These eighth-graders at Clayton Middle School in Salt Lake City roll their eyes when the choir teacher mentions "the big choir downtown." They mock girls who go on about LDS Young Women's activities. They note which kids blame their tardiness on early morning visits to the temple.
"I'm guilty of this and a lot of people are. We use that as a bonding for us," Maria says. "Even if we're not totally against it, we form this angry little shield to protect us."
How did it come to this? Bit by insensitive bit.
From a young age, some Utah children who are not Mormon are told they are different. Many take it to mean inferior when neighbor kids refuse invitations to play. Classmates and some teachers mention church activities so often that even 7-year-olds know they are outside the circle.
Occasionally, Mormon children are mean, sometimes unwittingly. Jennifer Overby, a Lutheran 8-year-old, went home from elementary school in tears after a friend said classmates hated and shunned her because she was a Christian. Her father, Eric, was so angry he wrote to LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley, who used the letter to admonish Mormon parents to teach their children respect.
As a little girl, Maria, a Catholic, longed to join the Mormon circle. She saw it as a ticket to popularity. At school, classmates chattered about the games they played at the ward house. "They'd play hide-and-go-seek. It was so appealing."
But over time, her fascination with the LDS culture turned to irritation. Now, she and her friends poke fun.
Though the divide often is less obvious to LDS young people, many feel the strain. Jessica Christensen, whose family moved from California to Utah when she was in the eighth grade, often feels caught in the middle. A 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Utah and a Mormon, she is annoyed when LDS friends talk as if everyone is a member of the faith. But she also has to listen to her non-Mormon friends bad-mouth the church and culture.
Many non-Mormon teen-agers are of two minds. They have plenty of Mormon friends and yet have these long lists of irritations. Take Cortnee Lucero, 17, a senior at Woods Cross High and a member of the Abundant Life Assembly of God Church in Bountiful. She is one of the "preppies," often mistaken for LDS since that is the standard assumption about popular kids in Utah high schools.
She is annoyed when Mormon friends express surprise that members of her church practice acts of neighborly compassion, as if that is an exclusively LDS virtue.
Caryn Larrinaga, another Woods Cross senior, has learned to skirt the topic of religion with her many LDS friends. One former friend has not spoken to her since ninth grade, when Larrinaga refused to hear a missionary lesson so the friend could earn seminary credit.
Her mother, Christine Larrinaga, says Utah probably is the only place where kids are defined by religion, not race or social class.
The youth minister for St. Olaf Catholic Church in Bountiful, Larrinaga worries about kids who cope with Utah's divide by becoming vehemently anti-Mormon or delinquent just to make clear which side they are on.
"Those are the byproducts of the wall."