Tag: Politics

Brigham’s Attack on Communal Economics

One of my most prized worldly possessions is a complete set of the Journal of Discourses. I love these books. I love the way that they look. It probably has something to do with my fascination with law books, which they closely resemble. I also love the sermons. They are a wonderful mass of exhortation, speculation, advice, brow beating, and occasionally sublime testimony. They also have a wonderful ability to surprise you. A couple of Sundays ago, I pulled down a volume at random and started reading a sermon. (I do this from time to time.) While I was doing this, I came across the following attack by Brigham Young on New Testament religious communism. No joke:

Political Leanings

Steve Evans and Mathew Parke recently set up a new blog for discussing LDS thought from a liberal perspective. I hope to weigh there as well sometimes. In the inaugural substantive post, Steve made the interesting observation that even liberal Mormons are pretty conservative in general. Using the imperfect indicator of the online Political Compass test, Steve and I both turned out to be more-or-less left-leaning centrists (as did Steve’s wife Sumer). I’m curious as to how our group of readers places on the spectrum (I’ve seen Russell’s score somewhere on his blog, but I don’t know anyone else’s). And so I invite T & S readers to post their own scores as comments to this thread. A tally will be kept.

Using Religious Arguments

The discussion of the PETA ad has got me thinking about another question: Is it proper to use religious arguments to persuade a religious believer when you yourself do not accept the religion in question?

State v. Bell and Changes to Marriage

Bob Herbert’s New York Times column cites to an 1872 Tennessee case that upheld a law prohibiting interracial marriage. See State v. Bell, 66 Tenn. 9. The Tennessee Court wrote that: Extending the rule to the width asked for by the defendant, and we might have in Tennessee the father living with his daughter, the son with the mother, the brother with the sister, in lawful wedlock, because they had formed such relations in a State or country where they were not prohibited. The Turk or Mohammedan, with his numerous wives, may establish his harem at the doors of the capitol, and we are without remedy. The Court, of course, was wrong. Interracial marriage statutes were held unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and none of the parade-of-horribles scenarios has come to pass in the forty years since. The difference between the threatened result in that case and the actual result when Loving was decided is instructive. The court believed that removal of one boundary line in a social institution would necessarily result in the removal of all boundary lines — any change would “open the floodgates” for awful scenarios. In fact, however, the parade of horribles never came to pass. Society was perfectly capable of drawing and maintaining new boundary lines, even after removal of interracial marriage prohibitions. That capability means that the results of changes to social institutions may be much less catastrophic than detractors predict.

Legislative Judgments of Morality

Randy Barnett has an interesting post up at the Volokh Conspiracy, giving a persuasive argument about why legislative judgments of morality are not a particularly good basis for legal punishments or restrictions. Barnett makes the very interesting initial assertion that: “A legislative judgment of ‘immorality’ means nothing more than that a majority of the legislature disapproves of this conduct.” Responding to a critique of this position by Rick Garnett, Barnett then elaborates: Consider the claim that homosexuality is immoral. I strongly disagree. Now what? In a contest between a majority of state legislators and me and those who agree with me, what privileges the legislature’s judgment of morality? In what way are they experts? How does being elected to the legislature qualify them to make these judgments? Do they hold hearings on the morality of homosexuality and offer reasons for their conclusions? Or do they just press a button and register their vote? Most importantly, how can we assess the merits of their claim? If we cannot, then in reality they can prohibit whatever they want (and for whatever reason they want). No matter how objective morality may be, any such doctrine of constitutional law is recipe for tyranny.

Will Russell Support Bush?

Our very own Russell Arben Fox, who has endorsed Dick Gephardt on this site, is flirting with not thinking that Bush is the Great Satan. If I may over simplify Russell’s comments in a really gauche way, it seems that since Bush has been coming out in favor of spending lots of money on good stuff, that he seems (in policy terms) to be migrating toward Russell’s preferred position of social conservatism and economic egalatarianism. Of course, Bush isn’t quite there, but Rusell (and my friend David Bernstein) make an interesting point.

From My Cold, Dead Hands?

Some discussion has come up in recent threads over how members are to reconcile church teachings with political beliefs. To date, the political beliefs examined have been largely liberal ideas which are seen by at least some as conflicting with church values. However, the church also takes positions that may be seen as counter to conservative ideas. One recent example is the church’s decision to prohibit members from bringing guns into church, even where the members are licensed concealed-carry permit holder. (See the BYU article about the policy, link via the Pollyanic Steve Evans). What is a strongly pro-Second Amendment, gun-rights church member (there are quite a few such members) to think of that policy?

Is it okay to be a Pro-Choice Mormon?

We’ve had some extended discussions of abortion here in recent threads. One topic has not been discussed in any detail, and it’s one that I find interesting. Are church members required to be pro-life? (That is, opposed to legal availability of abortion). Or may they be pro-choice — (in favor of allowing abortion under the law)? The church has taken a solid position on the morality of abortion itself. The church web site makes clear: “The Church opposes abortion and counsels its members not to submit to or perform an abortion except in [certain] rare cases.” However, this does not answer the question of whether members must oppose the existence of legal abortion.

Poverty and Inequality

Rusell’s post below leads me to post a question that I have been meaning to throw out for some time. When we look at the plight of the poor, what is the evil that we see: poverty or inequality?

AFA “Poll” and (Dis)Honesty?

A recent episode reinforces my distrust of self-styled “family” and “Christian” political groups: The American Family Association set up a “poll” last month on their web site titled “America’s Poll on Homosexual Marriage.” The “poll” asked people whether they approved or disapproved of gay marriage. The AFA promised that “Results of this poll will be presented to Congress” — presumably as some kind of reflection of nationwide attitudes. (Of course, any attempt to suggest that the results of a self-selected “poll” were representative of the population would have been statistically unsupportable. While a properly conducted, random poll of sufficient size can be a valid statistical representation of the opinions of the population, a self-selected poll cannot). The AFA eventually decided not to present the results to Congress, after gay marriage supporters learned of it and began voting in large numbers. The reason given for the change was that the “poll” now “represent[ed] something other than what we wanted it to.” (See the discussion at Volokh.com). However, if the “poll” had come back as strongly opposing gay marriage, we can assume it would have been presented to Congress as originally planned. What does this say about the AFA? One reporter suggests that “No such poll can be said to represent an accurate picture of popular opinion. But, clearly, the AFA had hoped Congress would take the numbers it planned to produce as exactly that kind of evidence.”

New Advertisement Marks Anniversary of Roe v Wade

VISUAL: Color video footage of fetus, 20-25 weeks gestation, in her mother’s womb sucking her thumb. NARRATOR: “Why are some babies aborted? It’s not because her mother was raped. It’s not because her mother’s life or health are in jeopardy. It’s not because her father isn’t supportive. It’s not because she was unplanned. It’s not even because her mother doesn’t want a baby. Then why are these babies aborted?” VISUAL: Screen goes black while “aborted” said. Black screen lasts for 2 seconds.

Mormons and the ACLU – Short Redux

A while ago I posted on my blog, discussing whether a good Mormon can also be a good member of the ACLU. (I concluded that it is possible to be both — see the four-part discussion, 1, 2, 3 and 4; see also links to further discussion here). That multi-post discussion in turn kicked off a lengthy e-mail discussion on the LDS-Law list. Now, a reader of this blog e-mails in with an interesting piece of information: This reader was an ACLU member before baptism. Since joining the church, he reports that in his temple recommend interviews, he is asked if he is still affiliated with the ACLU.

BYU Law School

Since we have been having a discussion about BYU, I thought I would post a little bit about BYU and my particular discipline: law. Although I went to BYU as an undergrad, I didn’t go there for law school. Still, I have friends that did, I know some of the faculty, and I have always been interested in the school. Here are some of my impressions:

How to Make a Mormon Political Theory

How should Mormons use Mormonism to think about law and politics? My question is not about what the “right” Mormon answer is to this or that issue. Rather, it is about how we go about constructing a Mormon theology of politics. It seems that we have three possible alternatives.

Against Civic Religion

Some time ago, Russell and Adam challenged me to explain what was wrong with cyrpto-protestant prayers in the public schools. What follows is my response along with some general thoughts on civic religion.

The Federal Government as Public Nuisance

I think that most Mormons are aware of that during the last half of the nineteenth century relations between the Church and the federal government were often chilly at best. Most Mormons, however, are unaware of the some the creative legal tactics employed by their nineteenth-century coreligionists.

What if Davis v Locke arose in Utah?

As I read Dahlia Lithwick’s coverage of the Davis v Locke oral argument, I wondered what approach the court and press would have taken had the case originated in Utah. Dahlia writes: [Justice Kennedy was] bothered by the fact that Davey had his scholarship revoked simply because he’d declared a double major in pastoral ministries and business administration. According to Kennedy, Davey could have just declared the business major, taken theology courses, and kept his funding. Kennedy asks, over and over, “What is the state interest in denying him funding simply because he declared a double major?” Finally Ruth Bader Ginsburg has to answer him: “I thought the interest was the state doesn’t want to fund the training of clergymen.” Lithwick clearly thought Ginsburg’s comment responsive to Kennedy’s concern. The Utah Wrinkle About 95% of Utah’s state legislature are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

The Utah Domination Clause

Under the Utah Constitution, “[t]here shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State or interfere with its functions.” The interesting part of this is the Domination and Interference Clauses. What might they mean?

Should Mormons consider the “Christian Right” as friends?

It seems to me that church members are becoming enamored of the political groups which are often identified “Christian Right” — politically powerful, vocally conservative groups like the Family Research Council, American Family Association, and Focus on the Family. I receive many e-mail messages from family members, forwarding petitions or other communiques from such groups. Matt Evans, of our blog and other blogs’ fame, has written about positive experiences he has had in communicating with one such group. I can certainly see why Mormons are drawn to these groups. Such organizations are well-organized and able to wield political power. They appear to be “on our side” in the perceived culture wars. And if such groups disagree on doctrinal matters — things like the nature of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph Smith — well, those are little things which can be ignored for now. Right? Despite these similarities, I am deeply doubtful that much good can come from these groups. It appears to me that, if such groups are prepared to send gays out of town on the first train — a goal many church members would probably support — that the groups are nevertheless also ready to send Mormons out on the second train. For example, Professor Eric Rasmussen at Indiana caught a lot of flack for his suggestion that homosexuals not be permitted to teach. Christian groups weighed in supporting Rasmussen, and many Mormons may have felt…


Andrew Sullivan has a take down here of recent crooning at the New York Times about HBOs forthcoming production of Tony Kurshner’s Angels in America. Angles is a play that chronicles the AIDS epedemic in the 1980s, and won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1990s. What is interesting to me is that the play has a Mormon character (to be played on HBO by Patrick Wilson) — a closet homosexual — who in one scene appears on stage in a homosexual encounter wearing temple garments. Kurchner clearly doesn’t really know anything about Mormons or at least about temple garments. (Although he may have known how offensive Mormons would find such a staging.) His Mormon character utters some strange gibberish about the meaning of the garment that is suppose to sound very, uh, Mormon. For example he refers to the garment as “a second skin,” an image that to my knowledge no Mormon has ever used in discussing the garment. Thus, Angels‘ Mormon is not a real Mormon, but a sort of stand-in stereotype for repressed religiously conservative sexuality. Mormons are kind of straight straight guy, if you will, and Angels plays off of this image by making its Mormon homosexual. I don’t know if HBO is planning on having the garment scene in their production. (I hope not.) However, it is interesting to see that Mormon stereotypes have come full circle. We started out in the 19th century as the…