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OREM - Jeffrey Nielsen knows what it's like to be relatively unknown. He also knows what it's like to be the subject of fiery public debate.

He prefers being unknown.

The philosophy professor's contract was terminated by LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in June after he wrote an op-ed piece for The Salt Lake Tribune criticizing his church's stance on gay marriage.

For a brief time, Nielsen didn't know what his standing in the church would be. On top of that, he was out of a job and had made comments his wife didn't agree with.

His views dominated the paper's letters to the editor for weeks, with people backing or blasting him. He lost his church calling, but not his membership.

"It was a very stressful experience," Nielsen says now. "I'm a pretty private person."

As it turned out for the Orem father of four, Nielsen's seemingly life-changing event didn't really change his day-to-day comings and goings.

Well, except that he now drives to Westminster College twice a week instead of taking the bus to BYU.

He still attends his church ward each week and isn't afraid to raise his hand to comment. He's still teaching philosophy - now at Utah Valley State College in Orem and Westminster in Salt Lake City - and he still prefers spending a quiet evening at home with his family over any other activity.

"I'm really a homebody," he says.

Nielsen says he doesn't for a second regret his editorial or the ensuing storm.

He still believes the LDS Church should extend practicing homosexuals full fellowship, and that there should be more openness and transparency between leaders and members.

His thoughts, however, aren't quite as vocal these days.

"I haven't been silent, but I've tried to be respectful," he says.

His new teaching environments at UVSC and Westminster have allowed him to debate his ideas in a classroom setting. Not everyone agrees, but at least the discussions are happening.

That wasn't the case at BYU, he says.

"There wasn't overt censorship, but you just knew you couldn't talk about those things," Nielsen says. "I don't know if I could ever go back there."

Philosophy professor David Keller, who directs the Center for the Study of Ethics at UVSC and works closely with NielĀsen, believes his colleague is a perfect fit and wants him to stick around.

"His research may not be consistent with the mission of private religious institutions, but it sure is consistent with the public, secular mission of UVSC," Keller said. "From students, I've heard that he's outstanding in the classroom."

Recently, Nielsen has turned more of his energy to politics.

In December he sat down with Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, now a friend, to discuss the philosopher's "Democracy House Project."

He calls it a multilevel-marketing system for democracy - a scheme to increase political literacy through small-group meetings of neighbors or friends in comfortable settings, such as one's basement.

KUER's RadioWest host Doug Fabrizio had Nielsen on his program last week and introduced Nielsen's concept like this:

"Nielsen wants to come to your house, he wants you to invite your neighbors and friends and he wants to give you a presentation that he is certain will change your life. He wants to teach people. Actually, he wants people to teach themselves how to be better citizens. Nielsen wants to increase the political literacy of Americans."

With Anderson, Nielsen says he discussed another concept of his project: citizen councils.

His view is that a citizen council could be a group of randomly chosen individuals that reviews any adopted legislation.

The idea stems from the professor's belief that citizens with no motives, no lobbyists and no money on the table can make better public policy than elected politicians.

"I see it as a way to create a genuine democracy," Nielsen says.

Anderson could not be reached for comment, but Nielsen characterized the mayor as being open to implementing the councils in Salt Lake City.

Nielsen says getting an audience with one of Utah's most vocal personalities, as well as other policymakers, hasn't gone to his head.

"It's funny when people see me as a radical or a liberal," Nielsen says. "I don't see myself that way. I'm just an ordinary person."