Religious Wrong

Page 2 of 3

Pearce and Fulton's 175-year-old Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long viewed the separation of church and state as a pesky inconvenience.

Mormonism was founded on the belief that church leaders should not only control spiritual life, but also civil authority. Mormonism's early leaders, including founder Joseph Smith and his successor, Brigham Young, advocated the creation of a collectivist society controlled by their religion.

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.

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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty