Protest Temples

May 8, 2009 | 17 comments
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Its only been a problem once, but we didn’t expect our Temple to be like this.

I don’t think that the building where the Manhattan New York Temple is located drew protests before it was made into a Temple.

When the announcement came that the Temple would be put into the building that then housed the New York Stake Center, most members here, including me, were ecstatic. Not only would the Temple be close, but having it in the city would solve problems that had no other solution.

Like most other areas, before the local Temple we took regular bus trips, first to the Washington DC Temple, and later to the Boston Temple. But the announcement of the Harrison New York Temple site, just north of New York City, only mitigated the transportation problem. Most members in New York City don’t have cars, and the Harrison site is at least a mile from the nearest train station coming from the city. While bus lines from the train station exist, they didn’t pass by the Temple site.

Now, with the Temple in the city, near public transporation, every member can get there.

So, in November and December, Church members here in New York saw protests in front of our Temple, I think we were a little surprised. At least, I know I hadn’t thought about the possibility of protests, even though it now makes perfect sense. In fact, some of the same things that make the Temple’s location attractive to local members are the same things that make it attractive to protesters.

When there were then later protests at the Washington, DC Temple, I was surprised at what seemed like a waste of time to anyone there. There is simply no way to find an audience there. There is relatively little traffic on local streets, unless you count the beltway, where traffic passes too quickly to understand any ideas and local authorities would frown on new distractions to drivers passing through what is already one of the most dangerous sections of road in the region. In contrast, Manhattan Temple will get an audience regardless of time of day. One of the city’s largest tourist attractions, Lincoln Center, is across the street.

The locations where Temples are built make a lot of differences in how easily it can be used, both by members of the Church and by protestors. How central is the location in the city? Can members get to it easily? How easily does it attract attention from the outside? How much parking is needed? How close is it to public transportation? Is it located in a major media market?

While Temples are built to meed the needs of local members, they aren’t built for protest, and when it happens, its because the needs of local members happened to coincide with those of protestors. As far as I can tell, only a few Temples are useful to protestors. Certainly those used by protesters following the November election–Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, New York City–fit the bill. I’d guess that some others might work also–perhaps Phoenix, São Paulo, Hong Kong, and maybe others I  don’t know about. Others simply don’t work–Washington DC, Chicago, London, Bern, etc. I can’t claim to have studied which are protest Temples and which are not.

Regardless, I don’t think that using Temples as a site for protests against the Church will go away any time soon.

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17 Responses to Protest Temples

  1. queuno on May 8, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    The Dallas Temple wouldn’t be in an area useful for protests, unless one of the neighbors wanted to protest the high cost of maintaining the family Mercedes.

  2. John Mansfield on May 8, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Well, consider how much attention that dead soldier’s mother was able to generate hanging around a ranch outside Crawford, Texas. Or that woman who wanted a golf club in Georgia to take women as members.

  3. Kent Larsen on May 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Location, location location, John Mansfield. IIRC, news media regularly went to that ranch, while they don’t go by LDS Temples all that often. I suspect that accounts for the difference in protests.

  4. queuno on May 8, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I think that anyone who wanted to protest the temple in Dallas would be forcibly removed by the neighbors and pressed into service as a housekeeper or gardener. :) And due to parking, they could really only go at an hour when temple attendance was light…

  5. Justin on May 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I don’t think that the building where the Manhattan New York Temple is located drew protests before it was made into a Temple.

    I recall a small protest there led by Meir Kahane in the mid-80s over the building of the BYU Jerusalem Center.

  6. sparsile on May 8, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    The Washington DC temple was the site of some small protests recently. The sister missionaries took umbrellas out to the protesters so they would not get wet.

  7. Kent Larsen on May 8, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Yes, sparsile (6), I noticed that. I probably should have made it clearer in the post, that such protests there are futile–its almost impossible for anyone to notice that the protesters are there.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but the point of a protest is usually to get media attention, so that public opinion of the target of the protest is swayed.

    If no one sees the protest, its a failure, isn’t it?

  8. Nick Literski on May 8, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Kent, the Chicago Illinois Temple certainly isn’t the “ideal” site for a public protest, but from what I always observed when attending there, the street is a fairly major commuting thoroughfare. Compared to the streets around the Washington D.C. Temple (okay, I only visited once there, and it was in 1984), the street in front of the Chicago Temple is a huge traffic zone.

  9. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 8, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    I guess you assume that a protestor is not trying to appeal to the normal audience of a temple–Mormons–but to non-Mormons, using the temples as visual aids to make their protest more photogenic (like the artificial classic columns used by Senator Obama at the Denver baseball stadium). And I have to agree that I have never seen a protest at any LDS venue that was designed to try to elicit sympathy or support from Mormons, including ones that were mounted back in the late 1970s by Mormons for ERA. Flying a banner behind a plane during the Washington DC Area Conference that said “Mother in Heaven Supports ERA” was taken by most of those going into the arena as a presumptuous co-opting of a divine figure for political purposes.

    Certainly the recurring signs that come out during General Conference have absolutely no potential to attract a normal Mormon to investigate them further. Their essential message is literally “Go to hell”. Frankly, in a less self-restrained community, the protests of this kind would cause violent clashes and the protestors arrested for provoking it with “fighting words” (e.g. South Boston and an attack on the Pope?). Since it does not persuade Mormons, it is just giving jollies to the sympathizers of the protestors, i.e. is pure “hate speech”.

    It is probably just as well that most temple venues don’t lend themselves to public protests (e.g. the San Diego Temple has great visibility to people on the freeway below, but is jammed into a tight site that allows no room for protestors), since those who oppose temple construction (e.g. Boston) willl seize on such activities as justifying a denial of zoning actions to allow a temple, or to require that more land be acquired or other modifications made by the Church so protests are not in the face of neighborhood residents.

  10. Kent Larsen on May 8, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Raymond Takashi Swenson (8) wrote:

    I guess you assume that a protestor is not trying to appeal to the normal audience of a temple–Mormons–but to non-Mormons, using the temples as visual aids to make their protest more photogenic

    Perhaps. I don’t think that would be very successful, however.

    including ones that were mounted back in the late 1970s by Mormons for ERA. Flying a banner behind a plane during the Washington DC Area Conference that said “Mother in Heaven Supports ERA”

    Hey, I was there also!!

    I like the rest of your comment also. I can almost see your idea that some objecting to a Temple might claim that the site needs more ground to provide for protesters. However, I suspect that might compromise some of their other arguments.

  11. Zack on May 8, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    A well-organized protest doesn’t happen by accident. It requires coordination, bodies, signs, etc… Protests in front of temples didn’t get on the news because the van happened to drive by and see it. They got press releases and decided whether to cover it or not based on that. I don’t see why a protest at the Orlando Temple, the Jordan River temple, the Boise Temple, etc… couldn’t get the same kind of attention. I think the real reason a protest at such a temple wouldn’t be as likely to gain traction is that the appeal immediately diminishes. In cities where the temple is more remote, it is a landmark for a much smaller portion of the population and therefore a smaller portion of the news audience. A protest at the DC Temple might not gain much attention largely because it’s not the DC temple to anyone but Mormons, it’s Maryland Temple to all my nonmember friends who grew up in the area. News viewers in Reston, VA don’t really care about news stories from Kensington, MD. On the other hand, a protest at the Manhattan Temple has more salience because a viewer in Hoboken, NJ is much more likely to care about a story in Manhattan.

    And I’m gonna go ahead and say I pray that the brethren don’t worry about a temple’s accessibility to protestors. The accessibility of temples is very important. You have no idea how ecstatic members in Philadelphia were when we found out our temple would be right on Broad Street (pretty much Philly’s main street) and right by a subway stop. Certainly it is a good thing that the temple will be seen by more people even if about .00000000001% of them eventually stage a protest outside the temple.

  12. Kent Larsen on May 8, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Zack, I realized what you are saying about coordinating a protest with news media. I don’t think that a protest at any particular site is impossible, just not as likely the more remote it is, and the fewer people there are around to watch and maybe even get caught up in the protest.

    Protests are about putting on a show for the media, in order to get attention among a very large audience. This means getting a volume of people to a site, getting the media there, sometimes getting permission from local police (so you won’t be prevented or shut down too early), etc.

    In the case of the DC Temple, perhaps you could do all of that in the park on the south side of the Temple grounds, but it still seems inconvenient. You would have to carpool or bus people in, there aren’t natural crowds in the area to crane their necks and listen to speeches. Its just not as great a show as a protest in the city. And its the show that attracts the media.

    The media you are trying to attract is part of the issue as well. You say that viewers in Reston, VA don’t care about Kensington, MD. I agree. That is why Boise, ID isn’t as good, because viewers in Pocatello don’t care about those in Boise, let alone viewers in Portland or Seattle or even Denver or farther east. But in New York, you get national media without nearly as much effort. Right or wrong, people are interested in what happens here in New York.

    I’m NOT saying that protests can’t happen in these places, just that they aren’t as likely or as important to the protesters. To be honest, if the protest is about issues of importance to Boise only, there will be protests there too. But if its a national group, looking to protest over something akin to Proposition 8, then Boise will likely be overlooked.

    I know that the “DC” Temple is in Maryland. I grew up there. I was endowed there, married there and worked there as a night watchman following my mission. I think I know the DC Temple very well. You are reading far too much into me calling it the DC Temple.

    I agree with you in hoping that the brethren don’t worry about accessibility to protesters. I didn’t realize that Philadelphia’s Temple would be downtown. WONDERFUL!! WE need to realize how great and useful having the urban environment can be.

    Perhaps I’ll come down for the open house. I should be able to take the train, and hop the subway from there, shouldn’t I?

  13. Dan on May 8, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    We were just at the temple tonight, here in Manhattan. Nothing to report. Personally I’ve never seen a protest at the Manhattan Temple.

  14. Zack on May 9, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I didn’t mean to imply that you don’t realize it’s in Maryland. But I imagine that MANY readers here don’t realize that the temple we call the “Washington Temple” or the “DC Temple” is a good twenty minutes away from D.C. I was pretty confident that as a saint in New York you were aware of this, but wanted to fill in the gap for readers who perhaps didn’t know why you would say the D.C. temple wouldn’t be a good place for a protest. They might not realize how remote it is (surrounded by a good mile or so of sleepy suburban homes on every side).

    In my opinion, protests outside of temples are SO RARE as to be almost entirely irrelevant. There have been what? Maybe 100 protests of any size in this dispensation (seems like a generous estimate to me)? I got annoyed when I saw that there were a few in the wake of Prop. 8 not because I was annoyed with the protestors but because I could only anticipate the way this would stroke so many Mormons’ persecution complex.

    By all means come on down for the Open House (in like four years or so, I bet). The temple’s going to go up on Broad Street between Hamilton and Noble Streets. It’s across Broad from the School District, a block or so north of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and a block south of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News offices (hopefully they’re still around when it opens). Just take the Broad Street subway up two stops from City Hall and you’ll be there. The Church still hasn’t announced the temple design or anything, but I’m sure it’ll look great there. This is one of those stretches of road where there’s already an absolutely delightful mixture of old and new construction. The temple should only add to that. Hopefully the Church uses union contractors though, or there will be quite a few protests at the site.

  15. Kent Larsen on May 9, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Zack (13) wrote:

    I got annoyed when I saw that there were a few in the wake of Prop. 8 not because I was annoyed with the protestors but because I could only anticipate the way this would stroke so many Mormons’ persecution complex.

    I hear you. Its bad enough that so many Mormons get the persecution complex going over the zoning issues when Temples are built (neighbors couldn’t possibly have actual, but perhaps misinformed, concerns; it has to be prejudice–or so they seem to think).

    Of course, I hope the Philadelphia Temple manages to avoid the zoning issues that have plagued so many Temples in recent years (both in and outside of the US–we rarely hear about the zoning problems that creep up outside the US for some reason). But I assume that the downtown address actually makes this less likely, since much of the zoning problems seems to originate in putting temples in upscale residential neighborhoods.

  16. Amy S on May 10, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    I don’t know, I wouldn’t say I have a persecution complex, but I do have a feeling of “here we go again,” when these things pop up. After all, here in the bible belt my children are not allowed in almost all private schools, not allowed to play at certain neighbors’ homes, barred from the preschool down the street, been shown the godmakers when invited over for “movie night,”….you know, good times.

    Kent, I would love to hear about your experience as a night watchman at the dc temple. How cool is that. Much love for that temple, our only temple on the east coast until, what…Atlanta, right?

  17. Kent Larsen on May 11, 2009 at 4:37 am

    Amy S (15), I hear you. My wife grew up in Louisiana, where she was actually asked by gullible classmates, on more than one occasion, if she would show them her horns.

    As for the night watchman experience, there isn’t anything to report. It was a boring night-shift job whose monotony was only broken by having to do rounds. I listened to a lot of nighttime talk radio to try and stay awake. And it didn’t always work. :-(

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