MORMON CHURCH TO OPERATE 2002 OLYMPICS?

from AA News March 15, 1998

Columnist Compares Utah Policy To Nazi '36 Games In Berlin...

The Olympics...
It's all about sport, excellence, inclusiveness, community and the being the best, right?

As Utah prepares to host the 2002 Olympics, however, questions are being raised about whether Governor Mike Leavitt and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the Mormons -- feels the same way. The Governor raised eyebrows when he announced, while attending the Nagano Games in Japan, that he would be calling upon LDS prelates to raise a small army of Mormon volunteers to operate the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Salt Lake City Weekly columnist John Harrington noted, "He (Leavitt) hasn't mentioned the Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Eastern religions, agnostics nor atheists -- or anyone else."

Critics say that Governor Leavitt has a difficult time separating his Mormon faith and heritage from his position as the leading state official in a secular post. At his inauguration speech, for instance, Leavitt had the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform, and specifically mentioned the LDS church in an inspirational context; he also added that there was nothing improper in mixing "God and government." And as part of his effort to "meld" the Mormon Church to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Leavitt has installed John E. Fowler, outgoing General Authority of the LDS Church's "Second Quorum of the Seventy" to be the Utah Olympic coordinator and "represent the state's interests during the planning process."

All of this has critics of Leavitt, and state-church separationists in Utah deeply concerned. Columnist Harrington compared the governor's proactive mixing of sport, politics and religion to the antics of the Nazi Party in trying to coopt the infamous 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, and turn the athletic contest in a showcase of nationalism and bigotry. "What other single, easily identified, highly-visible organization in the past was tied to the Olympics the way Leavitt is doing with the Mormons today?", asked Harrington in a recent column.

"Let's toss out ideology, because I am not comparing Nazi/Mormon belief," wrote Harrington. "The issues are inclusion versus exclusion and the use of the Olympics-as-propaganda to promote a single belief system."

And Chris Allen, Utah State Director for American Atheists, has also questioned Leavitt's role in this and other issues.

"Leavitt should be a governor for all Utahns, not just the religion of which he's a member." Allen adds that, "It's highly unethical to use an office for missionary work."

The cozy relationship between the Governor's office and the Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints is nothing new to Allen and others who have monitored church-state issues in Utah. But the threat of a "Mormonized" Winter Olympics has sparked concern. It was bad enough when the governor crossed the line separating church and state on local issues; in 2002, he and the LDS will be able to do it in front of the entire world.


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