Despite congressional pressure, the Army said Friday it won't provide the land or help build a large church for the exclusive use of Mormon employees at its Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
"The Army is opposed in principle to the construction and exclusive use of a private house of worship by any religious organization on a military installation," Assistant Army Secretary Delbert L. Spurlock wrote in a letter to congressional committees."No statutory authority exists which would permit this at Dugway and, if such authority were proposed (by Congress), it would likely violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution."
Moreover, while the Army building now being used by Mormon employees at Dugway as their church is "substandard," that building by itself "is more than twice the religious education facility size authorized for the entire Dugway population," the service said.
If and when the Army obtains money to build new religious facilities at Dugway, those buildings will have to be shared by all denominations at the base and will certainly be smaller than the buildings now used, the Army said.
Spurlock's comments were contained in a cover letter that accompanied a special report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Friday. The report was requested by Congress in December at the urging of Sen. Jake Garn, a Utah Republican and Mormon.
Garn has argued the Mormons need better space at Dugway because so many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints work at the remote base. The Mormons at the base are currently allowed exclusive use of a warehouse they have renovated as a chapel, but would like to build a modern, larger facility at the base.
There are about 700 Mormons at Dugway, which employs roughly 1,700 people. Most of the workers are civilians.
The Mormon workers at Dugway turned to Garn for help after the Army rejected the church's request for a long-term lease on 2.5 acres to construct a building. Garn has said through a spokeswoman that if the Army doesn't come up with an acceptable plan to provide adequate space, he will ask Congress to order the Army to issue a lease.
Laurie Snow, the senator's spokeswoman, declined comment Friday on the Army report, saying Garn had not yet seen it "and probably won't review it until Monday at the earliest."
The report, however, hardly appears likely to satisfy the Mormon workers.
It concludes that under Army regulations, a post the size of Dugway should have a 300-seat chapel available for sharing by all denominations which Dugway has plus a religious education building with 4,840 square feet of space.
That equals "a maximum allowance of 13,390 square feet of religious facility space," the Army report states.
The refurbished warehouse used as a chapel by the Mormons now, however, provides more than 11,000 square feet of additional space beyond the standards set by Army regulation, the report continues.
The Army has no intention of kicking the Mormons out of the refurbished warehouse "and is certainly not trying to threaten such a step," said Paige Eversole, an Army spokeswoman.
"But it is clear they have more space than what is authorized," she added.
Given the "current austere budget conditions," the Army report adds, "it is not anticipated" that any money could be requested from Congress during the next five years to upgrade the existing facilities at Dugway.