Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

10 ways Utah Mormons are a breed apart

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

When I lived in New Jersey years ago, Utah Mormons would sometimes move in and out of our ward, having come East for their educations.

I think it was a bit of a shock for some of them. A few commented on how, well, lax the New Jersey Saints seemed in our observance of things like the Sabbath and the Word of Wisdom.

Other transplants felt invigorated by being a tiny fraction of the population rather than part of a herd. I remember one sister commenting that she’d never had to stand firm in her own testimony until she moved away from Utah and was surrounded for the first time by people who did not believe as she did.

With this in mind, I wanted to mine the Next Mormons Survey data in a way I don’t get into much in the forthcoming book, which focuses primarily on generational difference.

I wanted to know: Are Utah Mormons really different from Mormons elsewhere in the U.S.?

There is some previous data about this, but it tells conflicting stories. In the late 1960s, sociologist Armand Mauss conducted a study comparing Mormons in Salt Lake City and San Francisco. The Salt Lake City Mormons were more orthodox than the California ones by a factor of a third or more. In a more recent study, though, David Campbell, John Green, and Quin Monson found few differences between Utah and non-Utah Mormons, except that the Utah ones had more friends who were Mormon (which is no surprise).

The 2016 Next Mormons Survey results were more like Mauss’s from the 1960s, as you can see below. Keep in mind that the margin of error is higher for the study’s 327 Utah Mormons than the 829 respondents who live elsewhere in the U.S. because it’s a smaller group. (For a fuller account of the study’s methodology, see here.) With the exception of #10, all of the data below is from people who identify themselves as current Mormons.

According to the NMS, Utah Mormons are:

  1. More religiously orthodox. Utah Mormons were more devout on almost every testimony question. These differences were less pronounced on questions of basic Christian belief (God, Jesus, etc.) and more visible on specifically Mormon questions about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the role of apostles and prophets today. For example, there’s a twenty-point difference between the Utah Mormons who strongly agree that the Book of Mormon is a “literal, historical account” (69%) and the non-Utah Mormons who do (49%). In many cases on these testimony questions, non-Utah folks would choose the second option of “somewhat” agree rather than “strongly” agree. So it doesn’t mean they don’t believe in Mormon teachings, but they may hold them less tightly than Utah Mormons tend to.
  2. More likely to have been born into the Church. That tendency to be less orthodox on specifically Mormon questions may have to do with the fact that nearly half of Mormons outside of Utah were not born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 47% are converts, versus just 19% of Mormons currently living in Utah. So a good portion of Mormons who live outside of Utah did not grow up steeped in LDS teachings, as a super-majority of Utah Mormons did.
  3. More likely to tie their church membership to their core identity. 68% of Utah Mormons strongly agreed that “being a Mormon is an essential part of who I am,” while fewer than half—45%—of non-Utah Mormons did. This may have to do with the convert status mentioned above, and the significantly greater likelihood that Utah Mormons will have a majority of their friends and family who are also members of the church. Mormonism appears to be more all-or-nothing for people in Utah, where family networks and identity are more deeply intertwined with religion.
  4. More likely to have married a Mormon. Four out of five Utah Mormons who are married are married to a fellow Latter-day Saint (83%), versus roughly two-thirds of married Mormons outside Utah (64%). For non-Utah Mormons, the top religions among non-LDS spouses include “just Christian” (7%), Roman Catholic (6%), “nothing in particular” (6%) evangelical Protestant (5%), mainline Protestant (3%), and a smattering of other things.
  5. More Republican. 70% of Utah Mormons self-identify as Republican, versus 52% of Mormons outside Utah. (However, that doesn’t mean that Utah Mormons are necessarily fans of Donald Trump, who actually took a backseat to Evan McMullin among the most religiously devout Utah respondents; see this recap.)
  6. More white. Nine out of ten Mormons in Utah report their racial category as white, versus seven out of ten Mormons elsewhere. Nearly all of the racial diversity in the NMS came from respondents who lived outside the religion’s home state.
  7. More committed to traditional gender roles. 68% of Utah Mormons strongly disagreed that they were bothered by the fact that women don’t hold the priesthood, meaning that they do not think there is any problem that only men can be ordained. By contrast, only 29% of non-Utah Mormons chose the “strongly disagree” option, and more than half either “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that they are This is almost a two-to-one difference between Utah and non-Utah Mormons.
  8. More opposed to same-sex marriage. Six in ten Utah Mormons strongly agree with the church’s 2015 policy that church members in a same-sex marriage should be considered apostate and subject to a disciplinary council. Only 42% of non-Utah Mormons “strongly” agreed.
  9. More likely to never turn down a church calling. Half of Utah Mormons say it’s never okay to turn down a church calling from the bishop, even if it feels like the wrong fit or they don’t have time for it. Only three in ten Mormons outside Utah have a similar no-exceptions policy about always saying yes to callings.
  10. More likely to “stay gone” from organized religion if they leave the LDS Church. This was an interesting finding among the former Mormon respondents. Most people who leave the LDS Church don’t tend to join another religion; they’re not switching organized religions so much as leaving altogether, a fact we’ve seen before in the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Study. But when we break out the numbers by geography an interesting pattern emerges. About three in ten former Mormons who grew up outside Utah said they had joined another religion since leaving Mormonism, but only 8% of those who hailed from Utah had. This relates to point #3 above: there’s more of an all-or-nothing quality to Mormonism as it plays out in Utah families.

So it’s mostly true: there is such a thing as a “Utah Mormon,” who is generally more orthodox, traditional, and politically conservative than Mormons in the rest of the country.

 


More findings from the Next Mormons Survey:


 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

42 Comments

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  • Although I’m California born and bred, I’m also 5th Generation LDS. But I have lived in Utah as a married adult with kids. You can count me under #10; I have had my fill of organized religion for all of the nine reasons above #10.

  • East Coast RCJC’s are generally more intellectual than Utah RCJC’s:

    The Restored Church of Jesus Christ (RCJC) believes in the Christianity of the New Testament era. Catholics and Protestants believe in Fourth Century Creedal Christianity. Here are the beliefs of Christians of the New Testament era:
    1. Baptism by immersion by the father (who has the authority) of the family
    2. Lay clergy
    3. Baptism by proxy for deceased ancestors
    4. God and Jesus organized the world, rather than creatio ex nihilo.
    5. Belief in a tripartite anthropomorphic Godhead, as witnessed by the Apostle Stephen.
    6. Belief in theosis (that faithful Christians can acquire god-like attributes). All early Christian leaders believed in theosis.
    7. Belief in God’s Plan of Salvation, given by Jesus Christ to the Apostles and seven women during the 40 days after His Resurrection. (Sophia Jesu Christi)
    8. Belief in sacred esoteric ordinances which allow faithful Christians to ascend to the highest heaven. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, administered these ordinances until 350 AD. (Catechetical Lectures 20 and 23).
    9. Belief in Eternal Marriage, as recorded in the Book of the Apostle Philip.
    Temples teach of 3), 4), 5), 6), 7), 8), and 9)
    Which is the true Christianity? New Testament Era or Creedal?

  • A nobody member of a tiny LDS splinter group founds a further tiny second-tier splinter group claiming to be the only true church. Who would have guessed?

    BTW, you’re mistaken in #5, according to the Wiki, the RCJC believes in a bipartite godhead. If you’re a member, better get your theology correct.

    I can’t believe that members of tiny splinter groups could be anything more than country bumpkins. Not intellectual at all. But that’s just me, I have no more evidence to my claim than you do to yours.

  • HYPOTHESIS: “Most people who leave the LDS Church [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)] don’t tend to join another religion; they’re not switching organized religions so much as leaving altogether” – PLUS outing themselves as bisexuals but not as atheists, agnostics or nones-senses? NOW WHY IS THAT ?!

    CASE IN POINT: Kyrsten Sinema, U.S. Senator from Arizona since 2019 and member of the Democratic Party, who “attended the same Mormon church as her family. … Sinema says she left the Mormon Church after graduating from BYU [Brigham Young University] … Her parents and stepparents have remained in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her father and stepmother are currently on a Mormon mission in the Philippines, she says. … [Only] vague responses she gives [however] when asked about this aspect of her life … spiritual beliefs … She is frequently referred to as agnostic or non-theist. But when I asked, she wouldn’t go into detail, saying merely, ‘I am not a member of a faith community.’ What she does believe, she says, is that Americans deserve ‘freedom of religion and freedom from religion.’ Somewhere along the way, though she says she doesn’t know exactly when, Sinema also came to identify as bisexual. ‘For me it just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter if that other person is a man or a woman,’ she says. Sinema, who says she is single, doesn’t adhere to common notions about the categories of sexual orientation. Instead, she blends them. ‘Bisexuals are gay people – we’re all gay,’ she says. ‘Some people don’t like that.'”

    Source: Manuel Roig-Franzia, “Congress’ first openly bisexual member grew up Mormon, graduated from BYU”, Standard-Examiner, January 3, 2013.

  • I’m calling out your BLUFF. In the absence of neotestamentary scriptures, and your ability to produce them, NONE of the following mere assertions is part of the “beliefs of Christians of the New Testament”:

    “1. Baptism by immersion by the father (who has the authority) of the family … 3. Baptism by proxy for deceased ancestors … 5. Belief in a tripartite anthropomorphic Godhead … 6. Belief in theosis … 8. Belief in sacred esoteric ordinances which allow faithful Christians to ascend to the highest heaven. … 9. Belief in Eternal Marriage”.

    NONE !

  • Which makes you what, then, an atheist, agnostic or one of those nones-senses? You didn’t say. “#10” doesn’t either, but don’t let that stop you.

  • According to the Wiki? That was your basis for telling this guy to “get your theology correct”? Let’s take the testosterone poisoning down a notch. I’d hesitate to understand the standard Catholic notion of the Trinity, even if I read it off the Wiki. But the Mormon concept of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Ghost – is also tripartite (a fancy way of saying it has three parts). How could you denounce the guy for referring to it as “tripartite” if it does, in fact, have three parts (according to Mormons)? Did the Wiki tell you about the First Article of Faith? (“We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost”)

    Theological fistfights break out over whether the Holy Ghost is “a god” like Heaveny Father and Jesus Christ, since the first two have glorified resurrected bodies while the latter does not. “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.” (D&C 130:22) He is, of course, a member of the Godhead, as was Christ before his birth. Does that make him a god? I couldn’t care less. I’ve got grass to mow and garbage to leave by the curb. But it sure doesn’t make the Godhead, as Mormons view it, any less tripartite. The Mormon conception of the Holy Ghost is not that of God’s “presence” in men’s hearts, the way it is in other churches. He is “a personage of Spirit.”

    Which all boils down to this. Backslapping a guy’s comments because they don’t accord with your reading of a Wiki is perhaps the kind of male behavior we could do without – in or out of the LDS Church.

  • I served a two-year mission in Utah for the LDS Church. I also went back there to get my undergradate and graduate degrees at BYU. I found Utah to be a little less monolithic. There were members who were among the most with-it, educated, and grounded anywhere. There were also atrociously self-satisfied, arrogant, provincial idiots, deeply afflicted with the Nephite disease, insufferable boors. There were Utah’s version of rednecks and sloppy fools in need of a shepherd. There were the oceans of inactives who’d been raised in the Church, seen enough and gone their own way. Many of these still had a soft part in their heart for what was good and true to them. There were those who wanted nothing more to do with it and considered it the worst form of religious nonsense ever to be pumped down anybody’s throat.

    There were also non-members who hated the Church and resented its intrusion into their lives. I found the new arrivals to be the easiest people to talk to. The Church was new to them and they were genuinely curious. They had enough positive experiences with LDS people to give the Church a chance. The longer someone was in Utah, the less likely they wanted to have anything to do with the Church. These people had plenty of stories of being treated like a redheaded stepchild.

    At the time of my arrival in Utah, I was a relatively new member of the Church, having joined it a little over two years before. The Church was still new to me and going to Utah was an exciting adventure I looked forward. Two years there dimmed some of that enthusiasm as I ran into plenty of encounters that gave me a less romantic, more practical view of the LDS Church. My return to Utah, to get my degrees at BYU, actually helped me temper some of the burn-marks on my heart. I came home from my mission the same way Charlie Sheen came home from Vietnam at the end of Platoon – just heartbroken with disappointment and disillusionment. But life in Florida reminded me of what I’d left behind when I joined the LDS Church in the first place. If Utah Mormons don’t dance on clouds, they also aren’t the worst people you’ll find in this crazy stew of a country.

    Living in Utah was a reminder to me that you don’t change the world simply by changing the flags people fly, although there are good and bad effects that come from a change in culture. I agree every point on the list above. Utah Mormons are definitely different from other Mormons – for good and bad. What did you expect? Mormons fled west to Utah, at a time when their leaders were being gunned down, and at a time when Mormons were being raped, mugged and murdered. They found safety in Utah. Why? Because of the isolation. Utah’s mountain-west isolation allowed the whole culture to do its thing without having to make endless compromises with more-established neighbors. Wherever the Mormons had lived before this – New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois – they were newcomers, immigrants, weirdos – a people easily marginalized and terrorized. In Utah – and in other Mormon enclaves throughout the West – Mormons gained the upper hand. Safety allowed them to come out fo their shells and be whatever they wanted to be.

    But that’s both good and bad. In-bred provincialism creates a Mormon popculture that projects arrogant over-confidence, often based on ignorance (from filtering out the outside world). With every change, there is a backlash. Utah has both a sweetness and a weirdness. People who come there – from all over the world – often express amazement at all that is good, all that is admirable, in what the Saints have produced over a century and a half. But, if the Church, is to survive, it needs to outgrow Utah. Mormon experiences outside Utah, among Saints who are plugged into a larger world, are valuable. They challenge the status quo and the self-assured view that people in the Church know it all and have no need of any larger world.

    As time goes on, the Church looks increasingly likely to put Utah in perspective. With more Saints outside the state (and Wasatch region), the pressure to conform the faith to the Wasatch culture will give way to the reality that a world church must reflect and represent all people in all places.

  • That’s a lot of misinformed bluster, verging on idiocy. No testosterone involved.

    He wasn’t making claims for the Utah-based LDS Church. He said the Restored Church of Jesus Christ, founded in 1980, and is a splinter of the Church of Jesus Christ – Cutlerites, itself a tiny 1 branch church splinter in Ind, MS. A remnant of the leadership crisis faced by the LDS Church founded by Joseph Smith after his assassination at the Carthage, IL jail.

  • Not true, you just don’t like it when someone calls you into question.

    You’re bitchy all the time.

  • In your 1st paragraph you appear to be making the blanket statement that those leaving the LDS Church are bi-sexual. I doubt that is true at all.

    As to your assertion that she isn’t adhering to common notions of sexual orientation, there are two approaches to the term gay. It can be used to refer to someone who is homosexual, usually men. And it can also be used more generally to refer to sexual minorities as a whole cultural group. There are men who have sex with men who don’t identify as gay, meaning they don’t identify with gay culture. They don’t go to bars, they don’t have a circle of gay friends, they wouldn’t go near a Pride parade, etc.

  • I’d be happy to post urls for your entire week’s output and let other people reach their own conclusions.

  • I’m using Ex-Mormon Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona as a case in point to prove “the 2016 Next Mormons Survey” is wrong about “10. [that] most people who leave the LDS Church don’t tend to join another religion; they’re not switching organized religions so much as leaving altogether”. She has never emphasized “leaving [it] altogether” at all. What she has emphasized, instead and time & again, is “leaving [Mormon Sexuality] altogether” for Bi-Sexuality! NOW WHY IS THAT ?! Do you know?

    Perhaps, then, The 2019 Next Mormon Sexualities Survey is in order? And in high demand?

  • “10. [emphasizes that] most people who leave the LDS Church … [ar]e not switching organized religions so much as leaving altogether”. For atheism, agnosticism or nones-sensicalism – WHICH ?!

    RidingTheLine didn’t specify, just as Ex-Mormon Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona never did either. NOW WHY IS THAT ?! Do you know?

  • You know that one example of something doesn’t “prove” anything. Nothing is proved by a sample of one.

    She doesn’t qualify for Heaven under Mormon sexuality. Mormons, like many fundamentalist approaches to human sexual behavior, teaches that how we present at birth, as male or female, is our eternal God-ordained gender, in the preexistence, on earth and in the after life. And that everyone is heterosexual, in the preexistence, on earth and in the afterlife. Full stop. Period. End of story. Folks in the LDS Church don’t take “until death do us part” vows in temple marriage, but “for time and all eternity” vows. Families are forever, but only for heterosexuals.

    In Rep Simena’s case, she doesn’t feel attraction to only men, but to other women as well. That doesn’t fly in the LDS Church. Saying that you are bi-sexual won’t bring on any real actions against you, other than side eyed glances, especially by your Church leadership. But saying that you are in a sexually active relationship with a member of your same sex is grounds for full expulsion, especially if you have entered into a marriage with that person. It not only affects you and the other person if they are also LDS, but any children who live, even part-time, in that household.

  • Because they haven’t even thought about it? They are just happy to be inactive in their LDS culture?

  • Can you not focus, please? On (ir)religion, that is. And not on (bi)sexuality. Here let this LGBT atheist help you focus, with him sharing my focus all this time:

    “Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona … seems to think ‘atheist’ is a dirty word. … Her campaign released this statement shortly after her victory: ‘(Rep. Sinema) believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.’ As a nontheist, atheist and nonbeliever (take your pick), I find this statement deeply problematic … [and] offensive because it implies there is something unbefitting about the lives and characters of atheists or nonbelievers. … While I celebrate that she is comfortable enough to openly identify as bisexual, I find her response to being labeled an atheist troubling. Why not instead say that she’s not an atheist, but so what if she was? … As a proud atheist and humanist, I’m disheartened that the only member of Congress who openly identifies as nonreligious has forcefully distanced herself from atheism in a way that puts down those of us who do not believe in God. We are Americans of good character, too.”

    Source: Chris Stedman, “My take: ‘Atheist’ isn’t a dirty word, congresswoman”, CNN, January 8, 2013. (“Chris Stedman is the author of ‘Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious’ and the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard”.)

  • Your first paragraph is literally claiming all the people from Utah who leave LDS and religion entirely are “outing themselves as bisexuals but not as atheists, agnostics or nones-senses”. If you meant to comment on how some are, you were missing a “some are” before the “outing themselves”. (Just a heads-up, since your other comments suggest you seem to have meant that “some”.)

  • My teacher once said, The point of Hypothesis is the Conclusion that it’s right or erroneous, or not even straightforward. So far at this comments section, 2 people have questioned the validity of “10. [that] most people who leave the LDS Church … [ar]e not switching organized religions so much as leaving altogether”: (1) Kyrsten Sinema in my case study. And (2) the very first commentator on this article by the handle name of RidingTheLine. So yeah, you’re right, it’s just “some”, not “all” Ex-Mormons. But it’s weird that noone has come forward to sound off their Pledge of Sacrillegiance to their newly found atheism or agnosticism. (Nones-sensicalism doesn’t count, of course, because, according to that globalist busy bee, The Pew Research Center, if there are 24 nones anywhere at any time nowadays, 16 of them will still worship what the other 8 would call fairy-tale, evidence-free, dumb de-dumb dumb gawds. That’s The Myth of Nones for you.)

    But I stand corrected – thank you.

  • And in the meantime, I’d be happy to let said “people” borrow my DVD copy of “Witching & B*tching: A Film by Alex de la Iglesia”.

  • “[You]’ve got grass to mow” – in January? Pointy point taken, though. Especially about “backslapping … because … of a Wiki”.

  • That isn’t what it says.

    But if one was actually speaking of country pumpkins, they are usually bigger than city pumpkins, having more space in a corn field to sprawl.

  • Utah Mormons are a breed apart because they have breeding there longer than anywhere else making for a stronger business cult brainwash.

  • Ashiests & eggnogshticks “have been breeding”, too, though, right? WRONG. Good news is, there’s only 3% of the total U.S. population who call themselves atheists and only 4% identify as agnostic. Phew.

  • FYII (For Your Insult to Intelligence):

    (1) “Sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera’s review [in 2017]”: “Atheists and agnostics [make up] 7% of the world’s population”! HA-HA.

    (2) “The 2015 Pew Religious Landscape survey”: “Of the American population … atheists made up 3.1%”! HA-HA.

    (3) “The World Factbook [of 2013]”: “Non-religious people [in the U.S.] make up 9.66%, while one fifth of them are atheists”! HA-HA.

    (4) “The Encyclopædia Britannica [2013]”: “2% of the world’s population self-identify as atheists and the average annual global change for atheism from 2000 to 2010 was −0.17%”! HA-HA.

    (5) “Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project [2009]”: “In the United States, only 5% of the population did not have a belief in a god and out of that small group only 24% self-identified as ‘atheist'”! HA-HA.

    (6) “A 2004 survey by the BBC in 10 countries”: “8% of the respondents … consider themselves to be ‘atheists'”! HA-HA.

    (7) “The World Factbook [2004]”: “Of the world’s population … about 2.4% are atheists”! HA-HA.

  • That is still a large number of non-believers and far exceeds for example the followers of Judaism. And keep in mind that at one time most believed the world to be flat and that 95% of believers owe their beliefs to where they were born.

  • “Phew”?? It sounds as though you’re scared of us and relieved that we are so few. I don’t think our numbers will change much.

  • The majority of atheists all pale next to my atheist mentors listed below, whom I regard highly. Good thing, then, that such atheists, though the majority, are just 3% of the entire U.S. population. Phew! Otherwise, what a horrific & dreadful & ugly country it’ll be if and when such atheists take over.

    (1) Terry Eagleton.
    (2) Daniel Fincke.
    (3) Jurgen Habermas.
    (4) David Hoelscher.
    (5) Sikivu Hutchinson.
    (6) Stephen LeDrew.
    (7) Frank Pasquale.
    (8) CJ Werleman.
    (9) Noam Chomsky.

  • I practice individual personal spirituality. I believe what I believe and share beliefs when and where I feel I should. Nothing about your posts puts me in a sharing mood.

  • Actually, I have. Growing up Mormon makes you think about spiritual things a lot. I’m 5th generation. I have cousins who are card-carrying Molly Mormons and fun-loving Jack Mormons (like me). My first splinter of doubt about Mormonism was the first time I went to church with a non-LDS friend as a teen and had a good spiritual experience, something my Mormon “spiritual” guides claimed was exclusive to Mormonism. But I still did the Mormon mission, had more divergent spiritual experiences, married Mormon, had kids, and then finally had my fill of the “McMormonism” of the last 30 years or so, not to mention plenty of personal spiritual experiences outside of the “faith.”

  • Thanks for being your usual uninspiring, judgmental self. You would make a great Mormon clergy member.

  • Nones are as lost in their post-“organized religion” lives as they were before in their pre-nones-sense lives: That’s what “being [my] usual uninspiring, judgmental self” has learned from you.

  • The article claiming that “most people who leave the LDS Church don’t tend to join another religion; they’re not switching organized religions so much as leaving altogether” – is ALL ABOUT YOU & NONES. It’s endorsing you & them, setting you & them apart, even. As heroes and the hope of the future, blah-blah-blah. Yet you refuse to reciprocate – what’s up with that?! SO MUCH FOR NONES-SENSICALS.

  • Glad it helps.

    To be fair to folks in general, it’s far easier to tell that something’s wrong with a statement than it is to identify what, specifically, is missing. I have over a decade of experience doing that—identifying that hinge point is part of my day job. The average person lacks that expertise.

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