Not often that I feel the need to correct a mischaracterization of my religion, but I think I have to do that right now. My religion is that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (colloquially known as the 'Mormon' church.) It is no secret that most active members of the church vote Republican (although Mo Udall was LDS and former church President David O. McKay was a Democrat, so as one of my friends described it, being Mormon and a Democrat is like a 'recessive gene'-- it runs in families (two other members of the Udall clan, and McKay's grandson have all been elected to Congress as Democrats) and it can pop up where least expected. The Church itself encourages participation in civic affairs, but has had a letter read before every recent election stating that the Church 'does not endorse any political candidate or party,' (although it does take positions-- generally conservative ones-- on some social issues) and emphasizing that church property is not to be used for political purposes.
What prompted me to write on this though is something that came up last night on MSNBC with Tucker Carlson. He was discussing with a representative from the ACLU about Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan's plan to build a 'Catholic town' in Florida (the town would be named Ave Maria, Florida.) I actually have no problem with Monaghan's plan, so long as there is no discrimination in terms of housing or any government services. In other words, if I, not being a Catholic, choose to move to Mr. Monaghan's town, I should be able to move there and all the same governmental services and consideration should be given to me as it would be to a Catholic person (although I disagree with Mr. Monaghan's plan to only allow in pharmacies that don't sell contraception). This was in fact what the discussion was about. So then we come to the following exchange:
HOWARD SIMON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLORIDA ACLU: I completely agree. If he wants to build a town and encourage like minded people to come and live there, that‘s fine. We get into problems where he tries to exercise governmental authority. That‘s the issue.
It‘s not—Tucker, you‘ve to make a distinction between just encouraging like minded people to come and live in the same place with a town organized on religious principles, in which the religious group is given governmental authority. It‘s that latter that is the problem. And I must say, just...
CARLSON: If that bothers you, I suggest you take a trip to rural Utah, where it‘s the rule, rather than the exception. But I don‘t understand where you get the idea he‘s trying to exercise governmental authority.
One problem. It is not the rule. Just because almost everyone in rural Utah is LDS does not constitute the church having governmental authority. It does not. The civil laws there do not favor members of any particular religion, and the civil authorities do not call church headquarters for tips on how to do their jobs. My wife is from rural Utah, and she can vouch for the fact that there is no legal discrimination. Further, I live in a majority LDS town in rural Arizona (the culture at least in town is not so very different from Utah). However, there is a clear as well as a legal distinction between government entities like the school board, and the church. True, every government official may be a member of the LDS church (which reflects the population there), but that is a far cry from what Mr. Carlson is suggesting (going back to what he was responding to, the statement made by the guest that "in which the religious group is given governmental authority." That is no more true in rural Utah than it is in Chicago or Alabama or Rhode Island.
Now, we do have a case going on in a small community in northern Arizona in which a polygamist cult (which has no contact with the LDS Church) is being investigated for, among other things, taking over and failing to fulfill the constitutional duties associated with local governments, but note that the leader of the cult, Warren Jeffs, is now on the ten most wanted list and their control over a trust fund that was being used to exert authority over the citizens has been revoked and is now under the control of outside auditors (kudos to our Democratic Attorney General, Terry Goddard, for having the guts to take this on, after no one had been willing to risk it politically since the 'Short Creek' raids in the 1950's turned out disastrously). But, to paraphrase Carlson, THAT case is the 'exception, not the rule.'
Now, I've had my disagreements, particularly political ones with people I go to church with. I blogged on one last month when someone I know said something that was out of line regarding Cain and race. But when someone says something that is just plain false, and is not challenged on it on national TV, I feel I have to say something about it here.