Posted by: Titus Presler | October 20, 2009

Missionaries, Utah, Sen. Hatch and the Census

In a 20 October 2009 editorial opposing an effort to add a citizenship question to the already planned and approved questionnaire for the 2010 census, the New York Times brings up another possible legislative revision, this one having to do with missionaries or, at least, Mormon missionaries living abroad:

“Advocates for the census say that Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah, has also raised the idea of another bad, last-minute change. Under current practice, the only people living abroad included in the census are military personnel and federal civilian employees, and the families of both, stationed overseas. Mr. Hatch, these officials say, wants to include certain other Americans living abroad temporarily, a definition that would be tailored to include — you guessed it — Mormon missionaries.”

What would be the impact of such a change?  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has, at any one time, around 55,000 missionaries – yes, 55,000! – working out of 330 mission sites around the world, probably justifying the church’s claim to have the most active missionary program of any church.  (The Roman Catholic total from all points around the world to other points around the world may exceed that, but the Mormons’ total would be the most from any one church in any one country.)  The proportion of Mormon missionaries to the total of USAmerican missionaries may be gauged by the fact that in 2000 the World Christian Encyclopedia listed 118,000 USAmerican citizens as having been sent abroad for “global mission sharing,” so the Mormons would constitute about half of that total, obviously a huge proportion.

On the political front, if the 2010 census comes in at something over 300 million (the total reached in 2006), that will mean that each of the 435 congressional districts will need to have a population of about 690,000.  With a 2008 population of a little over 2.7 million people, but one of the fastest growing state populations in the USA, Utah might be just shy of the population needed to qualify for a fourth congressional district.  Currently both of Utah’s senators and two of its three representatives are Republicans.  So an additional congressional district would mean another representative, who would likely be Republican.  All of which helps explain why Sen. Hatch would like the over 50,000 Mormon missionaries to be counted.

Counting only Mormon missionaries in the United States Census would, obviously, be discriminatory among religious organizations.  Trying to count all missionaries living abroad would get government involved in deciding who is and who is not to be regarded legitimately as a missionary, which could also set off a scramble among religious organizations lobbying for this or that definition.  Various non-religious development organizations might then seek to have their personnel counted.  Then lots of other categories might want in.

Obviously a bad idea.

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