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Signed, sealed and blessed: Letters from the American Civil Liberties Union to cities throughout Utah last week began this way:

"As you are aware, the American Civil Liberties Union of Uah has long defended the First Amendments's protection of Freedom of Religion, advocating for the free exercise rights of individuals and opposing the entanglement of church and state by government officials in violation of the Establishment Clause. Utah is also blessed with a state constitution containing more specific and stringent protection for those rights."It's ironic that ACLU executive director Michele Parish would choose to use the word "blessed" in a letter urging city councils to cease praying in meetings.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, bless or blessed means "to make holy by religious right; sanctify." It also means to "invoke divine favor upon."

If Utah was looked upon with divine favor in establishing its government, as the ACLU says, what's wrong with acknowledging the source of those blessings in a public meeting?

Speaking of prayer: American Fork Mayor Kay Hutchings said he'll comply with a law forbidding prayer when and if one comes about. Prayers will continue in City Council meetings like they have in most Utah County cities. In the meantime, Hutchings wonders what's next.

"Do we overhaul the Pledge of Allegiance? Do we overhaul the money system? Where is it going to stop?"

Let the sunshine in: The Society of Professional Journalists' Utah Headliners Chapter gave the Alpine School District and the American Fork City Council "Black Hole" awards for 1991.

The school board met with the district's attorney in closed session to file an amicus brief in the Rhode Island graduation prayer case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The board justified the action because of the district's involvement in the Utah suit on graduation prayer. Alpine officials called it a strategy session regarding litigation. They moved beyond strategy, however, when they took final action.

In American Fork, the council closed its door to discuss "sensitive" areas in its proposed 1991-92 fiscal budget. According to Utah's open meetings law, the budget isn't a subject that can be discussed in a closed session.

Speaking of journalists: The Rev. Alan Tull, an avid reader of The New Yorker and The New York Times, tells us Eastern writers have come up with a new phrase describing reporters' preoccupation with politicians' sex lives: "zippergate journalism."

I'm not a crook: After BYU basketball player Kevin Nixon drilled a 54-foot, last-second shot to beat UTEP in the WAC tournament, an ESPN announcer exclaimed something like: "Now we know Nixon's a crook. He just stole one from UTEP."

Maybe that remark confused the Salt Lake Tribune. The newspaper identified Nixon as "Richard Nixon" in a caption below the BYU star's photo in a recent edition.

We're awaiting word on whether Nixon will pardon the Tribune.

Quote o' the week: "You gotta work on that road up Goshen Canyon. There's so many potholes and the shoulders are so bad, I daren't drive up there when I'm drunk." - Bill White, a Nebo School Board member, during a meeting with Utah County commissioners on south county problems.

("Loose Change" appears in the Deseret News on Mondays. To reach Dennis or Brooke, call 374-1162 or send us a fax at 377-5701.)