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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015