It Pays to Complain: November (November 2002)

A religious icon linked a Utah state website to a Mormon document until complaints removed the religious link in early October. The Department of Public Safety Emergency Services and Homeland Security website included a religious icon (see reproduction pictured) which linked browsers to a voluminous Mormon “emergency preparedness manual.”

“Your Family Disaster Plan” at the Utah website contained a 3-page guideline from the state and an advertised link to the 86-page Mormon manual, written at the time Ezra Taft Benson was head of the Mormon church. The manual’s “leave no stone unturned” advice on natural disasters is presented in the context of Mormon scripture. “People prepared through obedience to the commandments of God need not fear,” the introduction advises.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation immediately contacted the Utah state government after being alerted to the state/church violation by Utah resident Rich Andrews. The Foundation faxed a letter on Oct. 7 to Scott Behunin, Department director, pointing out the link shows “unlawful endorsement” of the Mormon denomination, in violation of Art. I, Sect. 4 of the Utah State Constitution, which forbids any public funds or property being “appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction.”

“Tax-exempt churches are free to peddle their beliefs to their own membership or interested members of the public. The State of Utah is not free to help them proselytize.”

After receiving complaints from the Foundation and others, the state of Utah removed the link. Chris Kramer of Utah’s Division of Emergency Services and Homeland Security phoned the office of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to verify the link was removed. Kramer indicated that the icon and link had been up for about three years, and had been incorporated into the new homeland security department.

If website visitors find any other religious links, Kramer added: “Let us know. Our goal is to be within the regulations.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation