[Intro | Part 1] This is Part 2 of my comments on God and Country: Politics in Utah, a new collection of essays considering theoretical and practical issues of church and state in Utah, just published by Signature. I have generally shied away from Utah politics, but the new emphasis on politics in Mormondom, plus the emergence of Utah as a one-party state, makes the subject now a Mormon issue, not just a regional one. Taken as a whole, the essays give cause for both hope and concern. The essays I'll note in the second half of the book treat the practical effects of Mormon dominance on Utah's public institutions.
There are several essays bemoaning the potential ill effects of a dominant religion per se, but they seem to skirt around the fact that their real concern is with a dominant religion when it happens to be Mormonism. They won't come out and attack the Mormon kingdom mentality directly, yet they won't condemn religion directly either because the authors are themselves Protestant ministers or sympathizers and support religion. So they end up muddling around generalizing about how dominant religions should behave, which (no surprise) amounts to being very, very considerate of smaller denominations and playing as small a role as possible in the public sector.
I found the essays considering the cases of specific public institutions more enlightening. L. Jackson Newell writes on education in Utah, highlighting the role of schools and universities in promoting free expression and creating an educated public as a counterweight to authoritarianism (whether political or religious). "Utah offers the instructive example of two large universities with sharply contrasting philosophies," he notes, with BYU working "primarily to educate its students in the service of their faith" while the U "embraces free inquiry and encourages each student to arrive at his or her own conclusion." Right. And of course the U's faculty is not above using coercion to "encourage" its drama students learn the fine art of profanity. BYU has its share of problems, but if you want any credibility puhlease don't tell me the U embodies some higher moral approach to education when faculty use their position to coercively foist their own questionable values on captive students. UVSC is looking better and better. Still, the academic freedom issue deserves the attention it receives in this chapter.
John G. Gallivan, Sr., recounts the tumultuous history of the Salt Lake Tribune, the morning paper for coffee drinkers. Especially interesting is the breakdown, in 1997, of the joint production agreement with the Deseret News, which allowed the two papers to share presses, both thereby lowering overall costs and remaining financially viable. As a result, ownership of the Trib has been "in play," passing first to media conglomerate TCI, which then merged with AT&T, which then sold the Trib to the Media News Group, . The Kearns family, the historic owners of the Trib, were still fighting in court to regain control of the paper and keep it nominally independent as of December 2004. See here for a Will Bagley commentary on recent events; this BYU NewsNet piece is also helpful.
Finally, I rather unexpectedly enjoyed the chapter on the ACLU in Utah, which went out of its way to explain that the ACLU sometimes represents LDS plaintiffs but, in Utah, ends up opposing LDS action most of the time. What makes the chapter useful is the detailed review of the whole Main Street sale and the associated public easement issue. Having read press accounts and some of the court opinions, it was nice to read a summarized account by one who was involved and knew the details. As a non-Utahn, it seems obvious that it is in the best interests of the city and downtown merchants to make the number one attraction (Temple Square) as friendly a place as possible, so tourists and locals will come there and spend their money. Almost everyone recognizes the mall is an improvement over Main Street, which inexplicably bisected two pedestrian plazas. But politics is always local, which in Utah means local religion, so it became a Big Issue.