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2008 A year of scrutiny for the LDS Church

If 2002 was Mormonism’s debutante ball, 2008 may go down as its first semester of college.

The Utah-based church made new friends, endured back-stabbing from would-be friends, joined some clubs, got a taste of fame and had a few wrenching exams.

From the possibility of a Mormon in the White House to a stream of Latter-day Saints on reality television, from being attacked as belonging to a cult (or mistaken for a polygamous sect in Texas) to participating in California’s bitter battle for traditional marriage, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would see their faith in the nation’s mirror. To many, such scrutiny was unlike any they had seen in their lifetime.

“The church emerged on the center stage of public consciousness in a way we hadn’t seen before,” says Chase Peterson, former University of Utah president and lifelong Latter-day Saint. “The full consequences of this new public awareness probably will not be understood for some time.”

Indeed, it was a “wild, eventful year for the church,” says Philip Barlow, Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, “quite beyond its perpetual efforts in spreading its message, looking after its members, managing its vast resources, building its facilities and addressing catastrophes at home and abroad.”

The crucial question is: How will the LDS Church and its individual members respond to the year’s events?

For example, Mormons, who in recent decades have been staunchly Republican, were cast as pariahs during Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign by controlling sectors of the Republican Party. Though he had won widespread political and financial support across the nation, most Evangelicals in the party bitterly opposed him, and between 37 percent and 43 percent of Americans said they would never vote for a Mormon, any Mormon.

Even after Romney bowed out of the race, many Mormons continued to smart from the accusations and misrepresentations of their faith that flourished during his run. They developed a serious distaste for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who, they believe, fueled anti-Mormon hostility while playing innocent.

Others were more straightforward. The Rev. Robert Jeffress repeatedly called Mormonism a “cult,” and evangelist Bill Keller famously said, “A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Satan.”

Will Latter-day Saints now begin to question their allegiance to the Republican Party, Barlow wonders, or even move into the Democratic Party in the future, especially if Barack Obama is successful in his first term?

Life was changing inside the church as well.

LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley died at the end of January.

At 97, Hinckley was Mormonism’s oldest prophet and the most vigorous to the end. He had transformed the church’s public image, giving interviews to reporters everywhere he went.

 

Hinckley’s longtime associate, Thomas S. Monson, ascended to the LDS presidency, choosing Dieter Uchtdorf, a German member, as a counselor. The leadership focus began to shift.

Where Hinckley met with the media and immediately traveled outside the country, Monson held an awkward, scripted news conference and stayed closer to home, running the church from its Salt Lake City headquarters. He dedicated four temples and announced eight more, while also opening a new welfare services compound and sending humanitarian aid across the globe.

Despite such goodwill efforts, conflicts occasionally erupted.

In March, Mormon leaders were chagrined by news accounts of three Mormon missionaries in Colorado who apparently desecrated a Roman Catholic shrine. Though the Catholics ultimately forgave the missionaries for their vandalism, a month later the Vatican issued an order, blocking LDS access to Catholic parish records because of the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead. The move caused widespread hand-wringing among genealogists everywhere, including Catholics.

Catholics and Mormons later put aside their differences to become allies on a different political issue — gay marriage.

In June, Mormons joined the Preserve Marriage Coalition at the request of Archbishop George Niederauer, the San Francisco Catholic leader who had previously led the Diocese of Salt Lake City. The First Presidency sent a letter to all California Mormons, urging them to support a ballot measure known as Proposition 8, which defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

The same Evangelical groups that had demeaned Mormonism as a cult during Romney’s campaign were now the LDS Church’s allies in the California fight.

“These new defenders of the Mormon faith have long been the most prolific Mormon-bashers in the nation,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of the Brooklyn-based gay-rights group Truth Wins Out. “[The two groups] have nothing in common but their anti-gay rhetoric.”

The measure passed on Nov. 4, and in the ensuing days, angry supporters of gay marriage protested outside LDS temples across the nation.

“The church’s support of Proposition 8 created a loud backlash and may make the church a symbol for the constriction of civil rights,” Barlow says. “Will the church dig in on what it sees as a moral and constitutional issue or will common cause help repair or forge new allegiances with Evangelicals?”

Not many years from now, 2008 may be seen as a turning point for the LDS Church in addressing the reality of homosexuality, he says.

The church’s theology was formed at a time when homosexuality could only be construed in biblical terms as “abomination,” he says. “Because of experience and science, today church leaders see the issue in a more complex light. They distinguish between feelings and actions, and they acknowledge that we do not know the originating causes of same-sex attraction.”

LDS founder Joseph Smith once said that ” ‘by proving contraries, truth is made manifest,’ ” Barlow says. “As is the past, this may be a painful but auspicious moment in LDS history.”

By Peggy Fletcher Stack

The Salt Lake Tribune

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Metropolitan News-Enterprise, Monday, December 15, 2008 Page 1

Religious School Fees Not Deductible, Ninth Circuit Rules

By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer

Tuition and fees for religious day schools are not deductible for federal income tax purposes, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The court, for the second time, rejected claims by local residents Michael and Marla Sklar that they received only intangible religious benefits as result of their five children’s attendance in Orthodox Jewish schools, so their school payments should be deductible, at least in part, as charitable donations.

The Sklars have been seeking to deduct their payments, going back to the early 1990s, since learning of a settlement between the Internal Revenue Service and members of the Church of Scientology that allows Scientologists to deduct a portion of their payments to the church for auditing and training.

The IRS allowed the deductions sought by the Sklars for 1991 through 1993, apparently because it believed the couple were Scientologists. But when the IRS and the Tax Court said the Sklars’ school payments for 1994 were not deductible, they appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which ruled against them in Sklar v. Comm’r (2002) 282 F.3d 610.

The panel said it was doubtful that their deduction claim was constitutionally permitted, that it was “unlikely” that religious education for children could be considered equivalent to Scientology auditing and training, and that the deduction was not permitted in any event because there was no evidence that the payments the Sklars made exceeded the value of their children’s secular education—the schools offered both secular and religious classes—so none of the money could be considered a religious gift.

The court agreed with the Sklars that the Scientology settlement violated the Establishment Clause, but said the remedy would not be to make similar payments to other faiths’ institutions deductible.

Friday’s decision dealt with the Sklars’ disallowed $15,000 deduction for 1995 tuition and fees. The Sklars claimed the deduction based on their estimate that 55 percent of the tuition payments were for purely religious education, but the IRS, the Tax Court, and the Ninth Circuit all ruled against them.

Judge Kim M. Wardlaw, writing for the Ninth Circuit, rejected the argument that the school payments have the “dual character” of a purchase and a contribution and should thus be partially deductible.

She cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring that a taxpayer claiming such a deduction “at a minimum demonstrate that he purposely contributed money or property in excess of the value of any benefit he received in return.” Wardlaw agreed with the Tax Court that the tuition charged by the two schools attended by the Sklar children were within the range charged by other private schools and was “not excessive for the substantial benefit they received in exchange, i.e. an education for their children.”

The judge went on to conclude, as the court did in Sklar I, that the Scientology settlement has no bearing on the Sklars’ claims because the Sklars are not similarly situated to Scientologists. The principle that a taxpayer is not entitled to “an unconstitutional denominational preference” just because the IRS gave one to members of another faith, Wardlaw wrote, is “as correct today as [it was] six years ago.”

Wardlaw was joined in her opinion by Judge Harry Pregerson and District Judge Ronald B. Leighton of the Western District of Washington, sitting by designation.

The case is Sklar v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 06-72961.

Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company

http://www.metnews.com/articles/2008/skla121508.htm

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Brigham Young Student Art Project Censored For Proving Existence of Gays
Posted by Lacy Hart 12/09/2008 09:56 AM

Gay people exist.

Does such a well-known fact offend you? Are you suddenly going into spastic convulsions whilst lamenting the thought that somewhere out there men and women exist who prefer companionship from someone of their own gender?

Well, if you’re a member of Brigham Young’s homosexuality-intolerant administration, chances are you’re already angrily pounding a response into the comment box below.

Last month, a BYU student named Michael unveiled his fine art portrait project on his blog.

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The premise:

These are some of the final images for my fine art photography project. These portraits are of students of BYU who identify themselves as homosexual and a person that supports them. With all of the dissenting views regarding this topic in the past few months I have felt very strongly about this project. The portraits will be shown in pairs. The idea is that there are gay and lesbian individuals not only in the Mormon culture, but also at BYU. I also chose to photograph someone who is a support to this person. This could be a family member or friend. This support person may also identify themselves as homosexual and both people may provide support to each other. I am not telling the viewer who identifies themselves as homosexual, because I hope the viewer will realize that placing a label with the portrait only creates divisions in our society and furthers stereotypes. It is my hope this body of work can be a vehicle for tolerance, support, love and change.

As it turns out, Michael’s project is “offensive,” because it proves that—gasp—homosexuality isn’t a myth and/or celebrates something that is considered deplorable by Mormons.

And so, the administration quietly pulled it from the display at the fine arts department.

I know it’s Brigham Young, so my expectations for this so-called institution of “higher learning” should be appropriately tempered, but…

What’s next, BYU? Censoring the yearbook pictures of students identified to be gay?

http://www.collegeotr.com/college_otr/brigham_young_student_art_project_censored_for_proving_existence_of_gays_16521

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Legislators’ anti-gay sentiments come back to haunt Mormons
Paul Rolly

The Salt Lake Tribune

Updated: 12/05/2008 10:13:14 PM MST

Had the Utah Legislature not balked so vehemently at any hate-crime legislation that included protections for gays and lesbians, the state might now have better tools to prosecute those committing hate crimes against members and property of the LDS Church.

That’s the irony emerging from the ugly aftermath of California’s Proposition 8 vote banning gay marriage in that state. Because members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the urging of their ecclesiastical leaders, played such a prominent role with their money and time in the passing of the proposition, their church is now a target.

Church services have been disrupted by protesters, members have been blocked from entering churches, glue has been poured into the locks of church buildings, glass doors of churches have been shattered by BB guns, LDS temples have received packages containing mysterious white powder that proved harmless, and church buildings and signs have been spray-painted.

But the perpetrators, if caught and charged in Utah, don’t face penalty enhancements for targeting a specific group for harassment. That is because a majority of Utah legislators, not wanting to appear to be coddling people who are gay, refused to include them in hate-crime legislation as a special class.

The best that LDS victims of hate crimes can hope for in Utah is that their suffering be considered an aggravating factor when judges sentence a perpetrator and parole boards determine how much of the guilty party’s sentence must be served before granting parole.

Legislators could have included a penalty enhancement for a hate crime. If, for example, a crime normally would be charged as a third-degree felony, it could be bumped to a second-degree felony if committed against a protected class.

Indeed, that was the model of hate-crimes legislation that proponents tried for a decade to pass. But in order to constitutionally justify a penalty enhancement, which most states include in such laws, protected groups must be defined.

That was always the stumbling block on Capitol Hill. For a hate-crime enhancement, it had to be shown the victim was targeted because of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, disability or — the bill killer — sexual preference.

Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored the bill that finally passed in 2007. He acknowledges it is not as tough as it could have been, but the compromise was necessary to get it through the Legislature. There are no protected groups defined in the marshmallow law and prosecutors must show the crime had a negative effect on a whole class of people before it can be considered an aggravating factor.

Many of the legislators who fought against the hate-crimes bills expressed concern about discrimination against Mormons.

A few years ago, Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Provo, led the move to force a legislative audit of the University of Utah’s medical school because of speculation that male Mormon applicants were being discriminated against. So now, because of the anti-gay sentiments expressed at the Mormon-majority Legislature, when LDS Church members actually are singled out for harassment or discrimination, their tormentors get a pass, pretty much, even if their actions can be proven to be hate crimes.

LDS Church leaders did not oppose including sexual orientation in the earlier versions of the bill. When the church issued a statement to that effect, Gayle Ruzicka, head of the right-wing Eagle Forum, said the church was implicitly opposing the legislation because its statement did not say it supported the language.

That prompted a church spokesman to say that the Eagle Forum does not speak for the LDS Church.

http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/ci_11149778

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