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MINISTRY TAKING STEPS TO COMBAT BIGOTRY

Local Episcopal Church leaders are calling on the state to take stronger, more positive steps to deal with what they perceive as growing bigotry in Utah and the nation.

The call from the Episcopal Diocese of Utah's Ministry for Racial Justice comes on the heels of a state ban on gay clubs in public schools. The law allows school districts to outlaw any club and requires they prohibit student groups that involve human sexuality, encourage criminal behavior or promote bigotry.

Although the Episcopal Diocese opposed the law, the racial justice ministry see an opportunity in it to preach against prejudice.

"It's not enough to just forbid it. You have to teach tolerance," said Rev. Alan C. Tull, rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Provo. "Otherwise, it just becomes a gesture."

Tull heads the Ministry for Racial Justice. Members of the 4-year-old committee encourage tolerance, mostly through providing educational materials to their congregations and ministries.

In the past year, racist attacks were made on black churches in Salt Lake City. The ministry also points out that organized white supremacy groups and militias exist in Utah. Even some of the speeches made in the Legislature expressed bigotry based on sexual orientation, according to the ministry.

Tull and five other ministry members say those are but several instances of a problem that demands positive action.

The Rev. Quintin Kolb, a Ute Indian who runs a ministry for urban American Indians in Salt Lake City, said that efforts to end prejudice aren't working. There's no real pressure to stop discrimination, which he said comes in blatant and subtle forms.

"It's really a tremendous chain of thought processes that maintain or even worsen the problem. It's got to start somewhere - the turn-around. If we don't, we're going to be in trouble," said Kolb, who also serves on the racial justice ministry.

The ministry figures the top is a good place to start. It's calling on Gov. Mike Leavitt to rally Utahns to combat bigotry by creating an atmosphere of tolerance and respect.

"Racism and all forms of bigotry are forces which corrode and corrupt the very fabric of democracy and deny the humanity of our citizens," the ministry wrote in a May 3 letter to the governor.

Episcopal leaders want Leavitt to summon schools, boards of education and religious communities to become involved in erasing bigotry, fear and suspicion of others. The Episcopal Diocese last month urged the governor to veto the bill banning gay clubs, saying God's acceptance of, and love for, people is not based on their sexual orientation.

To help ward off intolerance, the racial injustice ministry suggests the state work with the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., which is nationally recognized for its educational efforts in the area of human rights.

The organization's Teaching Tolerance Project produced a video, "The Shadow of Hate: A History of Intolerance in American," and publishes a semiannual magazine.

A companion book, "Us and Them," contains 14 stories of Americans, from Quakers in 1660 to immigrants in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in the 1990s, who were hated simply for who they were, what they looked like, where they came from or what they believed. The book contains a chapter about persecution of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the Missouri frontier in the 1830s.

"We believe that it's fair and honest in its historical content," Kolb said.

One school, Independence High School in Provo, already uses the text and video in a class required for seniors called "Life after Independence."

"It opens up a whole new view and perspective for all the kids in the class," said Principal Greg Hudnall.

Hudnall said that it helps students realize that everyone gets picked on or treated unfairly regardless of their racial or cultural backgrounds. With 31 percent minority enrollment, Independence, an alternative high school, is Provo School District's most diverse school.

"We are all `us and them,' " Hudnall said. "We now need to come together."

Teaching Tolerance Project materials for sixth-graders and older are available free to school principals and department heads who write Teaching Tolerance, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104.