SALT LAKE CITY – The University of Utah says a tweet from comedian David Cross showing him wearing undergarments sacred to the Mormon faith was “deeply offensive” but the college won’t consider calls for the cancellation of his performance on campus Wednesday.
College president Ruth Watkins criticized the tweet in a statement issued Sunday but said it free speech protected by the First Amendment and that the university “cannot and will not censor content of those coming to campus.”
The actor and comic known for his character on TV’s “Arrested Development” series responded to the criticism by tweeting “Holy ‘moly!’ My opening 10 minutes are going to be on fire!!!” His representative, Michael O’Brien, did not immediately return an email message Monday seeking comment.
Members of the faith wear white, two-piece cotton undergarments daily considered similar to holy vestments in other faiths, like a Catholic nun’s habit or a Muslim skullcap.
In the photo, Cross is seen wearing the clothing that resembles a T-shirt and shorts outside of a clothing-store dressing room, with a tagline that reads “Utah! Learn the real truth!”
The university is a public college in Salt Lake City, where the faith is based. About two-thirds of Utah’s population belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and many University of Utah students are also Mormon. But it’s often seen as a secular alternative to the private, church-owned Brigham Young University.
Jabs about Mormon undergarments have surfaced before, including during Mormon Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run. On the internet and in popular culture, some deride the sacred clothing as “magical Mormon underwear.”
The church made a video four years ago dispelling the notion that Latter-day Saints believe temple garments have special protective powers. Rather, the church said they are a reminder of members’ commitment to God to live good, honourable lives.
The garments aren’t meant to be seen, and members are taught not to hang them in public places to dry or display them in view of people “who do not understand their significance.”
Cross previously told The Salt Lake Tribune he is visiting Salt Lake City on his latest tour because he’s always had good shows and memorable fans in the city.
The university is not sponsoring his show. Watkins said college officials acknowledge the free-speech rights of those who rent its facilities, even if they disagree with them.