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Posted 12 Mar 2001   For week ended February 16, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 16Feb01

By Mark Wright

Is the University of Utah Anti-Mormon?

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Discrimination against Mormons is an accusation the University of Utah has heard since it passed from church control and became a secular university. In the latest round of complaints, Latter-day Saint student Christina Axson-Flynn claims she was forced out of the theater program because she refused to take God's name in vain. Before Axson-Flynn was accepted into the program, she told teachers she would not use vulgar language. She feels her constitutional rights have been violated because of religious discrimination and has taken her case to federal court.

David Dynak, U. theater department chairman, said all students are asked if they object to certain types of language, but there is no agreement to accommodate those objections. All students are required to perform the same scene so teachers can evaluate their work. Axson-Flynn changed the words and passed the class with an A-minus. "The issue was not forced," Dynak said, "Her beliefs, morals, and values were never in question."

Jeremy Rische, Axson-Flynn's former classmate, said he recently sang a very anti-Semitic song as part of the musical "Cabaret." "Because I sang that song," Rische, who is Jewish, said, "doesn't mean that I believe what that character is saying." Another LDS theater student, Marjorie Lopez Tibbs said, "Language is the way to depict how things are. But just like I can play a 55-year-old woman, and though I can be that character for a time, that woman is not me, just like certain words in a dialogue are the character's, not mine."

L. Jackson Newell, U. dean of liberal education for 16 years, said there are numerous stories of LDS students and faculty who have felt like an oppressed minority and "there is also no end of non-Mormons who have come to the U. excited about it and being in Salt Lake and then lose their enthusiasm, especially families with small children who don't seem to find the community they thought they would."

Newell believes regular and official airing of the Mormon/non-Mormon debate is needed. "If you don't do things like that, rumors and interpretations of events tend to multiply and get whipped up into a lot of stuff that makes it difficult to deal with reality," he said. "A crisis results, and at that point the whole education effort gets stifled and even undermined."

Erika Thew, editor of the LDS Student Association magazine, "The Century," said many Mormon students are warned by school counselors and parents that they will be corrupted or ridiculed at the U. "There's this kind of undercurrent, but I don't think most kids get caught up in it," she said. "I think people kind of find what they're looking for. But then, I don't think we're as tolerant as we could be, and sometimes we whine and complain about it, but I wish we'd do more about it." Thew, who transferred to the U. from Brigham Young University, said, "Mormon kids who come here from out of state feel the campus is very Mormon, but the Mormon kids who come here from Utah think it's anti-Mormon."

Business professor Bill Hesterly, who has two degrees from BYU and has been at the U. for 12 years, said, "Everywhere you go, there is a tension between modern universities and conservative or fundamentalist people. People here have often erroneously attributed what is a typical interaction today of these two elements as anti-Mormon."


U. theater department denies bias
Deseret News 11Feb01 D2
By James Thalman: Deseret News staff writer

Religious rift rattles U.
Deseret News 4Feb01 D4
By James Thalman: Deseret News staff writer
The anti-Mormon ccontroversy has enduring history


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