War Won, No. 1 Atheist Bids Adieu to Utah
Allen led the battle for church-state separation
By B O B M I M S
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
For 19 years, Chris Allen has been the lightning rod for Utah's atheist
community, the bane of what he perceives as a Mormon theocracy -- one he
regularly battled with vitriolic wit.
During those nearly two decades, Allen has never had a paucity of
in which to air his views. He battled prayer in schools, at graduation
ceremonies and during city council meetings; challenged Ten Commandments
monuments on public property; and attacked the presence of LDS
in classrooms -- a move that led the church to ban missionary tutoring in
public schools in 1998.
Most of his battles ended in defeat, Allen admits. Still, as he steps
down as Utah's chief disciple of disbelief, the 55-year-old,
computer programmer insists he won his protracted philosophical war.
"We did a good deal of educating the people about separation of state
church, and I believe the majority in Utah have come to accept that
said Allen, who plans to return to his native Texas this fall. "So, I feel
justified, that there is something of a victory."
Civil libertarian colleagues, and even an ardent foe, agree Allen was
effective, persistent voice for often unpopular causes in a state where
out of 10 Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
"Chris is a zealot for his cause. He might not like the religious
comparison of his fervor, but I think it is accurate," said Salt Lake
City civil rights attorney Brian Barnard. "[He is] a strong
advocate of keeping government out of the business of
religion . . . even against a sea of opposition."
Carol Gnade, executive director of the Utah chapter of the American
Liberties Union, said Allen deserved praise for "educating people on
church-state separation issues in a culture which is quite unaccepting of
other points of view."
Then there is Gayle Ruzicka. The president of the ultra-conservative
Eagle Forum said she has come to like Allen, despite their frequent
over the years on political and public religious expression issues.
"Chris has always been willing to offer his side and been articulate in
doing that," she said. "He is a very nice man and polite -- he's just
Ruzicka's characterization elicits a smile from Allen, who chooses not
respond, at least directly. Instead, he launches into a lecture on the
of religion in general, and the downside of the influence of Mormonism in
Utah in particular.
"Religion is bad. It is mental slavery," said Allen, raised a Houston
Episcopalian before doubts about the existence of God stirred during his
years at Rice University and blossomed into full-blown atheism during a
1969-72 stint in the Navy.
He moved to Salt Lake City in 1975, taking over for Utah Atheists
Richard Andrews in 1982. By then, Allen and his 100-member organization
the LDS Church on their radar, blaming its support of large families for
of Utah's social ills -- among them an inequitable tax structure that
multiple dependents, which he says leads to anemic school funding and the
poor quality of education that comes with it.
"I won't miss that," he said. "I will miss the good skiing, lovely
weather, beautiful mountains and my friends."
Michael Rivers, an engineer who recently transferred to Utah from Los
Angeles, said he and his wife, Julia, share both directorship duties and
determination to maintain a strong voice for the state's nonreligious
"We continue to try to explain ourselves; why we believe what we do, "Rivers said. "I don't like to attack groups, per se. But I am a very firm
believer on separation issues, that no one's beliefs should be forced on