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Utah's Bhutanese Refugees Get Free Legal Help As They Work To Build A Temple

The U.S. took in around 60,000 Bhutanese refugees in 2008.

There are roughly 2,000 Bhutanese refugees in Utah and although they started arriving in the state nearly a decade ago, they don’t have a place of worship. But, a few local attorneys are pitching in to change that.

The goal is to build a temple open to Hindus, Buddhists and all other faiths that will serve these refugees statewide. Not only as a place of worship, but a gathering place that will help preserve their language and customs.


But, building a temple is expensive, which is where the Refugee Justice League comes in.


It’s a group organized about a year ago consisting of more than 300 attorneys in Utah who have pledged to help refugees anyway they can. Including Matt Wirthlin.


“I wanted to lend my support but never thought I’d have an opportunity to use my real estate skills to help out," says Wirthlin.


Wirthlin was excited when he found out he could help with this temple. And now he and his firm Holland & Hart are all in. They’re handling all of the real estate legal needs pro bono.


Wirthlin, who’s a member of the LDS Church, says it’s important not to forget that at one time Mormons were also a struggling minority


"I think it’s incumbent upon us to sort of look around and realize, wait a minute, are there other people who are experiencing that as well?" Wirthin says.


The partnership could end up saving up to $100,000 dollars in legal fees, putting the refugees one step closer a place they can call their own.

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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