When the 107 elected delegates to Utah's Constitutional Convention gathered at noon on March 4, 1895, in the civil courtroom of the new Salt Lake City-County Building, it was a diverse group indeed. They faced an arduous task, and the fruits of that undertaking are being questioned today by residents who believe the delegates overdrew the constitutional line between church and state. Realizing the delicate and crucial nature of its mission, the convention ironically opened its fifty-five days of work each morning with a prayer for divine blessing on the deliberations.
The drafting of now-controversial Article I, Section 4, a 134-word guarantee of religious liberty stricter than that found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was accomplished by men who represented extreme and mainstream segments of 19th-century society in Utah. Amending this ninety-seven-year-old declaration of rights has become the 1992 goal of those supporting prayer in public meetings. In fact, a special session of the Legislature this week may have on its agenda whether to place the issue on the November general-election ballot.
The situation in 1895 was far from tranquil. A delicate truce existed between the political factions in the territory because of the "Manifesto" issued four years earlier by Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declaring his intention to obey the anti-polygamy laws and counseling others to do the same. Having thus seen the conditions for admission to the union met, non-Mormons and their newspaper voice, The Salt Lake Tribune, who were opponents of polygamy and ecclesiastical control of politics, reached an armistice of sorts with the LDS Church and came out for statehood.
Elected by the people of Utah, the delegates included thirty-seven identifiable Mormons and twenty-eight non-Mormons. Among the Mormon members were four general authorities of the church, the presidents of Brigham Young University and Brigham Young College, and the territorial commissioner of education. Non-Mormons were represented by such luminaries as Charles S. Varian, who had been in charge of the prosecution of polygamists; C.C. Goodwin, editor of the once vehemently anti-Mormon Tribune; and George P. Miller, a Methodist Episcopal minister.
By occupation, farmers and ranchers constituted the largest segment of the convention (28), with lawyers next (15). There were thirteen merchants, eight miners, six educators, five members of the clergy, four editors, three bankers, three builders, two photographers, two clerks, two politicians, a brick mason, a druggist, a brewer, a railroad agent, a bookkeeper, a warehouseman, a blacksmith and an Ogden delegate who listed his occupation as a "capitalist."
On that historic first day, the convention was called to order in the jammed courtroom, and President George Q. Cannon, first counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church, invoked a "divine blessing on this assemblage." According to convention minutes, President Cannon delivered this ecumenical prayer: "Our Eternal Father, we approach thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, upon this occasion, and we desire to do so in a manner that shall be acceptable in thy sight. We feel, our Father, that this assemblage needs thy Holy Spirit to be with them. They need thy help, so that in the consideration of the great and important questions that shall enter into their discussions, they may be filled with that feeling that cometh from thee, with love for each other and for humanity, and be inspired by the highest and most patriotic motives that can fill the human breast; that in the framing of this important constitution for this great country, they may, our Father, look constantly to thee for that aid and help which thou alone can give, and that even though they may not believe in thee [there may be some, our Father, who do not have faith in God], yet that in their hearts there may be a desire to do that which is right for their fellow men, and to look forward to the best interests of this country, and to do everything that is possible to make this a great and grand country, under a constitution that shall be liberal in the largest acceptance of that term.
Our Heavenly Father, the hearts of the people of this territory are centered in their desire that this convention may be one that shall do honor to the great questions that shall be brought before it. We therefore invoke thy divine blessing upon all connected therewith. We ask thee to manifest thy power, for we do feel deeply interested in the result of the debates that shall take place here; and wilt thou remove, Father, from the breasts of these men every feeling of improper partisanship, that they may not contend for party advantage, nor to succeed in any direction that is not in the interests of the entire people.
Help them, our Heavenly Father, we beseech thee, and let thy blessings rest down upon every one of them, and upon him who shall be called upon to preside, whoever he may be, that he may preside with dignity and fairness, in the midst of this convention; and upon the committees that shall be appointed, that they may be filled with the same spirit and feeling and disposition, and that the whole people may rejoice exceedingly before thee, the Lord our God, at the results of this convention, and the spirit that shall be manifested by those who take part in its proceedings. All of which we humbly ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."
So it was, and so it continued. On each of the ensuing fifty-four working days of the convention, the sessions were opened by prayer, offered by the Reverend T.C. Iliff of the Methodist Episcopal Church; the Reverend R. G. McNiece of the First Presbyterian Church; the Reverend James F. Beates of the Lutheran Church; the Reverend B.F. Clay, pastor of the Central Christian Church; the Reverend Clarence T. Brown of the Congregational Church; the Rt. Reverend A.B. Leonard of the Episcopal Church; the Reverend W.D. Mabry of the Roman Catholic Church. And when no clergyman was available, various delegates were called upon to offer prayer.