Monday, March 26, 2012

Secret Squirel

One of the most wonderful things one can say is:
I Don’t Know
It can suggest naïve openness to new information. It is the sound of a mind opening to new possibilities. It is one of the sounds caused by actively engaging the world one lives in.

Unfortunately it is also the sound of frustration when one encounters secrecy. Secrecy is one of the hallmarks of the operations of the Mormon Church, and by extension the state of Utah.

A couple of days ago I posted an entry about sophisticated religious tests for employment eligibility. A natural follow-on would be to analyze the impact of such a practice on the social structure of the community on which it was being imposed. I thought it would be nice to gather a few stats, do an interpretation of impact, and then describe some anecdote to illustrate the impact. I could not get past step 1.

Although the individuals employed by the LDS church are theoretically generating statistics at the same amazing rate as other employed individuals (like unemployment insurance, social security, payroll tax, etc…) those state agencies that package these statistics (like Utah Department of Workforce Services) are silent about the LDS church. It appears as if the LDS church not only receives special consideration in how it handles employment fairness laws, but it gets a pass on how it handles the idea of employment itself. It is reasonable to ask what other omissions this secrecy covers up.

The Utah DWS publishes a list of major employers every few years (the last one in 2009) and the LDS church is missing from the list. The top 5 from the list are statewide health-care providers (Intermountain healthcare [1] and University of Utah [3]), the state government [2], BYU [4], and WalMart [5]. At least one of the most stringent adherents to the secret-database morality system is in the top 5. BYU is also the major employer in the smaller county in which its major campus resides.

Examination of how strange Provo-Orem is was not my purpose in searching out the stats. If I wanted to do that I would simply describe my experience trying to order coffee at McDonald's the last time I went to BYU.

I wanted to find out how the stringent religious test for employability code affected the state. 15,000+ employees under the code in BYU undoubtedly has an effect, but they are not the biggest contributor.

In 2003 an independent analysis of data obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune (now owned by the LDS church) found that the LDS church was not only the single larges employer, but was half-again as large as the next largest employer. The 2003 numbers suggested that over 33,000 individuals were employed directly by the LDS church. That number has undoubtedly grown in the past decade.

If I add my WAG for the current LDS church employment figures to the BYU numbers I estimate that about 50,000 individuals in the state of Utah have employment dependent on their temple-recommend status. The number may be much higher when one considers all the profit-making side ventures that the church runs.

Add to that the number of individuals whose livelihood depends on the temple-recommend-linked employment of others and the control over the economy becomes overwhelming.

I should point out for the edification of readers in more populous areas just how small Utah is. Utah’s entire population is about the size of a large American city. The last census (2010) put the state’s population in at a little over 2.75 million.

In the 2010 elections a little over 650 thousand individuals voted. This means that as many as one in ten voters is dependent on a temple-recommend for their employment. Couple that with the state’s de-facto one party caucus primary system, and the social control becomes incredible.

In the Utah caucus-primary system voting is first forced through an open vetting process before being subjected to a secret-ballot primary. Only the top individuals make it onto the primary. Manipulation of this process ousted one of our more conservative senators (Bennett) because he was not conservative enough for tea-party personalities in the caucus.

Since the caucuses are open anyone voicing a strong opinion can come under the scrutiny of LDS watchers. If someone voices an opinion in caucus that is antithetical to how a local bishop (bishop is the name for a lay priest in the LDS church) interprets the temple recommend requirements could easily find themselves being counseled. If the counseling goes bad they, or someone that they care about, could lose their job.

The most significant impact would come in the form of economic pressure. Exercising detailed control over the largest single group of employees in the state allows for a veritable cornucopia of potential unfair competitive practices.

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