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Teen takes heat for column on natural family

Published March 18, 2006 12:31 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

KANAB - A target of journalistic jabs for his support of a "natural-family" resolution, Mayor Kim Lawson is fighting back - and not just against travel-writing heavyweight Arthur Frommer.

The embattled Kanab mayor also is taking on a not-so-famous scribe: a 17-year-old boy who pens a weekly column in the hometown paper.



In fact, Lawson is so steamed at the scolding leveled at him by Matt Livingston in the Southern Utah News that the mayor fired off letters to the Kanab High senior's church leader and the Kane County School District superintendent.

"Is his tone and verbiage consistent and in concert with the principles embodied within his church?" Lawson asked Livingston's LDS stake president in his Feb. 17 letter. ''I view Matt as [a] representative of the future for his church and nation. We need intelligent, principled men and women to lead and guide us. Oft-times 'mid-course' guidance is needed to ensure the target is reached.''

In his same-day epistle to school officials, the mayor took issue with the tone and title of Livingston's "Cowboy Currents" column. Since Kanab High's nickname is the cowboys, the mayor asked if the teen's views represented the school and district and "who, if anyone, has oversight responsibility for the content."

Superintendent Robert Johnson assured Lawson that Livingston answers to the paper's editor, not school officials, and told him the district may request the column's name be changed to avoid any confusion it is sanctioned by Kanab High.

LDS Stake President Matt Brown could not be reached for comment.

At issue are a couple of columns Livingston wrote criticizing the Kanab City Council's passage of a much-publicized resolution promoting "natural families."

On Feb. 1, Livingston wrote: ''Mayor, I'm callin' you out, along with your 'Family Vision for the City of Kanab.' . . . As a fellow LDS member, I would expect a more Christlike countenance on your part; your actions are in the spotlight, and you have let down your religion, community and nation.''

The nonbinding natural-family resolution labels marriage between men and women as ''ordained of God,'' conceives homes as ''open to a full quiver of children'' and promotes young women ripening into ''wives, homemakers and mothers'' and young men becoming ''husbands, home builders and fathers.''

Livingston complained that such a resolution threatens the tenets of individual freedom and crosses the line between the separation of church and state.

The resolution, encouraged by the mayor and embraced by the council, drew jeers and cheers from within Kanab and across the state and nation. Frommer, a noted vacation writer, called on tourists to boycott the scenic southern Utah city, prompting demands for an apology from Lawson and council members.

For his part, Livingston is angry about what he perceives as an abuse of power. He notes Lawson never contacted him to express his concern or give him copies of the letters he sent to the stake president and school superintendent.

''The mayor's a coward,'' Livingston said. ''He's a grown man and mayor of a city doing this behind the back of someone who is not even 18.''

Lawson counters that he saw no need to talk to the teen and mailed the letters to the proper authorities to express his outrage over the columns, which the mayor says included cutting comments of a "secular and nonsecular nature."

"This was a personal attack by an adolescent," he said. "I know what free speech is about, but this went too far."

Lawson insists the letters were not meant to be punitive. "I left it up to his [LDS] priesthood leader to determine if [the columns] were in concert of what we believe in. That is not my responsibility."

Livingston, who desires to serve an LDS mission and is an Eagle Scout, says none of his church leaders has mentioned his columns or the mayor's missive.

Livingston was hired by the Southern Utah News last August as part of the paper's paid internship program. Dixie Brunner, the paper's publisher and editor, says the boy created the "Cowboy Currents" title for his column and was given free rein to write about any topic.

"Matt is very bright, outspoken, has good strong opinions and I couldn't be more impressed," she said.

Brunner recalls Lawson sent letters in 2003 to then-Gov. Mike Leavitt and the Utah Press Association requesting she be removed as a media representative from a state records committee because of her reporting on the mayor's treatment of city workers.

"His behavior is over the top and astounding," Brunner said.

Livingston's mother agrees. Lisa Livingston says she stands by her son and explains that she is rearing her children to be critical thinkers who question authority.

Joel Campbell, a Brigham Young University journalism instructor, sees Lawson's letters as an inappropriate intimidation tactic.

"We value a difference of opinion in our society, and young writers shouldn't be bullied by letters to church leaders and the school" superintendent.

Instead, Campbell says Livingston should be praised for exercising his First Amendment rights.

"Maybe he should get an award."

mhavnes@sltrib.com

 

 

 

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