The Spirit of the Law

Acquiring a humanities education opens up paths that lead in hundreds of directions. For alumnus Sean Reyes, a BYU English degree led to a law degree at UC Berkeley, which eventually led to his current position as Utah’s attorney general.

Throughout his career Reyes has sought to retain the spiritual focus of his BYU days, to keep religion present in his work. “I think we talk too little about God, faith, and prayer in government, and I think we talk about it too little in business,” he says. Rather than drive a wedge between him and others, Reyes’s focus on faith has built bridges with people of other faiths. “I learned that even in very secular environments . . . you can still have a spiritual orientation,” he says.

In 2008 the American Bar Association honored Reyes with its first-ever National Outstanding Young Lawyer Award and invited him to speak at a special gathering. In preparation, Reyes wrote his speech and submitted it for the organization’s approval. After review- ing it, a few representatives of the organization expressed concern over his many references to God, faith, and spiritual leaders—including David O. McKay, Ezra Taft Benson, and Joseph Smith—fearing that mentioning religion would alienate his audience.

Reyes respected their concerns but defended his speech, explaining to them, “I can’t properly express my feelings about the law and the noble work we do . . . without acknowledging God, without acknowledging His divine hand and elements of prayer and faith, because that’s really what got me here.”

The organization agreed, and Reyes went on to give his speech as written. He received a standing ovation, and a number of attendants approached him afterward to thank him for his words. They told him they had never heard God spoken of at an event like this before and that it was a refreshing change of perspective

“What BYU taught me is to be who you are,” Reyes says. “Stand up for the principles that you have.”

Reyes credits his humanities training in particular for preparing him to serve other people. “[It’s] all about humanity,” he says. “It’s about remembering the souls of people and themes like redemption.” This under- standing supports Reyes as he confronts the darker side of humanity as attorney general.

For instance, Reyes has been concerned about human trafficking since entering the law, but he says he has seen a paradigm shift take place. Legal action has expanded from simple investigation and prosecution measures to include a victim-centered approach. Speci c care is now taken to help victims recover from the atrocities of human trafficking and to give them the tools they need (counseling, education, job training, etc.) to rebuild their lives.

Reyes says this experience and others have taught him that if we do not serve others through our careers, “any success you have in business will not be as gratifying or fulfilling.”

Humanities Magazine Fall 2016 Full Issue