Mormon numbers decline in Utah
Only 60.7 percent of state’s population belong to Church of Later-day Saints
SALT LAKE CITY — Residents of Utah who belong to the Mormon church make up 60.7 percent of the state’s population, the lowest share ever.
The percentage has declined every year for nearly two decades, according to membership numbers supplied by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints.
The numbers, along with statistics from school districts, the Internal Revenue Service and other sources, helped state officials last week when they estimated Utah’s population at 2.69 million, as of July.
If the trend holds, Mormons will make up less than half of Utah’s population by 2030.
The state gained more than 84,000 residents between the summers of 2006 and 2007, about half of them transplants.
Utah “ will always be a dominant center for that religion. That is not going to change,” said Pam Perlich, a demographer at the University of Utah. “ But a slow, steady decline of the Mormon share will continue as long as the state grows.”
The Mormon church, headquartered in Salt Lake City, declined to comment on the trend.
Kelly Patterson, a political scientist at Brigham Young University, said Mormons vote at higher rates than nonMormons, which will give them a larger influence.
But he expects the slow rise of the Democratic Party, and the growing non- Mormon population in Salt Lake County, will result in more political clashes.
Vatican says ties with Israel worsening
VATICAN CITY — A senior Vatican diplomat who served as papal envoy to Israel has described VaticanIsraeli relations as worsening, blaming the Jewish state for failing to keep promises related to church land, taxes and travel restrictions on Arab clergy.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi lashed out at Israel in an interview posted Nov. 16 on Terrasanta. net, an online publication about the Holy Land.
“ If I must be frank, the relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel were better when there were no diplomatic ties” which were established in the early 1990s, said Sambi, who was interviewed in Washington, where he now serves as Pope Benedict XVI’s envoy to the United States.
Among the issues are the status of expropriated church property, services that Roman Catholic groups perform for Israel’s Jewish and Arab population, tax exemptions for the church, and permits for Arab Christian clergy traveling to and around the West Bank.
Israel has rescinded some travel privileges for those clergy, citing security concerns. Israel and the Palestinian territories are home to a small Christian minority.
Sambi blamed the situation on Israel’s “ absence of political will.”
“ Everyone can see what kind of trust you can give to Israel’s promises,” Sambi said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev replied: “ Israel is interested in good relations with the Vatican, and Israeli and Vatican officials are working to overcome gaps that exist.”
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the interview with Sambi “ reflects his thinking and his personal experience” during the diplomat’s former posting in Israel.
Norway’s Lutherans ease ban on gay clergy
OSLO, Norway — Norway’s state Lutheran church lifted an outright ban on clergy in same- sex relationships but will allow each bishop to decide whether to employ them.
After an anguished week of debate at its annual meeting, the church’s 86- member governing synod voted 50- 34 to make the change. Two members abstained. The meeting, which ended Nov. 16, was held in the town of Lillehammer.
Six of Norway’s 11 bishops are expected to open their local pulpits to noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy.
“ This will create peace in the church, and security for homosexual clergy,” Marit Tingelstad, head of the Bishop’s Council for southeastern Norway’s Hamar district, said on state radio network NRK.
But Bishop Ole D. Hagesaeter, of the Bjoergvin district, said, “ This is a sad day for the church. It will be a splitting factor and lead to many feeling homeless in the church.”
The synod’s vote was a compromise revision of a 1997 resolution by the highest body in Norway’s state Protestant church that barred all gay clergy with samegender partners from holding consecrated jobs.
Under Norwegian law, gay couples have rights comparable to those of married heterosexuals, apart from church weddings and adoption.
The church counts nearly 85 percent of Norway’s 4.7 million people as members.
Atheists protest plan for Nativity scene
MENOMINEE, Mich. — The nation’s largest group of atheists and agnostics has filed a letter of protest with the city for deciding to put a Nativity scene in its bandshell.
Members of the parks and recreation committee approved the display earlier this month with the provision that non- Christians be allowed to add their symbols.
The co- president of the Madison, Wis.- based Freedom From Religion Foundation said in a Nov. 15 letter that the display would violate the separation of church and state.
“ It is unlawful for the city of Menominee to maintain, erect or host a display that consists solely of a Nativity scene, thus singling out, showing preference for and endorsing one religion, and commemorating its most holy day,” Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote to Menominee city manager Eric Strahl. “ Compounding this is the tax money spent on illuminating this religious scene on public property.”
City attorney Rob Jamo warned the parks committee during its meeting that the display was close to violating the separation of church and state established in the Constitution.
Judge rejects Rastafarian plea in marijuana case
NEW LONDON, Conn. — A Norwich man’s religious belief was not enough to convince a judge to reduce his jail time for marijuana possession.
Vernon Smith, 43, is a Rastafarian who believes his use of pot is a God-given right. He had pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of marijuana with intent to sell after police found him with more than 20 pounds of the drug in July.
In New London Superior Court on Nov. 15, Smith’s lawyer argued unsuccessfully for a reduced sentence. Prosecutors successfully sought a term of 2½ years in prison and three years probation.
Smith, who appeared before Judge Susan B. Handy in a white robe and headwrap, said he tries to set a good example and that he follows the Ten Commandments. He does not consider himself a criminal, he said.
“I know that the law is such in this country, but I feel one day the law will change, especially with people who indulge in marijuana and are not violent,” Smith said. He knows many people who use marijuana to relax and meditate, he said.
Rastafarians worship as a living god Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie, who died in 1975. They preach unity with nature and smoke marijuana as a sacrament.
Smith, who is from St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and is a stay-at-home father of seven children while his wife works, supplements his income by selling marijuana, said his lawyer, Ronald Stevens. He does not sell to children, Stevens said.
“Mr. Smith firmly believes in his heart of hearts and in his religious and cultural convictions that marijuana is part of his human rights,” Stevens said. “He wants to fight the good fight for the legalization of marijuana.”