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A portion of a nationwide survey recently commissioned by the LDS Church is attempting to delve into Mormons' understanding of illegal immigration, including whether undocumented immigrants are able to get temple recommends and be baptized into the faith.

Church officials have been largely mum on the survey, which was sent out to members via email. However, it was a wide-ranging survey of 66 questions — about six of which tackled the controversial immigration issue.

Scott Trotter, spokesman for the LDS Church, said it regularly asks questions of members on a wide variety of topics.

"In this instance, the questions ranged from the frequency of viewing 'Music and the Spoken Word,' to their understanding of the Church's position on immigration," Trotter said. "It is common sense that church leaders want to know the issues that affect peoples' lives, whether church programs are meeting needs effectively, and from where members receive information. This kind of survey is one way church leaders have to hear from members."

According to a source who received the survey, the immigration questions started with asking the participant if they knew anyone who was in the country illegally. Then the questions veered into areas of church policy on the issue.

Theresa Martinez, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah, said the survey would be a good way to learn members' attitudes on the controversial issue.

"My thought would be that they're trying to understand what members of the faith understand about the issue," Martinez said. "They're trying to gauge the level of understanding and ignorance."

Martinez also said — with the caveat she was hearing about the survey secondhand — that the church might be especially interested in the issue, given its recent high profile in Utah and the nation.

In March, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a series of immigration bills — including the controversial HB116, which would allow the state to grant visas to the working population of undocumented immigrants in the state after they pay fines of either $2,500 for an overstayed visa or $5,000 for being in the state illegally. That law is designed to take effect July 1, 2013, but was quickly the subject of a repeal effort, and state Republican Party delegates voted in favor of a resolution to support that repeal.

Herbert also signed HB497, carried by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who had modeled it after Arizona's enforcement-only immigration law, SB1070. Sandstrom's bill is currently tied up in federal court.

The LDS Church endorsed the package of immigration bills passed by the Legislature, with Presiding Bishop H. David Burton present at the bill signing.

Sandstrom said he was not asked to participate in the survey, but believed the results would be valuable for both the church and its members.

"I don't know exactly what the church is trying to get at, but obviously there are different viewpoints on it and I imagine the church is interested to get a sense of what degree those differences are," Sandstrom said. "I think it's a good opportunity for the church to learn that."

The church has found itself at the center of illegal immigration at other points in the past year as well.

Arizona Senate president Russell Pearce, who is Mormon, ran a series of anti-immigration bills and was the face of SB1070. But Pearce is now in the middle of a recall election and is being challenged by another Mormon, Jerry Lewis, who has said he didn't support SB1070.

And the two Mormon GOP presidential hopefuls — Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman — both have had to address the issue of immigration at recent Republican debates.

Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah and also a member of the LDS Church, said he has personally seen confusion among Mormons on some of the questions asked in the survey.

"I've talked to a lot of people who say they didn't know that an undocumented immigrant can be baptized," Yapias said. "But the church has made statements saying they don't ask for legal status for baptism or temple recommends."

Michael Clara, state chairman of the Utah Hispanic Republican Assembly, said the temple recommend question can trip up members. He said one of the questions asked of Mormons seeking a temple recommend — a requirement to enter an LDS temple — is if a member has been "honest in your dealings with your fellow men."

Clara said some will argue that an undocumented immigrant — by virtue of being in the country illegally — is guilty of violating that. However, he said the church views being in the country as a civil infraction, much like a speeding ticket, and that sort of act wouldn't be enough to keep a person from getting into the temple.

Clara, who is actively involved in the process of issuing temple recommends, said the survey appeared to be trying to educate members as well as generate information for the church.

Trotter would not comment on specifics of the survey nor would he say if the results will be released.

Twitter: @davemontero —

Members asked about media favs

A survey by the LDS Church asks members about their readership of key websites and Mormon writers. › B2