Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Verily, even the gum was blessed

In May of 1997 the LDS church razed the Deseret gym (161 N Main in SLC) to construct their new conference center. The conference center now dwarfs the temple situated in it’s high-walled compound just across north Temple street from it. The blocky white conference structure sports a multi-story waterfall, and roof-top-gardens; several people have mentioned it’s resemblance to a portion of what they imagine Babalonia’s ancient hanging gardens to have looked like.

The Deseret gymnasium which the conference center replaced was an impressive place to exercise. In addition to the basketball courts needed to hone up ones church-ball moves it had handball, racquetball and squash courts; a running track; two swimming pools; weight-training rooms; an aerobics room; and a golf practice range. When the LDS prophet Gordon Hinkley announced at the annual spring conference in April of 1997 that the Deseret Gym would be closing on May 1st it caused a minor reaction. Some complained that: “the Deseret Gym is truly a first-rate, first-class facility and has many, many productive years ahead of it to serve the Salt Lake area's exercise aficionados.”

The Deseret Gym had been dedicated on January 5th 1965. That is was still considered a 1st-rate facility after 30 years of continual use speaks to the loving maintenance it received. The most famous maintainer of the Deseret Gym was Appellee Mayson.

Appellee had not worked at the Deseret Gym for over 15 years when it was torn down. He had been fired, but not for any irregularities in his performance on the job; he was fired for failing to maintain his temple recommend.

The church readily conceded that Appelle’s job was in no way "even tangentially related to any conceivable religious belief or ritual of the Mormon Church or church administration". The Deseret Gym was open to the public, and non-Mormons often exercised there. However, the LDS church maintained that any facility or enterprise that it owned, or owned a substantial financial interest in, could require a temple recommend for employment if it chose to.

I’m sure that Janitorial work is not one of the LDS Church’s higher callings, and sometimes it is necessary to hire unrecommended janitorial staff. However, the Church maintained that it had the right to fire anyone on the basis of religious status regardless of any existing civil rights laws. In 1987 the US Supreme Court agreed [CORPORATION OF PRESIDING BISHOP v. AMOS, 483 U.S. 327 (1987)] .

I should point out that having a temple recommend is different from being a Mormon. There is no indication that a failure to believe wholeheartedly in all the tenets of the Mormon church was any part of the determination that Appellee was unfit to maintain the gymnasium. Of course I guess not believing in Mormon dogma would be a reason to lose a temple recommend, but it is not the only reason. One can lose a temple recommend for a variety of reasons while remaining - at heart - a true-believing Mormon. Losing a temple recommend means failing a -sometimes intense- background investigation.

Less than a decade before Appellee was terminated the temple recommend background investigation officially considered race; African American people were considered “cursed” and immediately failed.

There are few official guidances on the temple recommend procedure, and interpretation of the guidances differs widely from bishop to bishop. The temple recommend is sometimes called a “bishop’s recommend” because of this.

What did the Supreme Court decide when it upheld the LDS Church’s right to discriminate in its employment for its completely secular activities on the basis of an arbitrary “worthyness” investigation?


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