Deseret Morning News, Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Letter by LDS leaders cheers Utah Democrats
Missive's new language underscores neutrality
By Bob Bernick Jr.
Deseret Morning News
Utah Democrats are saying that a letter local LDS Church leaders are
reading over the pulpit indicates you can be a faithful Latter-day
Saint and a Democrat.
Utah Republicans are saying the letter doesn't necessarily mean that
and that church leaders have always said you can belong to any major
political party and be a good church member.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't elaborating on
"The church has been making statements like this for some time," said
Todd Taylor, Utah Democratic Party executive director. "But this is a
good step for us" in the off-and-on-again public debate over whether
faithful LDS Church members can still be good Democrats, Taylor said.
Each political season, leaders of the LDS Church send out a letter to
stake leaders encouraging members to be good citizens and participate
in the political process. The letter is to be read to local
congregations before Tuesday. In some congregations, the letter has
already been read.
Next Tuesday the party caucuses convene in Utah, when residents gather
to vote for county and state party delegates, who in turn will adopt
party platforms and screen party candidates before a June primary
This year's letter reiterates that the church does not endorse any
political candidate nor any political party. But the letter this year
includes some language not in previous letters, a comparison with
older such letters provided by the church's public information office
"Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms
of all major political parties. While the church does not endorse
political candidates, platforms or parties, members are urged to be
full participants in political, governmental and community affairs,"
the letter states.
Church spokesman Dale Bills said besides the letter itself, the church
has no further comment.
Local Democrats =97 who have felt since the 1970s that local Republicans
too often try to tie together their political and religious beliefs to
the detriment of Democratic candidates =97 are saying this year's letter
is a good turn of events.
"The Democratic Party, like The Church of Jesus Christ, believes there
is a clear responsibility for society to care for the poor, help
working families in their challenges of raising children and providing
a decent income for them, and reach out to those in society who are
often left out," Taylor said in a written statement.
"We hope members of the church will take this as an opportunity to
find out more about the Democratic Party's principles that are closely
connected with those of The Church of Jesus Christ and realize that
the Democratic Party represents the same values shared by many
GOP state chairman Joe Cannon said Tuesday he had heard about the LDS
letter. But Cannon said it is general in nature and certainly isn't an
endorsement of any Democratic candidate nor of any parts of the Utah
Democratic Party platform.
"This is not an earth-shaking thing," Cannon said of the letter. "The
church clearly says, explicitly says, that it endorses no candidates,
platforms or parties. (The letter) says what it says. . . . Sure, a
lot of good Latter-day Saints are Democrats. But a lot are
On rare occasions, such as the recent ballot initiatives on gay
marriages across the country, the church does take a stand on
politically sensitive issues. Last year, church leaders several times
issued statements saying any Utah state income tax reform should
include the current deductions for charitable giving.
And with about 80 percent of the 104 part-time state legislators being
members of the LDS Church, those rare political stands carry a lot of
weight in Utah, where the 12-million-member worldwide church is
Meanwhile, Cannon said that despite complaints by some longtime Utah
GOP dissidents, the state Republican Party will conduct its Tuesday
night meetings like it has in the past.
Mike Ridgway and a handful of other unhappy Republicans say the state
party is ignoring national Republican Party rules by allowing
residents who are not registered Republicans to attend the
neighborhood mass meetings, elect and be elected county and state
National GOP rules specifically prohibit nonregistered Republicans
from making any party decisions or serving in any offices, says
Ridgway, who has been booted out of previous party offices he's held
because of his ongoing intraparty battles with county and state GOP
"Yes, you have to be a registered Republican" before a delegate can
participate in county or state conventions, Cannon said. "But we want
to be as open, as welcoming, a party as we can be. And like always, we
will allow anyone (registered Republican or not) into our party
caucuses. If they are elected (a delegate, precinct chair or other
officer), they must be registered as a Republican before the
conventions" in April and May to participate, Cannon said.