied at 61%.

Pencil in your calendar for the morning of May 7, where we will be presenting the Defenders of Liberty with their award at our annual event! More details coming soon.