clear
Sunday May 3rd, 2015 7:55AM

Atheist national conference takes aim at Morman Church

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Leaders of a national atheist group say the best spot to find a nonbeliever is in a place of faith.

To that end, the American Atheists, in an effort to raise awareness and attract new members, are holding their annual conference over Easter weekend in the home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

They say the church's large influence in Utah has made atheists in the state reluctant to speak about religious doubts for fear of being shunned. Atheist group leaders also criticize the LDS influence as having overstepped its boundaries in areas of public policy.

"Religious morality is dictating the Legislature. That's unconstitutional, and that's why we're fighting this fight," atheist spokesman Dave Muscato said, speaking against the state's ban on gay marriage.

Mormon culture dominates Utah, and the effect can be seen in the state's strict liquor laws and overwhelmingly conservative politics. About 60 percent of residents and about 4 in 5 Utah lawmakers identify as Latter-day Saints.

Many residents view the church's influence as responsible for what they consider a "pro-family" atmosphere that makes the state attractive, a University of Utah professor says.

The state prioritizes children, education and good health, said Don Herrin, who teaches family studies. He said this may help people feel "safer, more upbeat, more positive."

The expansiveness of Mormon principles can be seen as "an achievement of something that is valued in the culture," Herrin said.

The head of an LDS anti-defamation group also dismisses the atheists' criticism, saying the church doesn't publicly endorse legislative candidates. Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, also says in an email that detractors are to be expected.

"Anytime you have an organization that has a large economic footprint in a community, there will be some who will resent it and want to push back against it," he said.

LDS officials say the church isn't responding to the atheist group.

Twice a year, tens of thousands of Mormons arrive in Salt Lake City for the church's general conference. Early this month, attendees heard LDS church officials denounce gay marriage. A group of a few dozen demonstrators, led by Atheists of Utah along with the American Atheists, protested outside the conference.

About 700 attendees came Friday to listen to atheist speakers and discuss their beliefs. The visitors ranged from casually dressed college students to people in business suits to parents carrying toddlers.

Atheist leaders say their group members comprise a spectrum of views. Those who believe for certain that God doesn't exist, those who are unsure but aren't active in their faith and those who don't give the matter much thought all could be called atheists, they say.

Wilson Bateman, a 29-year-old from Sandy, said he was glad to see events that raise the profile of atheists. "Sometimes, it's just fun to be around your own people," he said.

The group plans its gatherings for Easter weekend in part to draw attention, but also because their members are generally available and hotel and convention centers offer good deals. Atheist organizers last brought their conference to Salt Lake City in 1981.

As a warm-up, conference officials hosted a panel discussion Wednesday featuring Mormon and atheist experts speaking about negative public perceptions and stereotypes about their respective groups.

Atheist speakers aimed to dispel notions that members of their community are immoral or unfriendly. LDS panel members, meanwhile, said their faith is neither unwelcoming nor exclusionary.

The American Atheists president, David Silverman, said Friday his group wants to make sure people of all faiths who have doubts, especially disillusioned Mormons in Utah, come to learn more and realize they have allies.

"We hope that they will come in droves" before Easter celebrations, he said, "and see what we're really like."
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 4 months ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 4 months ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 4 months ago )
U.S. News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 4 months ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 4 months ago )
Local/State News
Committee leaves transportation funding to lawmakers
Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive, a committee of lawmakers is warning in a report issued Tuesday.
5:36AM ( 4 months ago )
US off war footing at year's end, but wars go on
Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.
6:13PM ( 4 months ago )
GOP leader regrets talk to white supremacists; party leaders rally around him
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
6:08PM ( 4 months ago )
Politics
Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings 'genocide'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to ful...
1:00PM ( 1 week ago )
Ex-NFL star Hernandez convicted of murder, sentenced to life
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the d...
8:54PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Clinton kicks off 2016 campaign online, heads next to Iowa
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped back into presidential politics on Sunday, making a much-awaited announcement she will again seek the White House with a promise to serve as the "champi...
7:56PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Hall, White, Jefferson schools recognized nationally for use of technology
Three school districts in northeast Georgia - Hall, White, and Jefferson - have received national recognition for their use use of innovative technologies. They earned top spots in the Center for Digital Education's and the National School Boards Association's 10th annual Digital School Districts Survey.
By Staff
1:00PM ( 2 weeks ago )
US Capitol lockdown lifted after man fatally shoots himself
WASHINGTON (AP) — A precautionary lockdown of the U.S. Capitol was lifted after about two hours Saturday following a suicide by a man carrying a protest sign.The man died after shooting himself on the...
6:15PM ( 3 weeks ago )