Atheist National Conference Aims at Mormon Church
Leaders of a national atheist group say the best spot to find a nonbeliever is in a place of faith.
To that end, the American Atheists, in an effort to raise awareness and attract new members, are holding their annual conference over Easter weekend in the home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They say the church’s large influence in Utah has made atheists in the state reluctant to speak about religious doubts for fear of being shunned. Atheist group leasers also criticize the LDS influence as having overstepped its boundaries in areas of public policy.
"Religious morality is dictating the Legislature. That’s unconstitutional, and that’s why we’re fighting this fight," atheist spokesman Dave Muscato said, speaking against the state’s ban on gay marriage.
Mormon culture dominates Utah, and the effect can be seen in the state’s strict liquor laws and overwhelmingly conservative politics. About 60 percent of residents and about 4 in 5 Utah lawmakers identify as Latter-day Saints.
Many residents view the church’s influence as responsible for what they consider a "pro-family" atmosphere that makes the state attractive, a University of Utah professor says.
The state prioritizes children, education and good health, said Don Herrin, who teaches family studies. He said this helps people feel "safer, more upbeat, more positive."
The expansiveness of Mormon principles can be seen as "an achievement of something that is valued in the culture," Herrin said.
The head of an LDS anti-defamation group also dismisses the atheists’ criticism, saying the church doesn’t publicly endorse legislative candidates. Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, also says in an email that detractors are to be expected.