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Some Mormons chime in against Arizona's religious-freedom bill

Published February 27, 2014 9:47 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah-based LDS Church has taken no official stance on Arizona's hotly disputed and now-vetoed religious-freedom bill, but more than 100 Mormons sure have.

They're against it — and said so in an open letter this week to Gov. Jan Brewer and state legislators, according to a blog on the Human Rights Campaign website.

"As Mormons, we feel a call to 'mourn with those that mourn ... comfort those that stand in need of comfort' and protect the persecuted from persecution," they wrote. " … We express sadness that many LGBTQ individuals, even in our own community, have endured significant pain when encountering conflicting beliefs, misunderstanding, and often fear from Latter-day Saints. We are appalled to see this fear codified into Arizona statute under the guise of protecting religious freedom."

SB1062, which Brewer vetoed Wednesday, would have provided legal protection to people who, on religious grounds, refuse service to gays.

The letter — "facilitated" by HRC's Religion and Faith Program, writes blogger Paul Guequierre — cites a painful episode in LDS history: the 1838 Extermination Order by Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs in which he declared Mormons "enemies" who needed to be "exterminated" or "driven from the state."

"We were unpopular, part of a minority, and unable to fight for fair and equal treatment. We lived in a country founded on freedom of religion, but were not permitted to practice our own," the Mormons wrote in opposing SB1062. " … We strongly feel we should be able to exercise and protect our own religious rights. However, it is also in our culture not to use government to impose our will on anyone who worships differently."

The letter writers added that they "do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied."

" … It is not our place to judge others," they wrote. "Nor is it our place to cast our own beliefs on to those who see differently than we do. This bill, however, allows us and others to do just that."

While high-level Mormon leaders have been at the forefront in the fight for religious liberties — apostle Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, addressed the issue earlier this week in a speech at Brigham Young University-Idaho — the LDS Church has been silent on the Arizona measure.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not taken an official position on AZ SB1062," said Cindy Packard, a church spokeswoman for Arizona. "However, members are encouraged to be responsible citizens and become informed on the issue, then decide for themselves what their own, personal stance may be."

That is precisely what this group of Mormons did.