PROVO — Tiffany Hillam is happy in Happy Valley.

Hillam, who was born in Provo and now lives in Springville, remains in Utah County because she wants to be surrounded by people who share her religious beliefs.

"People say we're not cultured because of it. We're not part of the worldly environment," said Hillam. "But in my book, that's OK."

Others in cities from Alpine to Santaquin apparently feel the same way. With 88.12 percent of its residents claiming membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah County is as its reputation goes — the most LDS county among the state's 29.

The county that's second-place for the percentage of its population belonging to the LDS Church is unexpected. The runner-up isn't an isolated county in southern Utah but Morgan County on the back side of the Wasatch range.

LDS Church members make up 87.47 percent of Morgan County. Rich County is third at 84.90, Sevier fourth at 82.25 and Sanpete fifth at 82.11 percent.

As a whole, Utah is 66.44 percent LDS. Second-place Roman Catholic membership is 4.3 percent.

The lowest percentage of LDS Church members can be found in Grand County (28.49), which includes the Moab area; Summit (36.85), which includes Park City; and San Juan (38.45), the extreme southeast corner of the state.

These statistics are according to the American Religion Data Archive, a project funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc., and its research was taken from various churches for the year 2000. The ARDA is located in the Department of Sociology at Pennsylvania State University.

The U.S. Census, last conducted in 2000, does not include religious affiliations.

Brian Davis, chairman of the Pluralism Project at Weber State University, which strives to map Utah's religious diversity, said he wasn't surprised by Utah County's No. 1 LDS ranking.

Carri Jenkins, spokeswoman for Brigham Young University, notes that 98 percent of BYU's 30,000 students are LDS, and so is 95 percent of its faculty.

As a result, says Brian Birch, director of religious studies at Orem's Utah Valley State College, "almost all aspects of (Utah County) civic life are impacted by the LDS culture."

It becomes part of nearly every political issue and is particularly noticeable in common Sunday store closures and the nearly countywide ban on Sunday beer sales.

UVSC thinks the LDS Church's influence in the county is worth studying. The school is planning to launch a series of roundtable discussions regarding religious diversity in Utah County.

Kent Hansen, communications director for the Utah Travel Council, said the 66.44 percent Utah LDS figure is about what he expected to hear and that Salt Lake County being near the bottom of the LDS list is also predictable.

Utah's LDS membership grew 20 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to the study. However, the Salvation Army has the largest percentage gain, going from 71 members in 1990 to 469 in 2000, for a 560.5 percent rise.

Salt Lake County ranks 24th among the counties for LDS population with 56.04 percent. Davis County is 16th at 72.04 percent and Weber is 23rd at 58.56 percent.

The highest numbers of LDS members are in Salt Lake County — 503,476 in 1,198 wards among its estimated population by 2000 figures. That compares to Utah County's 324,790 members in 961 wards. Davis County had 172,172 LDS members in 407 wards in the year 2000 statistics.

Weber County's low LDS population is likely influenced by nearby Hill Air Force Base, other big government employers and Weber State University. Weber County has only 115,106 LDS members in 257 wards.

Rich, Cache and Box Elder counties rank among the top seven most LDS counties in the state. That group includes only two southern Utah counties — Sevier and Sanpete.

Many Utahns erroneously believe remote southern Utah counties have the most concentrated LDS populations.

It should be noted that significant portions of the population do not claim affiliation with any religion. Among Utah's counties, this ranges from highs of 56.8 percent in San Juan County and 51.3 percent in Grand County to as low as 10.1 percent in Utah County and 11.9 in Morgan.

The highest percentage of any non-LDS Church among the 29 counties is found among Catholics — 1.38 percent of Carbon County's population. Tooele is close behind at 1.36 percent Catholic, followed by Summit at 1.06 percent. Fourth is Grand County with 0.066 percent of its population belonging to the Southern Baptists, followed by Catholics in Salt Lake and Weber counties at 0.059 percent.

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Some other religious studies, such as the American Religious Identification Survey in 2000, concluded Utah's statewide Catholic population was much higher at 6 percent. It also pegged Utah's Episcopal number at 3 percent, Baptists at 2 percent and Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Muslims at 1 percent each. It estimated Utah's LDS population at only 57 percent.

"A lot depends on the methodology," Davis said.

He said the more urban a county or area becomes, generally the more diverse in religion it becomes.

For more information on the ARDA and its studies, go online to: www.thearda.com


E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com; rodger@desnews.com