In most states, few eyebrows would arch if a legislator were drawn outside the House chamber with the invitation "Let's have a little drink."
But heads would likely turn in Utah, where a majority of legislators belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches that to drink alcohol is a sin.When the suggestion was made on the floor of the Utah House recently, the invitation was the same, but the meaning wasn't.
Rather than belly up to a bar, the Utah lawmaker and his friend retired to the House kitchen, where the most popular beverage is chocolate milk and the most potent are Coke and Diet Pepsi.
The refreshment menu is just one place where the predominant Mormon culture prevails in the Legislature.
About two-thirds of Utah's residents are Mormon, but church members hold a markedly higher percentage of seats in the Legislature.
While the state keeps no record of the religious preference of its legislators, it is estimated that those belonging to the LDS Church hold 90 percent or more of the Legislature's 103 seats.
As a result, doctrinal references and cultural nuances often proliferate in debate, even when the topic has little or nothing to do with religion.
Sometimes it's inadvertent; sometimes it's in jest.
Non-Mormon lawmakers say they are bothered most when Mormon lawmakers assume no one else exists.
"I do think it's out of place, but it doesn't offend me," said House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price. "I resent it when they make the implication they're just talking to Mormons. There ain't very many of us here that ain't."
A wide variety of these "Mormonisms" have made their appearance during the 1989 general session, with some of the most startling coming just last week.
First, a representative offering the House's daily invocation implored deity to "bless the missionaries in the field."
The LDS Church maintains about 35,000 full-time missionaries.
On another recent occasion, Sen. Lane Beattie, R-Bountiful, quoted LDS Church founder Joseph Smith while arguing against restricting the power of state agencies to write rules that have the effect of law. Beattie argued that administrators should have latitude in rule making, citing President Smith's axiom, "Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves."
During a recent committee meeting, Rep. Haze Hunter, R-Cedar City, illustrated his point with a story about home teaching, the Mormon practice of having lay clergy make monthly visits to congregation members.
Sometimes the references are offered jokingly, such as when House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Roy, told lawmakers voting against a proposal: "All those opposed manifest it by the usual sign."
That's a phrase Mormons use when a congregation votes on new appointments. Mormon lawmakers got the joke. The rest wondered what was so funny.
"I suppose `gallows humor' isn't the right term, but we're always criticized so much for being a `Mormon' legislature, we sort of poke fun at ourselves," said Karras. "I hope it isn't offensive."
Dmitrich said he has seen the church intervene on a secular issue only once, and its influence was powerful. Two years ago the House voted to abolish state income tax deductions. A church lobbyist appeared at the Capitol the next day to say the bill would have a harmful effect on donations to universities, hospitals and other charitable causes.
Within a few hours, the proposal was dead.
"That was the only time I've seen them get involved," said Dmitrich, who has spent 20 years in the Legislature.
Karras said if the Legislature appears to echo the church's positions, it's because Mormon legislators naturally embrace the church's values.
"If the church runs the place it's because it raised us. It isn't because someone calls us and tells us what to do," he said.