Still the right place to be for the right thinking folk: Mormon pioneers led by Brigham Young founded Salt Lake City 146 years ago - and they are still very much in charge

ENTER the state of Utah by road and you will be welcomed by a large billboard displaying a picture of desert scenery and a slogan that to anyone unversed in Mormon history might seem a little puzzling. 'Still the Right Place]'

Continue into Salt Lake City and you are unlikely to remain in the dark for long. Almost anyone will explain that it is a reference to the words of Brigham Young, leader of the first Mormon pioneers to reach the valley in 1847. 'This is the right place,' he said, seeing it for the first time.

And indeed, at least for Mormons, his words remain apt today. Although Brigham Young's dream of creating a theocracy within the United States may not have quite come about, Utah today remains a place where political and social life and the very conservative doctrine of his church are almost inseparable.

It is a presence that has been especially evident in the run up to this Easter. Last weekend 6,500 members of the church - formally the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - swarmed into the city for their annual conference. On Tuesday they celebrated the centenary of its spired temple in the heart of the city. With a worldwide membership of 8.4 million, the church also announced plans to build several new temples, including one in Preston, England. Today it has only one in Britain, close to Gatwick airport.

But suggest to church officials that they, rather than the occupants of the somewhat eclipsed State Capitol a few blocks from the temple, actually run the state's affairs and you will be bombarded with denials. It is simply a case of benign influence, they say.

'Some say that the church runs the state but that's not true at all,' says Don LeFevre, spokesman for the church with an office on the 25th floor of its administration building, the tallest in town. 'It is just very normal that in a state where more than 70 per cent of its inhabitants belong to the church there should be some influence by those individuals.'

In fact, nearly 150 years after Young and his first contingent of 147 pioneers arrived in the valley, almost three-quarters of Utah's population are Mormons. They account for 90 per cent of those who describe themselves as religious. The next-largest religious group in the state are Catholics, who account for only 3 per cent of state's 1.8 million inhabitants.

Nor are the members of the State Capitol likely to cross the church. Nine out of 10 of the legislators are practising Mormons and regularly hold meetings with church leaders before taking important votes. The state's newly elected Governor, Mike Leavitt, is a Mormon too. On taking office he pledged to seek divine guidance on important issues. The church also owns one of the state's main television stations, KKSL.

Mr LeFevre, whose own grandfather was among the first Mormon settlers here, says the church never takes political sides. When matters of moral teaching arise, however, it will always stir. 'Clearly we have a right and indeed an obligation to speak up on moral issues that we believe are important, like pornography, alcohol use and so on. But we never seek to impose our will,' he explains.

The Mormon doctrine is indeed restrictive, arguably even authoritarian. Members can be excommunicated for such sins as pre-marital sex or infidelity. They are barred from drinking not just alcohol but even coffee, tea and Coca Cola. They are expected to participate in almost daily community activities. In theory they must also donate 10 per cent of their pre-tax income to the church. Polygamy, for which Mormons were once famed, and persecuted, was outlawed by the official church in the 1890s.

The only recorded occasion when state legislators have defied the Mormon establishment was 60 years ago when they supported the national repeal of probihition. Here today, however, alcohol sales remain strictly controlled. In the same vein, the church celebrated a victory last autumn when the state government moved to ban betting on horses.

For drinkers and gamblers, at least, the influence of the Mormons can only be oppressive. Equally, however, Salt Lake City is a strikingly neat city, in a spectacular setting and with few of the urban slums so familiar in other American cities. 'If I have a problem it is the state control of alcohol sales, that is the only real inconvenience,' says Linda MacMahon, a non-Mormon who moved to the city 20 years ago from North Carolina.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
News
people
News
i100
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
News
i100
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
News
i100
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup