Mormons and the ACLU – Short Redux

December 16, 2003 | 17 comments
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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.

This is relevant for me, because I have always considered the temple recommend interview to be a distilled litmus test of commandment-keeping. (For example, note my wife’s comment here.) If church leaders are predicating granting of a temple recommend on repudiation of ACLU membership, that is a disturbing development.

Either these leaders have added new questions to the interview (unlikely, I would hope), or they consider the ACLU to be an anti-Mormon or apostate organization. As I wrote here, I strongly disagree with a characterization of the ACLU as an anti-Mormon organization. In fact, the ACLU has defended the rights of church students not to be harrassed by members of other religions.

I don’t think the church would allow leaders to ask a member about his or her political views during the recommend interview. And I don’t believe it is proper to ask about ACLU membership during the temple recommend interview, presumably with the requirement that the member renounce ACLU membership as a condition of receiving the recommend. (I have never been asked in a temple recommend interview whether I support the ACLU; I have similarly never been asked whether I am a Democrat or a Republican, or any other political questions.)

If my ACLU membership stood between me and the temple, I would have to give it up. But I would find such an outcome deeply dissatisfying. In my observation, many church members believe the ACLU is primarily dedicated to attacking religious groups. In fact, the ACLU is involved in many different areas, defending prisoners’ rights, immigrants’ rights, free speech, privacy, voting rights, and a number of other issues (in my observation, in any given ACLU e-mail newsletter, it is as likely as not that religion will not be mentioned at all). (For a list of issues the ACLU is involved in, see their web site).

I don’t agree with everything the ACLU does, but I think that it is a very useful and important group. ACLU membership is consistent with church membership, and should not be a bar to temple attendance.

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17 Responses to Mormons and the ACLU – Short Redux

  1. brayden on December 16, 2003 at 2:37 pm

    Great post Kaimi! You people at T&S have me hooked. You continually interrupt the work I’m supposed to be doing on my dissertation.

    I’m pretty sure that the church leader asking about the ACLU during the interview was out of line. I once specifically asked a stake president during an interview what the question about “associating with groups whose views oppose the Church” meant, and he assured me that it addressed those groups who specifically have an anti-Mormon agenda. I don’t agree with the ACLU on a lot of things either, but I’m pretty sure that “taking down the LDS church” is nowhere on their list of goals.

  2. clark on December 16, 2003 at 2:40 pm

    Sounds like an inappropriate question. Perhaps they should have asked for some clarification. Generally these sorts of things are due to some joint misunderstanding. Dealt with in a friendly, nonconfrontational manner they are easy to resolve.

    I’m not a big fan of the ACLU, mainly due to what I see as some hypocrisy. But I’m definitely glad there are there. I come from the school of thought that sees activists, even ones I often disagree with, as an important part of our democracy. They force the mainstream to consider their actions. And, there is an awful lot the ACLU does that I am extremely supportive of. I just find that they don’t always support free speech rights of certain groups they don’t like and that their stance towards certain ammendments (like the second) is more than a little off.

  3. Ady Hahn a.k.a. fly_killa on December 16, 2003 at 3:05 pm

    This is an interesting topic. I haven’t kept a tally on which cases the ACLU has brought or supported, but my impression is that they’ve become increasingly more radical. Kaimi, when was the case you referred to decided? Maybe I’m biased because all I hear about is the ACLU bullying smaller school districts to take Christmas off their calenders or take down their Christmas trees.

    I don’t think there should be school-sanctioned prayer in schools, but I don’t think it should be prohibited if the students want to do it privately or in small groups at appropriate times. It seems that the ACLU wants to get rid of religion entirely from the public arena, especially Christianity.

    Is there a site that lists all the cases the ACLU has been involved in? I’d be interested to see if there are any trends or changes in policy.

  4. clark on December 16, 2003 at 3:20 pm

    Actually I agree with Ady completely. I think that the last 10 years the ACLU has changed from just supporting constitutional principles to being a little more activist towards more particular political stances. Perhaps I’m wrong and this still is a consistent view of the constitution. But I don’t think it is. But it may simply be that the ACLU’s perspective on the constitution has changed over the last 10 years.

  5. Brent on December 16, 2003 at 3:58 pm

    Actually, the ACLU’s shift began in the early 1970s. I did some research and wrote a paper about the ACLU while at BYU. In the early 1970s the entire leadership of the ACLU resigned in protest of the groups huge shift leftward on the political spectrum. Since that time, although the ACLU has done and continues to do some good, much of its activities appear to be directed at removing religion entirely from the public sphere or promoting other politically “liberal” causes. Reports out of Utah are that the ACLU has sent people out on a quest to find 10 commandment monuments in public places so that they can force their removal. The ACLU has also challenged the LDS Church in its ownership of the plaza between the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and Temple Square. The ACLU currently is represetnting the North American Man-Boy Love Association in a case involving the heinous rape and murder of a young boy. The ACLU has been on the opposite side of the Church in the same-sex marriage cases and in Dale v. The Boy Scouts, the New Jersey case. The ACLU regularly opposes pornogrophy laws. The ACLU supported overturning Texas’ sodomy law. The list goes on and on. It seems that time and time again, Church teachings and practices are in direct contravention to the positions and activities of the ACLU.

    Therefore, I don’t really see how, with all of the “bad” positions the ACLU takes and the “bad” activities in which it engages, one can be both a good member of the church and a good member of the ACLU. I guess it will depend on what you would require to be classified as a “good member” of either organization. If just because the ACLU does a few good things, they are worthy of support, then couldn’t we justify supporting even anti-mormon groups that engage in charity work or defend the down trodden, or anything else we deem good?

    Let me also say, that depending on the level of support and activity of the member, I do not see an inherent problem with the recommend interview question. Again, the ACLU has taken and continues to take sufficient positions conflicting with (sometime directly) the positions of the LDS church that make such a question, depending on the circumstances, no inappropriate.

  6. Matt Evans on December 16, 2003 at 4:10 pm

    I can resurrect a long response directly on the question of whether one can be a good member of the ACLU and a good member of the church, but for now I wanted to merely point out that the ACLU supports racial preferences. This is one of the clearest examples of their becoming a leftist advocacy group, rather than a principled civil rights organization, and one of the examples that has most alienated alienated their members who want them to stay out of political questions.

    In a tangent to his response to a question I asked then-mayoral-candidate Rocky Anderson, he volunteered that he disagreed with the ACLU’s involvement in racial preferences.

  7. clark on December 16, 2003 at 4:27 pm

    I’d be cautious judging the ACLU on the basis of the cases they take. After all one can think someone deserves punishment but reject the *way* in which a good end was conducted. It is that kind of concern that to me is the good part of the ACLU. It focuses on process as much as the ends.

    Where I take exception to the ACLU (and I hasten to add that I may be misinformed) is when they break this trust and look at the ends. I think their constitutional view of the second ammendment is a good example of this. While I disagree with them, I think their position on the sale of the street to the church in SLC can be defended as consistent to their stated aims. Same with a lot of the 10 commandment issues. (Which I actually think ought to be removed from public buildings)

    Where I find the group hypocritical, beyond the 2cd ammendemnt as individual right issue, is that they *won’t* typically defend polygamists on the same basis they take cases for homosexual marriage or other such matters. This suggests to me that their basis for arguing isn’t *process* but *results*. I personally dislike most of the Utah polygamists based upon what I’ve read in the media. (Not always a fair source I know) But I don’t understand the position of the ACLU towards them.

    Regarding racial prferences, I actually can understand the ACLU there given that the issue is the constitutionality of said preferences. I am against such preferences as done by the state. But I’m a little uncomfortable saying they are unconstitutional.

  8. Scott on December 16, 2003 at 5:25 pm

    It’s possible the interviewer’s question was a follow-up to the standard “Do you affiliate with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or do you sympathize with the precepts of any such group or individual?”

    Does the ACLU fall into that category? Arguably, yes. Doesn’t a history of litigation against the Church amount to an opposition to “teachings or practices…accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”?

    Scott

  9. Geoff Matthews on December 16, 2003 at 7:01 pm

    Isn’t it possible to be a member of the ACLU while also being critical of some of the stances it takes?
    The ACLU could use more members like that.

  10. ronin on December 16, 2003 at 10:05 pm

    Well, Greg, i guess there are people in the ACLU’s membership rolls who dont approve of all that the ACLU does. However, the way the ACLU works is this – the lawyers committees of county Boards or the State affiliates are the ones who decide what cases are taken on, or what issues they put their weight behind. I guess the rest of the dues-paying members really have little or no input on these decisions. then given the leftward drift over the last few years, a lot of people have left t he ACLU, leaving the leftist extremists in charge of the organisation. These days, they dont even talk about defending the bill or Rights like the ACLU used to even in the ’80s. They talk about defending Affirmative Action, or about t he right to an abortion, etc, and their publicity material is designed to appeal to the people of the hard left. idont know what it would take to get the ACLu to move back to the center, and actually become an organisation that defends the Bill of Rights, instead of drifting further into the ranks of idiotarian left

  11. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2003 at 11:12 pm

    Ronin has an interesting point. Providence knows I have no brief for the ACLU (Kaimi has really put me out of joint because i keep having to qualify my curses), but the national organization actually has little control over its local chapters, who occasionally adopt opposite litigation positions (e.g., on affirmative action).

    Finally, I see no need to redeem the organization. A pox on its house (except for Kaimi). May camels drool on its membership (except for Kaimi). May their shoes pinch (except for Kaimi’s). May they accidentally suck their finger after sticking the finger in their ear (except for Kaimi’s). May . . .

  12. Blake Ostler on November 22, 2004 at 10:11 am

    You’re all naive. The ACLU is dictated by its financial interests — largely from Jewish groups on the East coast.

  13. Kaimi on November 23, 2004 at 10:35 am

    Blake,

    Like any organization, the ACLU probably makes some decisions based on the desires of its membership. But I don’t think that one can accurately say that it follows the dictates of Jewish groups. After all, some of the ACLU’s most high-profile cases have come in defending the free speech rights of Nazi groups.

  14. Blake Ostler on November 23, 2004 at 10:38 am

    Kaimi: I don’t think it follows the agenda of “Jewish groups,” but of those who donate the money. They just happen to be predominantly Jewish and very liberal. Their interests are not “Jewish” per se, but merely radical and anti-religion — the stiff wall of separation (and I am a separationist always preferring non-involvement of religion with government) is their primary shiboleth.

  15. Nate Oman on November 23, 2004 at 10:39 am

    Kaimi: The post-Skokie fall out within the ACLU is an interesting case study in interest group dynamics. The organization took a considerable hit in funding as a result. Some chapters, as a result I think, have retreated from free speech purism. Many, of course, remain committed to the hardline pre-Skokie position on censorship (a position, BTW, with which I have considerable sympathy).

  16. David King Landrith on November 23, 2004 at 10:48 am

    The ACLU defended Oliver North, also.

  17. Jordan A. Weber on April 16, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    I don’t see how the ACLU “challenging the LDS Church in its ownership of the plaza between the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and Temple Square” is a challenge to LDS “beliefs and practices”. That has nothing to do with the gospel: Faith, Repentance, Baptism, the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End. I have very limited familiarity with the legal aspects of the case, but it sounded to me like the Church didn’t have the legal rights to do what it wanted to do, which is too bad, but I know that the Church doesn’t support breaking the law. Moreover, the ACLU has supported the Church on a number of occasions, and the Church has not taken stances on many of the cases which have been thrown out there as “against” LDS beliefs or practices. I don’t think opposition to the Texas sodomy law in by any means against LDS beleifs or practices, because no one was arguing that sodomy was a good thing, they were arguing that police shouldn’t be going into your house and arresting you for something that you are doing in private. I’m sure many LDS conservative ideologues would like to think that these cases that have been listed are black and white, but these paradigms are uneducated. Regardless of which side I think is right, I think that is important to acknowledge that there are other viewpoints on the issue that are well-supported. You can believe that you are right without thinking that your interpretation of LDS doctrine with regards to public policy are those that should be used in temple recommend interviews. I just have to be honest in saying that I think any mention of the ACLU in a temple recommend interview is reprehensible, and I hesitantly state that any support of this practice would be far more heretical than any support of the ACLU. These ideas have no doctrinal basis and are directly against the directions of our prophets, seers, and revelators as to what constitutes temple worthiness. Since the work that goes on in the temple is so important, I am willing to bet that in this case, the church leaders and those who subscribe to the idea that ACLU members ought to be kept out of the temple would be excommunicated or disfellowshipped long before any ACLU supporters would.