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Mormon apostles, major Utah figures to attend Trump inauguration

FILE - A view of the Conference Center from general conference in April 2011.
FILE - A view of the Conference Center from general conference in April 2011.
Mormon Newsroom

SALT LAKE CITY — Two Mormon apostles will attend the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, along with a large number of Utah dignitaries.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will attend the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., according to sources close to the church and the inaugural committee.

The Deseret News broke the story early Friday morning.

In a news release Friday, the church confirmed the apostles' trip to Washington, D.C., which will continue a 144-year church custom of sending representatives to inaugurations for presidents of both parties, and comes at a time of controversy for Trump, whose polarizing campaign and election victory has spawned criticism of the president-elect and, in some cases, those who will attend the historic ceremony.

"A presidential inauguration is a civic ceremony that transcends the person being inaugurated,” Elder Christofferson said in the news release. "It is an act of state, not of politics. Its primary purpose is for the president-elect to take the constitutionally required oath of office, and for the people by witnessing it to bind him to that oath. It is a time to reaffirm collectively the enduring principles that have sustained this country for over 200 years, including the peaceful transfer of power, which remains a remarkable event even in this modern world."

Gov. Gary Herbert, House Speaker Greg Hughes and Attorney General Sean Reyes will lead a large Utah contingent that includes Republican National Committeewoman Anne-Marie Lampropoulos and her husband, Merit Medical CEO Fred Lampropoulous, Republican National Committeeman Thomas Wright and Don Peay, founder of Trump for President Utah.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who Trump defeated in the Nov. 8 election, will attend the swearing-in ceremony with her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir also will perform at the inauguration, the seventh time since 1965 the choir has been a part of inaugural events.

The first LDS leader to attend an inauguration did so in 1873, and leaders of the faith have attended the ceremonies routinely since 1953.

"It is always an honor," church President Thomas S. Monson said eight years ago, "for the church to be represented at the inauguration of a new president."

Two LDS Church presidents have attended inaugurations. President David O. McKay was at the 1953 inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower. In 1989, then-President Ezra Taft Benson went to the inaugural for George H.W. Bush, accompanied by President Monson, then a counselor in the First Presidency.

President Benson attended Eisenhower's second inauguration while serving as Secretary of Agriculture and the first inaugurations of presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Upset by Trump's election, a number of singers and groups have turned down or said they would turn down invitations to perform at the inauguration. However, LDS leaders consider the event itself non-partisan. Last month, a church spokesman said the choir's participation does not imply support for Trump or the Republican Party but "is a demonstration of our support for freedom, civility and the peaceful transition of power," during which Trump will take the oath to "protect, preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The church is one of many faiths participating during the week and weekend in speeches, prayers and events. The Washington Post reported this week that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Rev. Franklin Graham, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Pastor Paula White will participate in the ceremony.

As an institution, the LDS Church maintains political neutrality. LDS leaders regularly encourage church members to pray for all political leaders. On the eve of Obama's first inauguration, President Monson said, "We send our best wishes to President Obama and pray for the blessings of a loving Father in Heaven to be upon him and his administration."

The day after Trump's election, the church issued a statement inviting Americans to pray for him.

"We invite Americans everywhere, whatever their political persuasion, to join us in praying for the president-elect, for his new administration and for elected leaders across the nation and the world. Praying for those in public office is a long tradition among Latter-day Saints. The men and women who lead our nations and communities need our prayers as they govern in these difficult and turbulent times."

Other prominent Utahns scheduled to attend next week's inauguration, according to multiple sources, include Utah State Sen. Stuart Adams; Utah House Rep. Mike Noel; Ron Fox, who served as an advance man for five U.S. presidents and worked with Trump for President Utah; Marc Bingham of Blue Diamond Capital; Scott Keller of Keller Investment Properties; King's Camo owner Kevin Pritchett; Byron Batemen of the Utah Wildlife Board; and Bill Reagan of Reagan Outdoor Signs.

Another person with Utah ties who will be at the event is Lisa Roskelly, who is working on Trump's inaugural committee. Roskelly was former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's press secretary.

Additionally, the Utah Highway Patrol is sending 40 troopers to help with public safety during the inaugural parade. The UHP provided troopers to the 2009 and 2013 inaugurations.

The first LDS leader to attend an inaugural was Elder George Q. Cannon, a territorial delegate to Congress and member of the faith's First Presidency when he attended the inaugurations of Ulysses S. Grant in 1873 — on a day he called "dreadfully cold" — and Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, when a faction of the Democratic Party had hoped to prevent Hayes from taking the oath.

Elder Reed Smoot of the Twelve was at President Theodore Roosevelt's second inaugural in 1905 as a U.S. senator from Utah. Elder Smoot served as both apostle and senator until 1933 and was present for the inauguration of every president during that time, including William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

In 2013, President Monson assigned the late Elder L. Tom Perry and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve to go to Obama's second inaugural. In 2009, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve attended Obama's first inaugural.

Other LDS leaders to represent the church at inaugurations include President Hugh B. Brown ('65), Elder Richard L. Evans ('69), Elder Boyd K. Packer ('73), President N. Eldon Tanner ('77), Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin ('81), Elder James E. Faust ('93) and President Henry B. Eyring ('97).

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir previously performed at the official swearing-in ceremonies for Lyndon Johnson in 1965, an invitation President McKay called "the greatest single honor that has come to the Tabernacle Choir," and Richard Nixon in 1969.

The choir performed during inaugural parades for George W. Bush (2001), George H. W. Bush (1989) and Ronald Reagan (1981) and at a devotional service as part of Nixon's second inauguration (1973).