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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch has apologized for making political comments during a Memorial Day ceremony earlier this week.
The Utah Republican senator said in an interview that he didn't mean to offend anyone when he made comments about the federal health care law and religious freedom during the Monday event in Woods Cross.
"If I offended anybody, I certainly apologize because it would make me feel really badly that I did," Hatch told KUTV-TV on Wednesday.
The apology comes after veterans advocates said it's inappropriate to inject politics into a day that commemorates those who've died while serving in the armed forces.
Hatch said his remarks were "off the cuff." There was applause from the crowd during his remarks on protecting religious freedom.
"I certainly didn't mean to be political," he said.
Most of Hatch's 18-minute speech focused on military members and their families, but the remarks turned political at the end, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Hatch brought up a pending Supreme Court case in which Hobby Lobby is challenging a requirement for birth control coverage under President Obama's health care law. The company and the family that owns it argues that their religious beliefs prohibit them from offering health coverage for contraceptive drugs.
"I hope the Supreme Court doesn't screw that up is all I can say," Hatch said.
Hatch also spoke about liberal judges and the importance of 2014 and 2016 elections, where Republicans hope to take control of the Senate and the White House.
Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis and Terry Schow, former longtime director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, both said this week that it was inappropriate to make political points on Memorial Day.
Democrats also criticized the remarks.
"With all the proud things there are to say about Utah's military men and women, it's a shame Orrin Hatch missed that opportunity," Utah Democratic Party spokeswoman Anna Thompson said.
Woods Cross Mayor Rick Earnshaw also said he regrets the politically-lace introduction he gave for Hatch at the Memorial Day community event.
Hatch "continues to lead in the fight to repeal the unconstitutional individual mandate and other provisions in the $2.6 trillion health law called Obamacare," Earnshaw said when introducing Hatch. "He is on the front lines of legislative battles to secure the nation's borders, stop the forced unionization of American workers and to bring fiscal restraint back to Washington by ending the reckless spending that threatens to bankrupt the nation."
Earnshaw told The Tribune on Thursday that he was reading a biographical summary provided by Hatch's office. He said he hadn't read the material in advance and didn't realize it was political until it was too late.
"I've learned a lot from this experience," Earnshaw said. "I'm not going to not invite key figures or politicians — but I am going to ask them to keep their comments to the issue at hand."