Church Official Pushes Mormon Voter Registration in Key Swing State

Edwin Firmage, a University of Utah law professor and expert on the separation of church and state, told ABC News the presentation appears to be aimed at helping mobilize support for Romney.

"I would say this isn't even thinly veiled," Firmage said. "Of course it's political."

Firmage, an Obama supporter, said he considered the presentation a departure for church officials whom he believes have shown "a great deal of discipline" in avoiding overtly political activity during the presidential contest. "They've been very adroit," he said.

The presentation includes several slides focused on religious teachings that encourage civic participation. One of them advises viewers that "We have a responsibility to vote," and quotes Mormon scripture as saying: "We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society."

The decision to distribute the presentation in Nevada was probably no accident, Balmer said. Among the handful of states that are considered up for grabs in the 2012 election, Nevada has the most vibrant Mormon community. Mormons represented roughly a quarter of the GOP caucus vote in Nevada in 2012, and nearly all of them supported Romney, according to exit polling.

Both candidates spent time in Nevada in recent weeks.

The slideshow provides advice about how to answer questions from friends and neighbors generated by news coverage on Mormonism in light of Romney's bid. The presentation points members to resources where they can find answers to questions about the role of women in the church, about the use of special garments, and about the central role of Jesus Christ in the church.

Near the end of the presentation, a slide poses the question, "So… What can I do?" It lists five answers, with step five being: "Register to vote … and VOTE!"

The Mormon church is not the only religious group to encourage parishioners to vote. For example, an Orthodox Jewish group recently organized a voter registration drive in Florida, and a coalition of black churches has made plans to transport elderly congregants to the polls in battleground states this November, according to published reports.

Balmer said the Mormon Church is well aware that Romney is likely to receive overwhelming support from Mormons, and so simply encouraging them to turn out to vote is akin to assisting his bid.

"On the face of it, there's nothing unusual in what they're doing," Balmer said. "But in reality, the message is not hard to miss."

Lynn Packer is a freelance journalist based in North Salt Lake, Utah.

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