Former Utah governor Mike Leavitt held meetings with his advisers in 1996 to plot ways to bring “just and holy” principles from the Book of Mormon into government, the Salt Lake Tribune reported recently.
The sessions took place in the governor’s mansion at 7 a.m. before the official work day began. Participants, the newspaper reported, talked about principles that appear in accounts from the Book of Mormon dealing with Korihor, the Gadianton Robbers, Alma and Mosiah and King Benjamin. Meetings began with prayer.
The Book of Mormon is an important scripture for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Church members revere it alongside the Bible.
Meeting attendees sought insight, the Tribune reported, “into what LDS scripture defines as the proper role of government and discuss[ed] how they could be communicated in a ‘bilingual’ manner to a secular audience.”
According to the newspaper, the principles the group settled on – free agency, accountability, equality, stewardship, marriage, unity, goodness, heritage, worship, safety and a sense of order – were not “overtly religious,” but they apparently had an impact on policy in Leavitt’s second term, which began after his reelection in November of 1996.
The governor launched a campaign to promote marriage and supported a ban on adoption by unmarried couples. He made changes to state welfare and indigent health insurance programs and spoke of social forces beyond government that he called the “Economics of Goodness.”
Top staff members and Leavitt advisers attended the meetings, dubbed “Early Morning Seminary.” In one meeting, Leavitt, who was headed for an easy reelection, talked about using the “blessing” of his popularity to convey a values-laden message.
“I mean, I think that the opportunity I have in January, the 6th, is to get up and to say something in a form that’s big enough and appropriate enough for me to lay down a marker,” Leavitt said. “I think that’s going to be done in a little way and a big way, really, with this values campaign.”
One of the participants in the gatherings, LaVarr Webb, Leavitt policy adviser at the time, denied that the meetings were designed to meld religion and government.
A Utah Republican consultant told the Tribune that the overt theological content of the talks surprised him. He referred to Brigham Young, who led the Mormons to Utah in the late 19th century.
“This is the kind of thing I would’ve guessed that Brigham Young would’ve had when we had a theocracy here rather than necessarily in modern times,” he said.
Leavitt, who serves today in the Bush administration as head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, wasn’t happy with the newspaper’s account. He asked the state archivist to remove the transcriptions from public access, arguing that the thoughts expressed by participants may be “personal, in some cases even sacred.”
The archives rejected Leavitt’s request.
Leavitt said he does not hold similar meetings in his position today.