News in 2005

People move to Utah in record numbers

The population of Utah increased 2 percent (almost 50,000 people) last year, as the state now is home to 2.5 million people. This is the fifth fastest growth rate in the nation. Since 2000, Utah has grown 10.6%, and the forecast for 2006 is 2.9%. "The bottom line is we’ve got very rapid employment growth here in Utah," a senior research economist at the University of Utah said. The rest of the nation only grew by just under 1 percent, meaning that Utah’s growth was double. States with even faster rates of growth were Nevada and Arizona (both at 3.5% growth) along with Idaho (2.4%) and Florida (2.3%). Political analysts are hoping that perhaps Utah’s rate of growth will help it nab an additional House of Representative seat when the nation’s next census occurs in 2010. (Deseret News, 12/22/2005)

Tell me, Virginia, about Santa Claus

Just a few days before Christmas break, an elementary substitute teacher told her Salt Lake City 4th grade class that there was (youngsters, cover your ears) no Santa Claus and that their parents shouldn’t lie. After fielding some angry phone calls from the parents, the school’s principal took over the class the next day and decided to have a long discussion with the students. She then showed the movie Polar Express. Counseling for the students was supposed to be arranged by the school district via the PTA president. We wonder what the school’s reaction would be if somebody accidentally told the students that the Nephites and Lamanites are fictional people groups. (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/28/2005)

More in Utah suffering from flu

If you are susceptible to the flu, you may want to stay away from the state of Utah, as more people have the flu in this state than any other in the United States. A total of 37 patients were hospitalized last week for the flu, though near-by Western states, including California, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico, were not too far behind. Absentee rates for Utah’s schools were at all-time highs. (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/28/2005)

Is it "holiday" music or "Christmas" music?

A five-member Christian band was told by a Utah shopping mall cop to quit playing religious music and instead play more "traditional" holiday music. The group from a Baptist church in Hyrum, Utah was given permission to play holiday music for Christmastime shoppers. The security guard interrupted the group’s rendition of "We Three Kings," telling them to not only quit playing the religious tunes but to also turn down the volume. Needless to say, the lead singer said she was "unbelievably shocked," and the band decided to go home. "Especially in Cache Valley, I never in a million years would have thought this would happen," she said. "Christmas music is religious by nature." She added, "We just wanted to play and share our music. That’s what we love to do. We never play anything but religious music." The owner of the mall later contacted the church’s pastor and apologized, saying there was a misunderstanding. "We asked them to stick to the traditional Christmas music," he later said. "We felt that they had strayed away from that somewhat." (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/24/2005)

Buckle up a common practice in Utah

If you live in Utah, you are more likely to buckle up as a driver or passenger in a vehicle, a new federal study has shown. In fact, almost 9 out of 10 Utahns buckle up (87%), compared to 82% for the rest of the nation. This ranks Utah eleventh in the nation. "We’re pleased with the number," a Utah highway patrol spokesman said. "However, we know that there’s more to be done with seat belts. The work’s not done until there’s 100 percent total compliance." Mississippi reported the lowest total (61%) while more Hawaiians buckle up than anyone else (95%). (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/17/2005)

College drinking in Utah low, but binging still occurs

Students at Utah’s public universities don’t drink like their counterparts in the rest of the nation, but Utah officials are still occurred about binge drinking. The study shows that 17 percent of the 1,400 University of Utah students surveyed admitted they engage in drinking more than five alcoholic drinks in one sitting. One therapist said, "While Utah students do have a lower rate of binge drinking—about 11.7 percent compared with 44 percent nationally—we do have concerns, especially with the practice some students have of celebrating their 21st birthdays with 21 alcoholic drinks." The study also showed that more than 61 percent of Utah college students have never had more than a sip of alcohol, while 3 out of 4 have not had more than a sip of alcohol in the past year. Four out of five have not had more than a sip of alcohol in the past 30 days. (Salt Lake Tribune, 12/14/2005)

Mormon influence a turn-off to some businesses

Businesses considering a move to Utah consider the lack of size of the state as well as the influence of the majority religion in the state to be negative factors, according to a report sponsored by commercial real estate companies and local government agencies. According to the 48-page study, companies are not excited about having to deal with the Mormon influence since Latter-day Saints make up close to 7 out of 10 residents. Utah is also considered to be a minor state in its influence. "We still have a perception problem," a member of the sponsoring group said. "The Olympics helped reduce that but it’ll never go away." The Salt Lake County mayor said the Mormon influence can be good or bad "if people think they won’t be welcomed here. My philosophy is that if they spend some time here they’ll recognize people have a lot of conceptions about Utah that aren’t true." (Deseret News, 12/8/2005)

Problems on the playground

Although Utah’s students are less likely to get into trouble at school than their peers across the nation, recent 2003 figures from the National Center for Educational Statistics show they are not completely innocent either. In fact, about one out of every four Utah high school students was offered illegal drugs at school during the typical year. One out of every nine was in a fight, and one out of every 13 was threatened with a weapon. During the past month, one out of 18 carried a weapon to school, one out of every 26 used alcohol at school, and one out of every 27 used marijuana at school. What is especially frightening about these statistics is that Utah is toward the bottom of the scale when compared to the figures from schools across the nation. (Deseret News, 12/3/05)

Scrooge tells families they could burn in hell

A neighbor who did not like the early Christmas lights of the homes in his area wrote a note that said more than the typical "bah, humbug." In fact, the note taped onto the doors of at least a dozen Logan homes displaying Christmas lights and decorations said that he would purposely torch their homes if they continued to turn their lights on before Dec. 14. "This is a public service announcement," the typewritten note said. "You’re going to burn in hell. It is too early in this holiday season to have your damn Christmas lights on." One neighbor said the lights are not meant for their own enjoyment. "We put them up for other people to enjoy," he said. Understandably, everyone seems to be a bit shaken. "It was bad enough that they threatened to burn the house down," another resident said. "But what if they did it when my kids were asleep or at home?" However, the threat is not going to deter one family. "I was kind of scared to turn them on," one lady admitted, "but my husband said, ‘We’re not going to let them intimidate us." (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/30/05)

Payday someday throughout the state of Utah

Thanks to its friendlier laws, the state of Utah has more payday loan stores than 7-Elevens, McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Subway stores combined, which is causing many politicians and consumer advocates to wring their hands. Though state law allows payday lenders to average one store per 10,000 residents, there are actually 1.6 stores for each 10,000 Utah residents. How this is allowed to be was discussed in a Deseret News feature concerning the phenomenon of these stores, some of which have interest rates of 500% or higher when the convenience fees associated with the post-dated checks are considered. The stores make their profits from cashing these checks one week and collecting the large fees. (Deseret News, 11/14/2005)

High school band members walk away from game

Deciding that they had enough, the band members of Payson High decided they didn’t want to play second fiddle. Mainly because they did not like how they were treated, the band members decided to walk away during the last football game of the season. When the band director told his students to leave during the game, the football crowd booed and a rock was thrown at them. "It’s been a continuing problem," one parent said. "Some of the kids have been individually threatened or had stuff thrown at them. They’re tired of it." Whenever the band did try to play, they had to compete with the loud rock and rap music played over the stadium’s loudspeakers. When a parent went up to the booth to complain, she was told that "this is a football game, not a band concert." (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/12/05)

Two old Book of Mormon copies stolen

Someone walked away from an LDS Institute near the University of Utah with two rare editions of the Book of Mormon, and nobody knows who did it. An 1840 edition printed in Nauvoo along with an 1841 Liverpool, England edition are missing from a church safe. The two copies—which were not in perfect condition but were still considered in good shape—are worth $35,000 and $25,000, respectively. "The monetary value has not been that important to us," the institute director said. "We could have given them to the church historical department. . . . We felt it was so fortunate to have them" The rare copies remained at the institute so that teachers could check them out and show them to students. The burglary took place sometime between Oct. 24 and Nov. 8. A rare book seller said that "the books are extremely rare. They’re extremely desirable. They’re sought after, and they sell for relatively high prices." He added that rare books are usually sold within 24 hours after being stolen. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/11/05)

Low-weight births puzzle researchers

Utah, which leads the nation in births, also has a large amount of babies born under 5.5 pounds. And this is confusing to researchers, especially since Utahns—who are mostly white, non-smokers and non-drinkers—should not have so many low-weight births. In fact, blacks and women who drink and smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have underweight babies. "Utah is a puzzling case where, despite not having severe risk factors, it’s an area that needs improvement," a researcher said. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/7/2005)

Church wins out over service to nation

When it comes to service, the number of young men and women serving their Mormon missions causes the military recruitment levels in Utah to be at the bottom of all states and territories in 2004. Indeed, Utah was last out of the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia for those between 18 and 24 signing up for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, according to the nonpartisan National Priorities Project. The Marine Corps statistics were apparently not available. The LDS Church doesn’t require the two-year service for 19-year-old males and the 18-month service for 21-year-old females, but there is definitely a large number of Utah residents who end up serving their church. According to one researcher, the missionaries who come back are "a little older and a little more able to think about what their options are. There might be those other factors in play [in Utah] that other states don’t have." One Army recruiter says he’s disappointed more Utah kids don’t join their ranks. "There’s a lot of those who go on missions that we’d love to have in the Army ’cause they’re good kids," he said. Currently 36,000 Mormons are actively enlisted in the military. Weber County is the largest recruiting base in the state, probably due to the fact that there is a number of military personnel stationed at Hill Air Force Base. (Salt Lake Tribune, 11/5/05)

Bears apparently like the taste of paste

BYU student Troy Larsgard recently learned an important fact the hard way while he was camping in Rock Canyon Park. His discovery: bears like toothpaste. In fact, on Oct. 21, a bear that slashed its way into his tent searched his bag of toiletries before swiping at Larsgard’s leg. Thinking that the intruder was a cougar, Larsgard and his brother—who had properly secured their food yet kept their personal items in their tent—initially thought they had scared the intruder away. But the bear decided to climb through the hole it had made and sniffed around the brothers’ legs before scratching Larsgard. "Fully expecting to see a cougar, I was surprised to finally see a bear," he said. "That fact alone caught me off guard." (Deseret News, 11/4/05)

Utah high in families struggling to meet basic food needs

According to a 2004 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, families in the state of Utah are ranked fifth in the nation for struggling to meet their families’ food needs. Almost 15 percent of Utah families are "food insecure," which means they are having difficulty feeding everyone in their home. Close to 5 percent of Utah’s families qualify for "hungry" because they do not have the necessary resources to purchase enough food. There are 38 million households in the U.S. that are food insecure. The average U.S. household spends $40 per person per week on food. States with higher percentages of food insecure families are Texas (16.4%), New Mexico (15.8%), Mississippi (15.8%) and Oklahoma (15.2%). ”Actually, the overall picture right now is probably even worse than the numbers would indicate,” said Bill Tibbetts of Utah’s Crossroad Urban Center. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/30/05)

Utahans love their computers

Almost three out of four Utah homes have computers, as Utah ranks number one in all of the United States for the percentage of homes that have computers. In fact, there are 596,000 computers in Utah’s 803,000 homes, with 63% of them having the ability to use the Internet. That figure was fifth highest in the nation, up from 14th place in 2001. "A lot of characteristics point to (Utah) having a tech-savvy population," a representative for the governor’s office said. "It positions Utah well for the future. . . . Things like biotech and genetics rely on a well-educated, tech-savvy work force." However, with the Internet comes added responsibility, especially since a good number of sites are pornographic, and many young people in the Utah homes are using their computers on-line. (Deseret News, 10/29/05)

More prisoners than ever in Utah

Utah has set a record for the number of prisoners in its prisons. Currently 6,327 prisoners are incarcerated, which is more than the state’s capacity of 6,300 beds. "We’ve never been that high before," a Utah corrections spokesman said. More prisoners are being moved from the state-run facilities to county jails across the state. "We’re scrambling to try and not have an early release," the spokesman added. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/29/05)

Porn sites shut down

The Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has shut down 155 child porn sites so far this year. Working with credit card companies, the agency, which is part of the Utah Attorney’s General’s Office, was able to identify the illegal sites through the credit card usage. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/27/05)

English teacher claims religion bias got her canned

More than 20 years ago, Erin Jensen was an active Mormon. However, she long ago stopped attending and even asked to be taken off the church’s rolls. Two years ago, the English teacher who publicly talked to students about the different religions in the world ended up getting fired for unspecified reasons, as rumors swirled that she was not only a witch but a "coffee drinker" to boot. When she asked for a reason as to why she was canned, she was told that she did not need to be given a reason because she had been employed for less than three years. Jensen—who denies that she is a witch—is suing the Sevier School District for back pay and other damages. The school district is arguing that she was fired because of a staff reduction and her teaching ability. One piece of evidence is that her superintendent reportedly once told the school board, "Halloween is her favorite holiday and she doesn’t hide the fact she prefers the dark side." However, this comment was stricken from the school board’s minutes because another board member had actually said it. The president of the board minimized the comment. "I like Halloween," he said. "I like coffee myself." (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/22/05)

One out of 10 LDS "lost"

With a tenth of all Utah’s Latter-day Saints considered to be a part of an "address unknown file," the Mormon Church is doing everything possible to bring its members back to the fold. Church volunteers use records, phone books and public databases in an attempt to reconnect with disconnected members. Utah’s lost Mormons equal about 180,000. LDS Seventy Merrill Bateman disclosed the information to the Salt Lake Tribune, saying the church considered the people "in-transit Mormons." "We really don’t give up on people," he said. "As long as they have not asked to have their names taken off the rolls of the church, we have a responsibility toward them and believe in time . . . we will be an influence to help them find their way back." However, the Tribune—which pointed out that Utah’s Mormon population has decreased each year for the past decade and a half—reported that many of these "in-transit Mormons" don’t want to be "found." "I just wish you can be left alone to believe what you want to believe," one such member said. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/17/2005)

More births in Utah than any other state

In what probably should not be a surprise, Utah has the highest fertility rate, the youngest median age of first marriages, and the highest percentage of married households, according to a four-year study produced by the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, just 15 percent of the new moms in Utah are unwed, the nation’s lowest, and the Beehive state has the lowest teen birth rate. There are 90 births per 1,000 Utah women aged 15-44. According to the report, women in Utah get married at 21.9 and men at 23.9, the youngest in the nation. (Deseret News, 10/13/05)

New stadium may be built in Sandy

A 25,000-seat half-roof outdoor stadium that would include shopping centers, hotels, and housing units was announced by sports developer Dave Checketts, who originally wanted to build the stadium in Salt Lake City. The stadium would be specifically built for the Real Salt Lake soccer team and could cost up to $75 million. If Checketts can figure out how to fund it, the stadium would be built at 9400 S. and State Street. Sandy, which is about a 15-minute drive from the heart of Salt Lake City, is a growing community that has grown by leaps and bounds during the past decade. However, city officials say that there will not be much city help in the funding of the building, as they promise that taxes will not be raised to pay for the project. But Checketts thinks that private enterprise will foot much of the bill. "It is going to be significantly financed through private capital," Checketts said. "It is not going to be done in a way that will increase the load on the Utah taxpayers. This is not a George Bush, ‘Read my lips.’ I’m just telling you it will not be done." Checketts hopes to know by early next year if his proposal will become reality. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/13/2005)

Utah biggest in discrepancy between men and women’s pay

Compared to their male counterparts, working women make a lesser percentage of money than anywhere else in the state, according to a new federal report. This is the fifth out of the last six years where Utah was stuck near the bottom of pay-equity ratings. In fact, Utah was 50th out of 50 states, as the state’s women make only 69% of what men make, or an average of $219 a week less. While men’s median wages grew in Utah by $112 a week from 1998 to 2004, women’s wages increased only $81. Said one Utah teacher, "Utah’s a little behind in women’s rights and gender equality probably because of the predominant culture in Utah: That women shouldn’t be in the work force, unless you’re a teacher or something like that. I guess I’m not surprised by the statistic, but anytime pay isn’t equal it isn’t a good thing. I’m not surprised, but I’m not willing to accept it." One female economist credited the discrepancy to women not having equivalent educational backgrounds. While only 26% of men across the nation have bachelor degrees, 30% of the males in Utah have, at the minimum, the four-year degree. While 23% of females across the nation have a bachelor’s degree, only 22% of the females in Utah have this same degree. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/13/2005).

Utah murders surpass totals from past two years

With more than two months left in the calendar year, a total of 47 people have been murdered, a number which exceeds the annual number of homicides from 2002 to 2004. The most recent high mark was 2001 with 67 people who were killed. During the past decade, Utah has averaged 55 murders, a total that has remained constant during the past three decades. About a third of this year’s murders came by the hands of family members or acquaintances of the victim. Only eight of this year’s 47 murders are currently unsolved. (Salt Lake Tribune, 10/13/2005)

Mormon Church not the Taliban? So says Mayor

Known for his honesty, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson says that his comments comparing life in the Utah’s capital to life under the rule of the Taliban were not directed at the Mormon Church. Instead, he said he was directing his criticism at the Deseret Morning News and certain city council members for reporting on several large dinner and alcohol tabs run up by the mayor that were paid for with city money. "I truly feel like we’re in the middle of a Kafka novel sometimes," the mayor said. "With a little bit of Taliban thrown in." His comments on the Taliban addressed "this pathological view some people have towards a glass of wine or a drink. Everyone gets up in arms because there was a little bit of alcohol consumed with dinner." (Deseret News, 10/5/2005)

Hinckley announces new temples

President Gordon Hinckley has announced two new temples to be built in Utah. One is scheduled for the 4,200-acre Daybreak development in South Jordan, while the other will be somewhere in the southwest Salt Lake Valley. "Temple service is the end product of all our teaching and activity," he said. "You may ask why we favor Utah so generously. It is because the degree of activity requires it." Currently, the church has 122 operating temples in 37 countries. This will be the fourth and fifth temples in the Salt Lake Valley. Because temples generally increase property values while attracting families and good neighbors, there appears that there will be no major criticism of the potential buildings. However, one non-LDS man and his girlfriend who were looking to buy in Daybreak were not so happy. "We don’t see anything else here but LDS worship facilities," the man said. "Building a temple here will make this (area) have more of a Mormon-feel, and the non-LDS may be excluded to some degree." (Deseret News, 10/5/2005)

DVD mix-up creates problem

A Mormon company that accidentally distributed copies of a gay porn movie housed in the DVD cases of its "Sons of Provo" movie is offering $100 to those who ended up with the surprise. Halestorm Entertainment executives recalled store copies after the error was discovered by two Mormon families who bought their copies at Deseret Books. In addition, the company will donate an additional $100 for each returned DVD to an specific anti-pornography group. The mix-up apparently took place at a Los Angeles company that mass produces DVDs for both Halestorm as well as for an unidentified pornographic film company. Halestorm executives are considering legal action against the LA company for the embarrassing mix-up. "We are committed to producing family-friendly entertainment and are devastated that some of the ‘Sons of Provo’ DVDs out there contain illicit material," Halestorm’s president said. The PG-rated "Sons of Provo" was a low-budget movie that followed the ups and downs of an LDS boy band’s journey to relative stardom. (Deseret News, 10/5/2005)

Flat tax proposal nixed by LDS Church

A proposal that would have everyone paying the same percentage of tax, regardless of income, was pulled back by the Utah governor after an LDS Church lawyer publicly voiced opposition to it. The proposal of requiring a 4.6% flat state tax, with no deductions allowed for charitable giving, was pulled back by Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. for further research when the church officially opposed it. The public appearance by a church attorney in a legislative committee is a rare occurrence. Still, the Utah Taxpayers Association went ahead and presented its own proposal, which calls for a 4.9% flat tax; however, the group acknowledged that this will need to be modified if there is any hope of it passing a legislature comprised of a majority of Latter-day Saints. According to the LDS Church’s statement, "Our community is best served by providing tax incentives for the support of charitable activities. Charitable contributions help provide for society’s poor and needy, fund education and the arts, and meet other important social needs beyond the reach of government resources." Temple Mormons are required to give 10% of their income to the church. Currently about 80% of Utah’s population pays the top rate of 7%. (Salt Lake Tribune, 9/16/05)

Drinking will be OK at new malls

Two Salt Lake City downtown malls owned by the LDS Church that are currently being remodeled will allow for alcohol sales at the restaurants. The news was shocking for many observers as the proposed policy is unprecedented. Mormons hold that the Word of Wisdom revelation received by their founder Joseph Smith, Jr. prohibits the intake of any alcohol, even if it’s just wine with dinner. The announcement was welcomed by Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson on a local radio show. "That’s going to be good news for a lot of people in this community," he said. While the mall’s restaurants will be able to serve alcoholic beverages with meals, there are no plans to allow private drinking clubs or beer taverns at either mall. Both Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls are being redeveloped at a $1 billion cost. The plans include the addition of 900 housing units. However, the church will not budge on the closing of the stores on Sundays, as both malls will shut down once a week. One councilwoman said this was fine because Sundays generally are not high volume shopping days in Utah. (Casper Star Tribune, 8/31/2005)

State responds to hurricane crisis

Doing its part to alleviate the suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina, Utah is accepting 2,000 refugees from the South as officials plan to help them get back on their feet. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. requested $5 million from the president to fund the project as planes began arriving on Sept. 3 and 4. The refugees may be placed at the top of the list for rental assistance, which may certainly anger the 4,000 people who have been waiting for assistance as well as the 8,000 families who are on the waiting list. However, officials believe that the immediate need to help the Louisiana and Mississippi victims should take precedence (Salt Lake Tribune, 9/4/05).

Drugs is most prosecuted crime in Utah

Crimes related to drugs are prosecuted more than anything else in the state of Utah during the fiscal 2005 year. In fact, the greatest number of felonies and the top two misdemeanor crimes were related to drugs. Forgery, theft, and protective order violations followed the list of the prosecuted crimes. Utah officials are using these statistics to put together special drug courts, which would assist offenders in stopping their addictions before they commit additional crimes. "All the different crimes are somehow associated with drug use, whether it’s burglary or forgery," one official said. "They are trying to steal money to buy drugs." (Salt Lake Tribune, 9/4/05)

Utah students hit books, beat national test scores

Students in Utah who took the SAT scored 566 on the verbal portion of the test and 557 on the math portion, better than the average students around the nation. Nationally, the scores were 508 on the verbal and 520 on the math, which is the highest average ever for the math portion. Students can earn a total of 800 in each of the two sections. In addition, a total of 65 percent of Utah students who took the accelerated AP tests passed their tests, with only 60% across the nation doing so. College credit is given by many universities for passing these tests. The most popular AP tests are U.S. history, English literature, and calculus. (Salt Lake Tribune, 8/31/05)

BYU is #1 in staying home Saturday nights

In the 2006 edition of the annual The Princeton Review’s The Best 361 Colleges Princeton Review, Mormon-owned Brigham Young University based in Provo, Utah scored high in a number of categories, as reported in the annual listing that surveys more than 110,000 students. Among other things, BYU scored highest in:

  • Students who pray on a regular basis
  • Got Milk?
  • Scotch and Soda, Hold the Scotch
  • Stone-Cold Sober Schools
  • Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution.

In addition, the school scored high in:

  • #4 Best College Library
  • #10 Alternative Lifestyles not an alternative
  • #2 Don’t Inhale
  • #3 Students Most Nostalgic for Reagan
  • #12 Happiest students

The "stone cold sober" ranking seemed to please the students who were interviewed by the paper. Student Brian Rust declared, "Being stone cold sober and the most religious mean BYU has a family atmosphere." Another said, "We’re drunk on life. You don’t have to be drunk to have fun." (Salt Lake Tribune 8/24/2005; www.princetonreview.com)

Salt Lake a nice play to go for vacation, homosexuals say

Despite the idea that Salt Lake City is the capital to a state known for its conservatism, the 12th annual "Out and About Travel Awards" based in San Francisco declared Utah a good destination for travel. "It’s a surprisingly fun gay getaway," said a travel editor who helped put the awards together. "I actually like Salt Lake. I’ve had great times there. There’s an energetic, vibrant nightlife and very friendly locals. And before I came there, I thought it would be the land of blondes and Mormons. But it really was diverse." The editor praised the reaction that gay and lesbian couples receive when booking hotel rooms, including at the Monaco and Peerv hotels. "If a staff member tells a gay couple, ‘I’m sorry, there been a mistake, there’s only one bed,’ well, it sounds silly but it’s painful when you go through it," he said. Meanwhile, Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) Community Center of Utah, was not surprised with the recognition that Salt Lake City received. "I’ve been here since 1997 and have found that there is a wonderful community of gays and lesbians living here, very supportive of each other," she said. (Salt Lake Tribune, 8/20/2005)

Utah’s children need to shed some pounds

A new study shows that one in four Utah children is at an unhealthy weight, meaning they have higher health risks. In fact, the number of Utah children who are at this unhealthy weight could fill 2,067 classrooms, according to Dr. David Sundwall, director of the Utah Department of Health. In addition, one in three Utah children born in 2000 will ultimately develop diabetes. The director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says parents ought to consider breast-feeding for infants, and for their children steps ought to be take to reduce time sitting in front of TVs and video game machines. Eating dinner as a family is also helpful. (Deseret News, 8/18/2005)

Meth a "significant" Utah problem

Based on a cover article in Newsweek magazine, some are asking if Utah has a problem. The answer is yes, according to Utah’s experts. "The reality is we do have a significant methamphetamine problem," the executive director of the Harm Reduction Project based in Salt Lake City said. "We know what needs to be done. We need to put more money in treatment." According to Patrick Fleiming, Salt Lake County’s substance abuse director, "A problem is not a problem until it hits Chicago, New York and Miami, and guess what? Meth has hit there." According to a nationwide survey of law enforcement agencies, 58 percent said meth is their biggest drug problem, making cocaine (19%) and marijuana (17%) look miniscule. In Utah, 5,486 addicts reported it to be their drug of choice in 2004 compared to 3,448 who said the same thing four years earlier. (Salt Lake Tribune, 8/10/2005)

Polygamous groups in Utah keep on growing

According to an informal survey made by the co-founder of Principle Voices of Polygamy, there are about 37,000 fundamentalist followers of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young this year. The nonscientific poll estimates that less than half actually practice polygamy despite an allegiance to the doctrine. The number could be as high as 100,000, though, according to the anti-polygamy group called Tapestry Against Polygamy.The largest fundamentalist group is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which is based on two towns on the border of Utah and Arizona. However, that group is under intense governmental pressure, and leaders have recently built a temple in Texas. Meanwhile, the fastest growing splinter group is the Salt Lake Valley-based Apostolic United Brethren, which has brought in 2,500 members in recent years. The number of people who live in plural households is hard to determine since polygamists have been very wary during the past few years, with political prosecution a greater likelihood than before the turn of the century. One Salt Lake pediatrician who did his own informal survey five years ago said, "I was surprised at the number of people who were not in polygamist relationships." (Salt Lake Tribune, 8/9/2005)

Utah population needs to lose a few pounds

Just like fellow Americans across the country, more than half of all Utahns are too heavy and need to lose weight, according to a report called "Tipping the Scales: Toward a Healthier Population" (http://www.health.utah.gov/obesity/) According to one government official, the increase in weigh gains is unhealthy. "Those who are obese, not just the lower categories of overweight, are increasing," he said. "And younger people. We’re seeing this problem in children." Just a decade ago, only 7 percent of third-grade boys were too heavy, but in 2002 the number more than doubled (15 percent). In 2004, 58 percent of Utahns were considered overweight, with 21 percent considered obese. Nationally, 60 percent of Americans are overweight, with 23 percent obese. There was no confirmation if green jello played a role in this report. (Salt Lake Tribune, 7/31/05)

Tribune reports that "keeping members a challenge for LDS church"

The Mormon myth that the LDS Church is the fastest-growing faith in the world doesn’t hold up, according to an article written by Salt Lake Tribune religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack. The Mormon Church has more than 12 million members, which is double from the past 25 years. However, since 1990, Seventh-day Adventists as well as Assemblies of God and Pentecostal groups have grown at a higher percentage. In addition, only a third of the 12 million members regularly attend worship services. From a high of 321,000 converts (5 percent) in 1996, the church gained just 241,000 (3 percent) in 2004, despite the fact that the church has more members today. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has 14.3 million members and grew 5 percent last year. The Assemblies of God has 50 million members, gaining 10,000 new members every day. Regardless of growth, it is silly to think that the popularity of a religion makes it true, or else one would have to consider the immense popularity of Islam (which dwarfs Mormonism) as an indicator that it must be the authentic faith. (Salt Lake Tribune, 7/26/05)

Utah housing prices up, up, up

Just like the rest of the nation, appreciation of homes in Utah went way up during the past year. Although it trails the U.S. national average, which was 12.5% last year, Utah homes went up 6.3% from the first quarter of 2004 to the first quarter of 2005. This is welcome news to those who have not been able to experience the huge run-up in home prices since 2000. In fact, Utah’s 5-year appreciation rate of only 17.5% is the nation’s worst. Much of this year’s appreciation took place in Salt Lake Valley, where homes are often selling near or above asking prices. Among 265 metropolitan areas, Salt Lake City ranked 159th in appreciation while Provo-Orem was 208th and Ogden-Clearfiled at 225th. One Utah economist predicted that the Wasatch Front appreciation will average 7-10 percent this year, and that those homes in the $250,000+ price range will experience significant gains in coming years. He said that many are investing in Utah because its "real estate is dirt cheap compared with Nevada, Arizona and California." (Salt Lake Tribune, 6/2/05)

Intelligent design for the schools?

A state senator is proposing Utah’s public schools teach about "divine design" in conjunction with the theory of evolution and thus allow students to choose between the two possibilities. The debate is expected to commence next January. However, the proposal is upsetting some officials. "We don’t teach religion in school," said Brett Moulding, curriculum director for the state Board of Education. "We don’t believe this law would be in the best interest of public education." But Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, with the support of the conservative group Eagle Forum, plans to lead the fight by not utilizing the term "creationism" and substitute "divine design." This term is meant to show how the complexity of nature implies "a superior power" that must have created the universe. ”The divine design is a counter to the kids’ belief that we all come from monkeys. Because we didn’t,” said the conservative Republican and retired director of a private school for troubled boys. "It shocks me that our schools are teaching evolution as fact." (Salt Lake Tribune, 6/3/05)

Rembrandt’s work featured in LDS museum

A total of 46 biblical paintings of Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), including 17 recently acquired pieces, went on display at the LDS Museum of Church History and Art. The rest were loaned by independent collectors and the Museum of Art at BYU. Among the works displayed are "Abraham’s Sacrifice," "Joseph Telling His Dreams," "David and Goliath," and "Descent from the Cross." In addition, two of Rembrandt’s self-portraits are displayed. One expert says this is the largest assembling of Rembrandt’s work ever put together. Rembrandt painted 300 pieces, 70 of which were biblically based. The display goes through Dec. 11, and admission is free. (Deseret News, 5/14/05)

Utah up there when it comes to pollution

Utah’s industries release the third largest amount of toxic chemicals in the United States, according to government reports from 2003. A total of 248 million pounds of chemicals were released in Utah, placing Utah just behind Alaska and Nevada. Gold mines are mainly responsible for the pollution. This amount is lower, though, than in past years. "We still rank third in the nation for the total amount of toxins released to the environment," the director for Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah said. "That equals over 100 pounds of toxic pollution per Utah resident." (Salt Lake Tribune, 5/12/05)

More than 200 laws began May 1, 2005

Utahns better watch out where they walk now, as a total of 233 new laws took effect on May 1, 60 days after the legislature adjourned. Some of the new laws in Utah include:

 

  • Pocket bikes are outlawed on public roads unless they are licensed

     

  • You can get a refund on a hunting or fishing license if you become ill or injured and can no longer hunt or fish

     

  • Just like harassing phone calls, harassing e-mails are now illegal

     

  • Military personnel or others who can legally buy liquor at the Hill Air Force Base stores can now legally take the liquor off the base

     

  • The "steeple" act means that a local government must now show a "compelling government interest" in land-use zoning before it can restrict the free exercise of religion. This will allow LDS Church buildings and steeples (along with other faiths’ buildings) in residential areas. (Deseret News, 5/1/05)

Petitions calling for Christian judge criticized.

A Snow College (Ephraim, UT) student government officer who wants to see President Bush appoint a Christian as a Supreme Court nominee asked faculty members to help get the word out; however, the letter has been called inappropriate by the two-year college. "There is a history of this kind of thing coming out of that [Student Life] office," one professor commented. "There are some elements in this school who want to turn [Snow College] into BYU." The letter should not have been sent, administrators said, because it asked the faculty members to make the announcement to their students. The president of the college said the movement consisted of a solitary "zealous student," adding, "No part of it was sanctioned by the college." The letter was put together after the student heard Chief Justice William Rehnquist may soon step down. A total of 56 of the 3,000 full-time students signed the petition. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/27/05)

Depression high in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is the 12th most depressed cities in the United States, according to Men’s Health magazine, giving it a "D" grade. "I think part of the reason [Utah is in rated so high] is depression is more accepted in the culture here, and more people talk about it," one local psychiatrist said. "And there’s a lot of pressure for males here to succeed," he added, pointing to large families and higher expectations for Latter-day Saints, whose church is the largest in the state. The survey was conducted utilizing antidepressant sales—higher in Utah than any other state as 16% of the population takes these drugs—as well as suicide rates (8th highest cause of death in Utah), and the number of days that residents say they are down. The most unhappiest city? Philadelphia, followed by Detroit and St. Petersburg, FL. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/27/05)

Tanners sue FAIR for infringing on trademark

The Utah Lighthouse Ministry, which is run by Christians Jerald and Sandra Tanner, are suing LDS apologetic group FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) in the U.S. District Court for trademark infringement and unfair competition. Leaders from FAIR registered 13 Internet domain names that sound like they could be associated with the Tanners, including utahlighthouseministry.com, sandratanner.com and geraldtanner.com. "Cybersquatting," which is using Internet domain names with the intention of profiting from the good will associated with someone else’s trademark, is not ethical, though FAIR leader Allen Wyatt denies the sites were close in nature to the Tanners. "There’s no confusion as to whether it’s her [Sandra Tanner’s] organization or not," he said. "I just grabbed the names because they were available." Buying the names, he said, is a valid free speech exercise. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/26/05.)

Prison population keeps growing, especially in Utah

Last year the prison population went up across the nation 2.3%, but in Utah it went up 3.6%. Utah currently has 5,802 prisoners, more than 200 more than last year. The director of the Utah Department of Corrections announced plans to ask the state for funds to build a 192-bed unit at its Gunnison prison. The increase of the populations can be traced to tougher policies to keep career criminals behind bars. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/25/05)

Does taking care of your car get you to heaven?

Utah residents are rather picky about taking care of their cars, according to a survey conducted by Shell Oil. According to the study, the greater Salt Lake City-Ogden area ranks No. 8 in the nation as the best place to have a motor vehicle, with the top three places going to New Orleans, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Mo.. The study included issues like the type of gasoline and motor oil used, vehicle maintenance, and road repair and traffic congestion. It was discovered that more than half—56 percent, to be precise—of Utah drivers change their oil at least once a year, while 12 percent have their tires rotated and balanced at least once a year (compared to less than 10 percent for the rest of the nation). (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/23/05)

Art censored in school show attracts interest

A high school student’s oil paintings that were censored in a school art contest by Roy High administrators could end up being sold. Amanda Fowers, who is planning to major in art next year at Weber State, says she is open to selling the paintings after several people called her art teacher about their availability. One caller from California would like to display the art in a gallery. However, she has no idea how much to charge for her work. Her art teacher, Jeffrey Lowe, apparently did not think the paintings should have been censored in the first place. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/22/05)

Utah should get 4th U.S. House seat in 2012

According to the latest US Census figures, the state of Utah should get its fourth congressional seat by 2012. "It is virtually impossible for Utah not to gain a fourth seat," one official said. Utah is expected to grow faster than 45 states during the next three decades, with a growth rate of 56 percent. The state needs 2.465 residents to gain the seat, yet the Census Bureau estimates that Utah will have 2.6 million by 2010. By 2030, Utah could have 4.3 million residents, which would make it the 28th most-populous state. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/22/05; Deseret News, 4/21/05))

Were cats in burned house catnapped?

A Salt Lake City woman whose home burned had 39 cats, and animal service officials are wondering if they all belonged to her. In fact, one of the cats had a microchip that showed it belonged to someone else. "We were able to call (the owner), and he was ecstatic to be reunited with his cat," an official said, adding the cat had been missing for six months. Apparently the woman may have captured many of the cats and then locked them in her home. After the fire was put out, firefighters were able to capture 25 of the cats, with 12 of them escaping. The woman was allowed to keep two of the critters. Anyone living near the house who is missing a cat is encouraged to check with the Salt Lake County Animal Services. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/05)

Christian Seminary seeking funds to stay solvent

Utah’s only Christian seminary is attempting to raise a half million dollars to continue its operations. Officials at the Salt Lake Theological Seminary have had a difficult time making ends meet ever since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because of a drop in donations. In fact, the seminary—which only gets 20 percent of its funding through tuition—has been operating at a $20,000-a-month deficit, partly due to the fact that the school moved into a $1.6 million building on South Temple the day before the terrorist attacks almost four years ago. Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson and homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson spoke at a news conference to praise the school for its contribution to religious diversity in Utah. The school has about 70 students from a variety of denominations who are pursuing their graduate education. (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/18/05)

Gas price rise means more "drive offs"

A gallon of gas has gone well past $2 a gallon, so for many Utahns the solution has been to fill up their tanks at self-serve stations and then drive off, thus stealing the gas. Already a $1 million per year problem in Utah, some gas station owners said the recent upsurge in prices have caused many more "customers" to skip out on their bills. Despite camera surveillance and warnings on the pump, "people see an opportunity and they know what to do," said Tiffany Kirk, an employee at a Chevron station in Holladay. With many truck or SUVs costing $50 to fill up, it takes just several thefts a day to wipe out the profits for a single station. Future customers make up for the loss via higher pump prices. (Deseret News, 4/10/05)

Haircutters looking to expand

Bikini Cuts, a haircut store with bikini-clad women serving as the stylists, is planning to expand to south Utah County. The president and CEO of the salons, Mike Fuller, would like to open stores in the Salt Lake City and Provo/Orem areas despite the objections of city leaders in Provo and Orem. "The only way they could stop us," Fuller said, "would be to ban [the wearing of] bikinis in public, which obviously they can’t do, or else they have to ban all hair salons." Provo spokeswoman Raylene Ireland responded by saying, "There’s no question that, for the majority of Provo residents, Bikini Cuts is not the kind of business they would welcome." Added Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn: "It doesn’t resonate with the values and standards we have here. If they want to locate to Orem, we would follow them closely and make sure they did comply with regulations." Currently there are Bikini Cuts stores in Sandy and West Jordan (Salt Lake Tribune, 4/9/05)

Baptisms for dead upset Jews

Mormons continue to be baptized on behalf of deceased Jews, including those who died in the concentration campus during the Holocaust, which is upsetting to Jewish leaders. "We have proof," said Ernest Michel, chairman of the New York-based World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and he is planning to show Mormon leaders his evidence that baptisms have taken place as late as last month. If so, this would go against a 1995 agreement signed by both groups and reaffirmed in 2002. "The church won’t be commenting at all on this issue for the moment. We are looking forward to discussions with our Jewish guests," LDS spokeswoman Kim Farah said. (Deseret News, 4/8/05)

Diplomas not rare in Utah

More than 9 out of 10 Utahns over the age of 25 have a high school diploma, which is eighth best in the nation. According to a new Census Bureau report, 1.1 million of the 1.2 million of the 25 and over population have finished high school (91 percent) compared to 85 percent for the rest of the nation. "We’re certainly pleased with the result," a Utah State Office of Education spokesman said. "It reflects well on our students, parents and teacher. Education is really doing a good job." In addition, about one in three Utahns 25 or older have at least a bachelor’s college degree (30.8 percent) compared to 28 percent for the rest of the nation. (Deseret News, 3/28/2005)

Fourth meth lab in a month taken down in Salt Lake City

The fourth methamphetamine Salt Lake City lab shut down in late March is the fourth one in a month, and police are trying to determine if this means there is a new surge in the drug’s production. In fact, these four labs equal the total number of labs shut down in 2004. So far in 2005, there have been 13 labs closed down. Meth production in Utah took a dive in 2000 when the state legislature created laws regulating the sale of certain ingredients used to make the drug. Police discovered nine guns at the latest raid, one of which was altered. "I’m hoping this is something that is an aberration," the deputy director for Utah’s Drug Enforcement Agency said. (Salt Lake Tribune, 3/25/2005)

Mayor Rocky is liked by most…except LDS

Controversial? Absolutely. Well-liked? Certainly. Loved by Mormons? Not a chance. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson may be many things, including a political liberal, but a new survey shows that his job approval rating stands at 59 percent, with only 38 percent of the city’s residents saying they did not like how Anderson performed. "They like that he’s a free spirit and not afraid to share his opinions about issues he feels strongly about," said Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones. One former city councilman added, "With Rocky, we have someone that stands up for those of us who differ from the majority (of the conservative state legislature). He’s elected to represent Salt Lake City, not the rest of the state." However, the fall 2002 Main Street Plaza fray cost Anderson popularity with members of the Mormon Church, as his approval ratings dipped from 53 percent in August 2002 to only 36 percent four months later. Today Anderson’s approval rating amongst LDS members is 31 percent, with 66 percent disapproving. Meanwhile, both Catholics (74 percent ) and Protestants (87 percent) approve of Anderson’s performance. (Deseret News, 3/18/2005)

Mormon teens walk the talk

According to a new study, teenagers who call themselves Mormon are more likely than average to live out their faith, including praying more and having less sex. "The story we tell about Mormon youth is not that all is well, but compared to other teens they’re more knowledgeable about their faith, more committed to their faith and have more positive social outcomes associated with their faith," said John Bartkowski, who helped put the study together for the National Study of Youth and Religion and published by the Oxford University Press. When 13-17-year-old teens were asked about church attendance and scripture reading, 87 percent of Mormon teens said their faith was important or somewhat important in shaping their life decisions, although 93 percent of conservative Protestants said the same thing.

However, Mormon teens were more likely to attend church services once a week (43 percent, compared to 26 percent for conservative Protestants), engage in fasting or some other form of self-denial (68 percent), and have no or few doubts about their religious beliefs (91 percent). They also were less likely to engage in sexual intercourse (12 percent), have ever smoked pot (15 percent), drink alcohol a few times a year (10 percent), and watched a pornographic program in the past year (15 percent). But, strangely enough, only 84 percent of the Mormon teens said they had a "belief in God," which was far behind black Protestants (97 percent), conservative Protestants (94 percent) and mainline Protestants (86 percent). In some respects, researchers were puzzled by their findings. "We were startled how inarticulate most teens are about what they believe," one researcher said. "Even evangelical teens had trouble talking about who Jesus might be." (Deseret News, 3/15/05)

West Jordan woman’s cancer story a scam

A 33-year-old Utah woman story of cancer has been shown to be a fraud. The unnamed woman, who served as member of the PTA and the manager for her son’s hockey team, apparently pocketed thousands of dollars in donations to help treat her "cancer." She was able to pull off the deception because she was new to the community and was known by many as "Supermom." In November, she began telling her friends that she had been battling cancer since 1999 and needed $62,000 to help pay for a bone-marrow transplant. Raffles and other fund-raisers sponsored by different organizations soon raised thousands of dollars, and in January she sent an e-mail to the supporters saying, "Until now, I was not a candidate for a bone marrow transfusion and had no chance for long-term survival. Now, with your gift, it will enable me to go forth with this scheduled procedure and look to living a long life, cancer-free."

A reporter for a local paper began to investigate and discovered that the entire story was made up when the woman’s sister from Ogdon came forward, warning that her sister was not to be trusted. In hindsight, some parents said they were suspicious, including the fact that she was upgrading to suites at hotels for sports tournaments and how she hosted an extravagant New Year’s party featuring plates of lobster. The woman wrote an e-mail note to her friends last month, saying, "I am not having a bone marrow transplant, never was. I am not sure how the lie started or even why." She and her husband have since taken her children out of their elementary school, and their home is now for sale. "I don’t think we’ll ever know the whole scope of it," said hockey mom Sandy Curtis of Alpine. "It’s not so much about the money. We can recover from that over time. It’s the breach of trust." (Salt Lake Tribune, 3/12/05)

U of U policy changed on cursing in plays

Students at the University of Utah who don’t want to use "offensive" words in drama assignments or other reading should be accommodated, the Academic Senate said this week. The policy was changed after an incident several years ago where a student declined to use a curse word during a theater class and was penalized. A student can now "opt out" of having to read or recite offensive materials, whether it is for a religious reason or not, and the professor can determine whether or not to accommodate the request. If the professor does deny it, the professor’s dean can overturn that decision. (Deseret News, 3/8/05)

Role of women in Mormonism questioned

Margaret Toscano, an ex-communicated former member of the Mormon Church, said in a talk at the Utah Valley State College that there is not enough gender equality in the Mormon Church. Toscano, who teaches at the University of Utah, said that the male-dominated Mormon leadership should encourage more equality between the sexes. "If the male always presides, even in love and righteousness, isn’t the other partner subordinate, at least in rule, if not in rank?" she asked. "And if so, does this lead to inequality that contradicts the ideal set forth in the Book of Mormon?" Toscano pointed out how the "Ensign," the monthly LDS Church magazine, demeans women. "Most of the (articles written by women) deal with relationships and practical problems; most of the men’s articles deal with church history and doctrine. Overall, the impression given is that women are a very important part of the church, and contribute to it in many ways, but men lead and define it." She encouraged the audience to fight for social change within the church because "it’s just simply wrong." If Toscano was hoping to ever reapply for membership of the Mormon Church, she can basically forget about it now, especially since church leaders frown on public criticism of any kind. (Deseret News, 3/6/05)

Prayer in Utah school board meetings will remain

There will always be prayer in school as long as teachers give tests, an old adage goes, and the state school board members will continue to open their monthly meetings with prayer. Voting 8-4, the board broadened its policy by allowing members to invite prayers, poems and other insightful comments. The clarification comes in the Utah Atheists’ complaint about how the board’s prayers promoted personal religious agendas. (Salt Lake Tribune, 3/5/05)

Liberal newspaper to remain on library’s shelves

Salt Lake City Weekly, a paper that stirs controversy with the liberal issues it discusses and the ads it prints, will once again be available in the Provo Library after being banished for two months. The free papers were given away near a restroom frequented by minors, and a complaint in December led to its removal. The powers-at-be at the library decided that they will allow a single copy to be displayed along with copies of other papers, including the Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, and New York Times. However, there will no longer be free copies for the public that will be available at the library. Despite the cutback in the newspapers distribution, an ACLU representative praised the decision, saying it was "fair and equitable," adding, "I suppose we should thank them for giving us a bit of free publicity and, perhaps, helping us move more papers off of our racks in other places in Provo." One library patron was not happy with the library’s decision. "This never was a First Amendment issue," she said. "It’s about standing for decency and against obscenity. City Weekly is a piece of filth and does not fit in with this community’s family and religious values. It’s too bad the Provo Library caved in to political correctness." (Salt Lake Tribune, 3/5/05)

Give another A to Utah’s students

Students in the Jordan, Granite and Salt Lake City school districts scored at the top of the national charts in almost all categories in standardized tests. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills tests students in four different grades, from elementary to high school, and the results were above the national average in every single category. "I feel very good about our students’ performance," one administrator said. "And I look forward to continued progress." (Salt Lake Tribune, 2/28/05)

Utah Bill aimed at Christians defeated

The author of HB131, a controversial bill specifically designed to curtail the efforts of street evangelists during general conference has withdrawn his "Access to Health Care Facilities and Places of Worship" bill from consideration. Douglas Aagard (R-Kayesville), the bill’s author, pulled the bill on February 24th "due to some unresolved issues." What those issues were has not been disclosed. He added that there is a possibility that he will reintroduce the bill during next year’s legislative session.

Hugh Nibley Dies

After a long "Strokelike" illness, noted Mormon scholar and apologist, Hugh Nibley, passed away at the age of 94. He died at his Provo home on February 24th.

Utah bill to curb freedom of speech

In an effort to curtail controversial street preachers during general conference, Douglas Aagard (R-Kayesville) has proposed HB0131, a bill that could also affect sidewalk counselors at abortion clinics and the efforts of Christians who want to peaceably distribute literature or carry on a dialogue with people in a public setting. The bill states that a person is guilty of unlawfully interfering with passage to a health care facility or place of worship if, within a radius of 100 feet from any entrance door to a health care facility or place of worship, the person intentionally or knowingly approaches within eight feet of another person for the purpose of: passing a leaflet or handbill; displaying a sign or object; or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with the other person. Aagard doesn’t hide the fact that he proposed this bill to help "establish standards for street preachers outside Temple Square." Violating this proposed law would result in a class B misdemeanor and would allow a person who felt they were offended with unwanted statements and/or leaflets to sue for civil damages and seek a court injunction. le.state.ut.us

Housing in Salt Lake "most undervalued"

A new study shows that homes in the Salt Lake City area have not gone up as much as the housing in the rest of the nation, making it the most undervalued area in the country. Salt Lake City is showing a 23 percent discount in the actual value of the average home. This news is generally considered good for current homeowners, according to one economist. "Being a relatively undervalued market suggests that, if anything, there is upward price appreciation potential, more than in most other places," he said. Last year the state of Utah’s house appreciation averaged less than 4 percent—last in the nation—which is minimal when compared to San Diego’s appreciation of 21 percent. Other cities with big discounts are Oklahoma City (13 percent), Dallas (11), and Cincinnati (6). A fifth of all cities in the nation are said to be overvalued, including Chico (CA) at 43 percent overvaluation, San Diego (28 percent), Portland, Ore. (24) and Detroit (22). These cities therefore stand the greatest chance to have the biggest housing decline if there is a slump in the market. (Deseret News, 2/11/05)

Utah now has homosexual state senator

Utah’s first openly homosexual state senator was sworn into office this week. Democrat Scott McCoy, 34, is the vice chairman of the homosexual-rights group Equality Utah. However, he claims he will not make gay issues his first agenda. "The fact that I am gay is certainly one of the characteristics with which I have been endowed by my creator and it is an important part of who I am as a human being," McCoy said. "But it is certainly not the only characteristic that defines me, just as none of my colleagues can or should be reduced to any one of their many characteristics." (Salt Lake Tribune, 2/8/05)

Nibley daughter tells all in controversial book

A daughter of LDS scholar Hugh Nibley, who turns 95 next month, has written a book exposing her family’s dirty laundry, which has apparently upset her seven siblings. Martha Nibley Beck, the 40-year-old daughter of the prolific former BYU professor, has released "Leaving the Saints" with Crown Publishers (affiliated with Random House) in New York. The book contains the claim that she was sexually abused by her famous father from the time she was 5 until she was 8. "None of the family agrees with her story," brother-in-law Boyd Peterson, a Nibley biographer, said. "And the Nibley family is itself pretty diverse. Probably 50 percent of the brothers and sisters are no longer members of the LDS Church, or they are members in name only. All of them have issues with their father. The boys are angry about his being a big Mormon celebrity who was too often absent from the family." He added that the book was "nasty" and says Beck believes the Danites are trying to kill her. Beck has a doctorate in sociology from Harvard and writes columns in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine. (Deseret Morning News, 2/5/05)

Utah has a dialect of its own

As the Salt Lake Tribune reports, you might be a Utahn if you:

  • Were "barn" in the USA.
  • "Sluff" rather than skip school.
  • Wash down cookies with "melk" instead of milk.
  • "Fell" your math test.
  • Attend church at a "wahrd" house
  • Say "coal" instead of "cool"

According to the article, a couple of BYU professors believe that Utah is very much like Florida and Maryland, two other states that have blended Northern lexicon with Southern phonetics. Apparently some who later lived in Utah picked up lingo in the 19th century when the Mormons moved from Ohio to Missouri and finally to Illinois. But it depends if you are LDS, are a lapsed Mormon, or never were a Mormon at all. "If you grew up in Utah [County], and you are not Mormon and never been Mormon, you don’t speak Utah English," one professor said. This is because Mormons spend plenty of time together and naturally pick things up from one another. "We don’t realize as Mormons how much we hang out together," the researcher (who is Mormon) said. "We go to ward parties and do our visiting teaching or home teaching. We are always interacting with other Mormons." Apparently it also depends on where you live, as their study in Utah County showed a "Mason-Dixon line between Springville and Spanish Fork." "North of the line, Utah English is still spoken," he explains, "but it is not as strong or stereotypical as the [talk] south of the line." (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/29/05)

Utah High School students rate high for AP testing

Give an "A" to Utah high school AP students as they earned the nation’s third highest pass rate on Advanced Placement tests. The news comes from the first-ever survey compiled by the College Board, an official agency that administers the tests given in a variety of advanced classes such as government, history, physics, chemistry, and English. In fact, there are 34 different tests given in 19 subject areas. The three-hour examinations are rigorous, which students take on particular days in May. The board said that nearly 20 percent of Utah’s 30,000 seniors scored a 3, 4, or 5 on their tests, which is good enough to earn credit for one college class in that subject. "This speaks highly of the academic standards in our state and of the dedicated parents, hardworking students and conscientious teachers who want to see students succeed," said Christine Kearl, associate superintendent at the Utah Office of Education. States with higher percentages were New York and Maryland. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/26/05)

Dress code may be in works for Ogden teachers

Sloppiness by some teachers in a Utah school district may end up costing them some freedom. A dress code is being considered for Ogden school teachers, as some female teachers are coming to classes wearing short cropped pants and decal sweat shirts while some males are wearing shorts, T-shirts, and sandals. Although there are no specific guidelines, some school board members are not happy in the attitude being shown by those who are supposed to be the adults. ”Standards have to be set in the schools, and it starts with professional teacher dress,” board vice chairman John Gullo said. Some teachers disagree with this assessment, including one art teacher who said, ”If you’re the pottery teacher, you’re not going to wear a tie." Others mentioned that they would be more than happy to wear nicer clothes provided they were paid more. They also said air conditioning—something most school districts don’t have—would help them dress nicer in the warmer months. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/25/05)

Most Utah stores do business on Sundays

Although most Utah residents belong to the LDS Church, more and more stores are ignoring the traditional "Closed on Sunday" signs and making a buck in the competitive business world. In fact, according to a Deseret Morning News study, 84% of major Utah stores do business on a day many considered sacred. The study involved almost 2,500 retail stores, including grocery/convenience stores, chain stores, and shopping malls. In addition, two out of every three Utah residents say they shop on Sundays, and two of every five main breadwinners explain they had to sometimes work on Sundays. Only 6 percent of Utahns say they never shop on the day they consider the Sabbath. However, Utah County—which is made up of 88 percent Mormons and includes the home of LDS-owned Brigham Young University—goes against the rest of the state’s trends, as almost half of its stores remain closed on Sunday. This is 4-6 times more than in other urban counties. The poll also showed that a whopping 54 percent of Utah County residents say they never shopped on Sundays. "I had a variety of businessmen tell me through the years that they don’t do well on Sundays in this market, so they close," the Provo mayor said.

One interesting stat is that only 48 percent of LDS members surveyed said they had shopped on any Sunday during the past year, as officially the church encourages the keeping of the "Sabbath." A total of 64 percent of those Mormons who considered themselves "very active" did not shop on Sunday, with only 5 percent who said they are "not active" following suit. In comparison, 100 percent of the Catholics, 97 percent of the Protestants, and 100 percent who belonged to "None of the above" said they shopped on Sundays. When asked why he kept his Mr. Mac clothing stores closed on Sundays, Mac Christensen—who is also the president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—explained, "We are Mormons. We believe in being closed on Sunday. It gives our people a chance to be home with their families, take care of church responsibilities and have a day of rest." Besides, he points out, "it hasn’t hurt our business." (Deseret News, 1/23/05)

Playboy subscription offer to Utah teens ticks parents

A "low student rate" offer for a subscription to Playboy magazine came unsolicited in the mail to a number of Pleasant Grove teenage boys, making their parents mad as hornets. The introductory offer to subscribe to 12 issues for $10 included a free DVD titled "Sexy Nude Coeds." A parent who checked with other parents of high school teens determined that her son was not the only recipient. "These poor kids are so bombarded with bad messages anyway," the parent said. "We don’t need it coming to our home." Parents are pointing their fingers at the Alpine School District, saying the magazine must have received its list from school records, an accusation that officials are denying. (Deseret News, 1/22/05)

Woman not discriminated against by LDS Church

A federal appeals court denied the claim of a former LDS Church employee who sued the Mormon Church for sex, age and religious discrimination. It also affirmed that the church can require its employees to maintain valid temple recommends are a condition for employment. The woman, Sharon H. Cook, worked for almost two decades as a graphic designer of church publications. She first got herself into trouble in late 2001 when it was discovered that she might have been helping an excommunicated member obtain access to the church’s in-house mail system to distribute materials. When church security questioned her, they discovered that Cook held "strange and unorthodox religious beliefs." She was suspended in early 2002 when the excommunicated member and his wife moved into her family’s home, and she was eventually fired in May 2003 for "lack of fidelity" to the LDS Church. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/22/05)

Murderer uses biblical story for defense

A 32-year-old West Valley City man who killed his 33-year old wife and 4-year-old child is claiming that God told him to follow through with the deeds, much like Abraham was told by God to kill Isaac in the book of Genesis. Brian Christopher Sullivan gave testimony that though Abraham did not end up killing Isaac, "the Lord had not stopped" Sullivan when he believed he was led to stab his family to death. He knifed his wife eight times and the girl at least 23 times. Both had defensive wounds on their hands.

Sullivan, who converted to Mormonism as a young adult and was a returned Mormon missionary before he studied at Brigham Young University, desired to help usher in the Second Coming of Christ. He initially met his wife while traveling to Israel to search for the lost Ark of the Covenant, as inspired by his viewing of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. He believed that God considered him special because he had, among other things, survived a bullet wound and was the owner of a cat with a broken tail. According to his sister, Sullivan "obsessively" read from the Book of Mormon and even believed that LDS President Brigham Young had visited him. Of course, many Mormons look at encounters with the dead as a positive experience, especially when taking place in certain LDS temples like those in St. George and Manti, both of which are in Utah. Sullivan refused to cooperate with mental health evaluators and was thus judged mentally competent to stand trial in the homicide case. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/20/05)

Utah businessman wins Billionaire show

Shawn Nelson, a Utah native who co-owns a Salt Lake City bean bag company, won over Virgin Cos. Head Richard Branson to claim victory in the Fox television show "Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?" Nelson and his wife had to keep the secret of his victory for a total of four months until the show aired this week, since the show would have fined the couple $5 million for giving away the secret before the January 11 show. Nelson’s victory means he gets to be the CEO of Branson’s company, at least for three months. The companies owned by Branson include Virgin Airlines and Virgin Megastores. Before he reports to work, Nelson first plans to take his nieces and nephews to Disneyland Paris. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/12/05)

Abused preteen boy wonders why parents’ sentence is light

A 12-year-old boy who had been chained in the basement of his Magna, Utah home watched his parents get sentenced to six months in jail and than asked, "Why do they only have to go for six months?" The parents, who were convicted by a jury of second-degree felony child abuse, have five other children, which is the main reason why their sentence was so light. Their sentences will be staggered so one parent can be with the other children throughout the two jail terms. The couple’s attorney said the parents were "a caring, loving couple who were faced with an impossible situation," as they became frustrated at the boy for his uncontrollable behavior and constantly running away from home. The boy had been handcuffed and chained to a concrete block in the family’s basement, and he had to sleep on a small rug on a cement floor with no blanket or pillow. The prosecutor disagreed, saying the pair had exhibited "just flat meanness…They were abusive and nasty to this young man." The boy said he ran away from home to escape physical abuse from his stepmother, including being stabbed in the head with a fork and having jalapeno juice poured into his eyes. The boy is now staying with an aunt. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/11/05)

Report describes why Utah is tops in bankruptcies

No state has more personal bankruptcies than Utah, according to a series of reports released by the Salt Lake Tribune. In fact, there were more than 21,000 filings from the last half of 2003 through the first six months of 2004. Among the newspaper’s findings:

· Bankruptcies are more likely to take place when families have married young, which is very typical in Utah, where the marrying age is 24 for men and 21 for women (compared to 27 for men in the rest of the nation and 25 for women). This makes these families more vulnerable to financial crises.

· About 12 percent of those declaring bankruptcy continued to make tithing payment to the LDS Church despite their financial troubles.

· The average of housing expenses was 45% of the total income, a much higher than normal rate.

· Filers often carried large credit card and medical-related expenses. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/10/05)

High school newspaper breaks its own Watergate

Journalists from a Utah Catholic high school broke a story on a uniform suppliers that surprised a number of people, including their school administrators. An article in December issue of The Bulldog Press (Judge Memorial Catholic High School) did an investigation into its uniform supplier and discovered that the clothes they were buying came from sweat shops in El Salvador. Workers there were paid $4 for each 1,000 pieces completed, which students then paid $30 per piece. The workers thus were making only $140 per month, or about 4 ½ pants. The students questioned where the rest of the money was going while the laborers worked in poverty. The school’s principal wants answers from the company supplying the uniforms. "People say, ‘Are you mad at what [the students] did?’" the principal said. "I’m proud of what they did." The students are planning follow-up articles on clothing companies that target young consumers. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/9/05)

Penny case saga continues in Manti

A group of 13 people known only as the "Women’s Community League" paid the $82 traffic fine for the Ephraim Wal-Mart employee who unsuccessfully tried to pay it with a bucket of pennies. The story began when Grant Peterson attempted to pay his fine with 8,200 pennies because he felt the penalty was unreasonable. When he was told by the court that he couldn’t pay with pennies, he objected, saying that pennies are considered legal tender in the United States. A sheriff’s deputy later returned the bucket of coins to him. "He didn’t say anything, just gave back the pennies and drove off, and that was it," Peterson’s father said. Peterson took his pennies to eBay, hoping somebody would purchase "the actual pennies and bucket which were rejected by Sanpete County." The people who paid his fine in paper didn’t say why they did so. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/7/05, 1/8/05)

Utes win Fiesta Bowl, claim unbeaten season

For the first time since BYU won the national championship in 1984, a Division I football team from the state of Utah has put together an undefeated season. The University of Utah Utes demolished the University of Pittsburgh by a 35-7 score, claiming the Fiesta Bowl trophy and securing at least a top five ranking in the entire nation. The Utes were powered by its offense, led by junior quarterback Alex Smith, who completed 27 passes out of 39 attempts for 340 yards and accounting for four of Utah’s five touchdowns. Never a threat in the game, Pittsburgh was soundly defeated by the Utes, the darling team of the entire Utah region. The next day, Smith—who is 20 years old but with enough credits to graduate with his bachelor’s degree—announced that he was going to make himself eligible for this spring’s NFL draft, figuring he will be drafted sometime during the first round. Another factor in Smith’s decision was that his coach, Urban Meyer, is leaving to coach in Florida, and Smith did not want to have to learn a system under a third coach. The loss of Smith—who was 21-2 in his three seasons with Utah—dampers the Utah’s chances to repeat its undefeated season next year. (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/3/05)