Elder Von G. Keetch Remembered
Elder Keetch was a brilliant student and lawyer. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University in 1984 and a juris doctor degree from BYU Law School in 1987, graduating first in his class. Immediately after graduation, he began practicing law with the prestigious Washington D.C. law firm of Sidley Austin. He then was selected as a judicial clerk to Judge George C. Pratt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City. Subsequently, he was chosen as a judicial clerk to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court—a position of enormous responsibility and the highest honor a young lawyer can receive. In that capacity, he assisted the Justices in researching and preparing Supreme Court decisions.With such a background, Elder Keetch could have become wealthy representing large corporations at any major East- or West-Coast law firm. Instead, he chose to use his great legal talents to assist the church he loved. He returned to Utah in 1990 and for the next 25 years represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a shareholder with the Salt Lake City law firm of Kirton McConkie. He soon became the Church’s primary outside legal counsel. During a quarter-century of challenge and change, Elder Keetch advised the Church on every major legal issue it faced, working closely with his dear friend and Church General Counsel, Elder Lance B. Wickman, and other senior Church leaders as their trusted advisor.
Elder Keetch was a widely recognized expert on First Amendment rights. His tireless efforts in defense of religious freedom for all won him the respect of faith communities and advocates around the nation. In one form or another, he represented nearly every major religion in the United States and many smaller ones. Elder Keetch testified before Congress about freedom of religion; he litigated many cases defending the freedoms of speech, press, and religion; and he wrote about First Amendment rights in law review articles and many periodicals. Through stirring addresses at legal seminars, scholarly and interfaith gatherings, conferences, and devotionals, Elder Keetch inspired tens of thousands of people to learn more about religious freedom and defend it. Most recently, he raised his powerful voice to urge citizens, politicians, and advocates to take a “fairness for all” approach to resolving conflicts between religious freedom and other important interests. In 2015, he was closely involved in supporting Utah legislation to preserve religious freedom while protecting the LGBT community from discrimination—legislation that has become known nationwide as the “Utah Compromise.”
Elder Keetch served in many civic positions, including chair of the Utah Appellate Court Nominating Commission, member of the First Freedom Coalition, and chair of the Constitutional Law Section of the Utah State Bar.
To his colleagues in the legal community, especially those at the Church’s Office of General Counsel and Kirton McConkie, Elder Keetch was much more than a brilliant attorney. He was a beloved friend and example who combined rare intellectual gifts with wisdom, kindness, a ready laugh, and deep reservoirs of faith. He will be sorely missed.