Religious Wrong

A state lawmaker's assault on the campus press is trickle-down from Dubya's White House

We only have to look 300 miles north to Colorado City to see the danger to personal freedom that lurks when hard-core, fundamental Mormonism takes control of a community.

The polygamous leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints controls all aspects of life in Colorado City. There is no dissent, no political debate, no free elections. It's a theocracy driven by the belief that men must acquire at least three wives to reach the highest levels of heaven and that women must acquiesce to obtain eternal salvation.

The mainstream church, to which Pearce and Fulton belong, no longer practices polygamy and is not as fanatical as the Colorado City offshoot. But both sects believe that government should be subservient to the church.

Russell Pearce
Russell Pearce
What will ASU president Michael Crow do about 
Mormon legislator Pearce's attempt to cut state funds from the State Press?
What will ASU president Michael Crow do about Mormon legislator Pearce's attempt to cut state funds from the State Press?

Which is why I cringe when I see a state legislator like Pearce trying to chisel away at the First Amendment. It's even more troubling when big-money guys like Fulton get into the game.

Though I don't know if Ira Fulton had anything to do with Pearce's current attempt at censorship (Fulton didn't return my calls, either), he certainly has tried to suggest what student publications shouldn't publish in the recent past.

Fulton also has made it clear that he wants Crow to gut ASU's party-hearty image and transform the campus into the southern branch of Mormon-owned Brigham Young University.

I find this both amusing and disturbing.

For starters, no amount of religious propaganda is going to stifle the libido of college students, particularly at ASU.

More troubling, however, is that Fulton, Pearce and other fanatics believe they have a mandate from the top to stamp out individual rights they find offensive -- in the name of God, of course.

Government by revelation has its roots in the White House. A nation whipped into fear and looking for God to solve secular issues has led to a severe curtailment of our personal freedom.

We need look no further than the Patriot Act to see where the post-9/11 United States is heading. This federal legislation gives the government unprecedented power to intrude into our privacy and suspend our civil rights to "protect" us from unspecified and nebulous "terrorist" threats.

Pearce's attempt to step on campus publications for moralistic reasons -- though part of this same notion that it's suddenly the government's God-given right to interfere -- pales by comparison.

The Patriot Act opens the door to all kinds of chilling possibilities. Unless we are vigilant, this law could morph into a powerful tool to quash domestic dissent.

Civil-liberties advocates are urging Congress to oppose renewal of the act, set to expire in October, without substantial changes. This is the most important legislation that Congress will debate this year.

The Patriot Act has already spurred state legislatures -- including Arizona's -- to pass bills expanding the definition of terrorism to include people far removed from Osama bin Laden's netherworld of suicide bombers.

The Arizona Legislature passed a terrorism bill last year that was a thinly veiled attempt to stifle civil disobedience. The bill called for felony racketeering charges to be applied in certain cases. Anyone convicted would have been forced to register with county sheriff's offices as a terrorist and have his name posted on Internet Web sites.

Such legislation -- which was strongly supported by Mormon legislators Andy Biggs and House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth -- would have profound implications.

"Under the definition you would be adopting here and the activity described as terrorism, the civil rights movement would have been a terrorist activity," declares Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the Arizona office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Governor Napolitano managed to muster up the courage to veto the bill last year. More such legislation will probably come her way again this session. Where will the Religious Right's effort to expand the definition of "terrorism" stop?

Will it include anyone who dares to oppose drilling for oil in pristine territory, or object to the use of animals in medical experiments, or support gay marriage, or back a woman's right to choose?

These issues traditionally have been debated outside the distorting lens of religion. They have been debated in a free press.

Now conservative Mormons, such as Pearce, Farnsworth and Biggs, are hell-bent on dragging their religious beliefs into all manner of political debate -- the First Amendment be damned.

And why shouldn't they?

When John Kerry was debating George W. Bush in the presidential race, Kerry would quote statistics he'd read in the New York Times as proof that he was right. Bush would scoff at the press reports from the nation's newspaper of record. He'd boast that God was telling him what to do, not the so-called liberal media.

Now, all Russell Pearce has to do to squelch criticism of his moralistic effort to cut funding to campus publications in Arizona is claim the idea was from God's mouth to his ear. Who can argue with logic like that in Dubya's America?

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