Rolly: Mormons take the high road in dealing with conference protesters

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It's too bad more national media attention isn't focused on the so-called "street preachers" who trek to Salt Lake City twice a year to scream insults at the LDS faithful and their children who are committing the vile sin of walking to a church service.

It's particularly a shame the media don't spend more time reporting that spectacle since presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon religion has been made into a major political issue by elements of the "traditional Christian" Republican hegemony.

"Mainstream" Christians often say they wouldn't vote for Romney because he belongs to a religion that is a cult.

That's always sounded a bit Oliver Cromwellian to me, but I'm just a pagan.

Had there been national media exposure, however, "Christian" voters around the country would have seen those who claim to represent their view of religion acting the fool, hopping around, yelling at little kids that they are going to hell and whining about their constitutional rights being violated because they couldn't stand on the sidewalk impeding the movement of Mormons walking to and from General Conference.

They are allowed to stand on the grass with their signs, as well as the curbs and next to the cross-walks, as long as they don't get in the way of the conference-goers.

It was the Mormons, from what I could see last Sunday (I stood on the grass, too), who took the high road. They were the ones just practicing their constitutional right of quietly worshiping the way they choose. They were the ones doing their best to ignore harassment and insult, and not responding in kind.

Salt Lake City attorneys have gone to great pains to develop a policy that protects the Mormon-baiters' constitutional right of free speech, while making sure the Mormons' right to practice their religion (which also is in the First Amendment) is not inhibited.

Often, it is difficult to discern whether that fine line might have been crossed.

The unsung heroes who should be commended here are the Salt Lake City police officers who draw the unenviable job of standing patrol during conference and keeping the peace between a deeply religious group of people attending a sacred event and a bunch of epithet-throwers intent on disparaging that group's beliefs - in the name of Jesus.

One protester was dressed in a cheap Halloween Satan outfit and was armed with a hand-held noise machine in case his bizarre appearance wasn't enough to attract the attention he craved.

Others waved sacred LDS temple garments in the faces of the worshipers as they walked to conference.

I wonder what would happen if they decided to deface an image of the Mother Mary on a street corner in Belfast, or burn the Quran in Baghdad, or open a hot dog stand in Tel Aviv?

There were only about 15 Bible-thumpers protesting LDS conference last week, so it's unfair to paint the entire fundamentalist Christian movement with their brush. But they express in their own obnoxious way many of the sentiments that have been uttered by preachers in Christian churches around the country and among those God-fearing folks who answer pollsters' questions about Mitt Romney.

Remember the comments from Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention? He said he would try to save the Mormons from their path to hell when the Southern Baptists held their international conference in Salt Lake City in 1998.

To me, it's no coincidence that since the fundamentalist Christian Right has gained influence in the George W. Bush version of the national Republican Party we have become much more divided as a country.

And the Mormons in this reddest of the red states are among the victims of the ensuing bigotry.