Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Mormonism as Bad as Murder? Yes, Discrimination is Alive and Well

I was raised to believe that discrimination is wrong. I came of age well after the US Civil Rights Acts of 1964 outlawed racial segregation, sparking a number of new laws that barred discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Thus I cannot imagine a world where discrimination would be acceptable. Having grown up alongside others who received this same training, I am utterly disappointed to discover that many Americans still think it’s okay to discriminate. We still pay women lower wages than men for the same work. We still engage in racial profiling. We still prohibit openly gay people from serving in the military. Finally, we still mistreat others solely on the basis of religion. A good example of the latter is the widespread discrimination against Mormons that has revealed itself as a result of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. What's wrong with the following statement, written by Jay Cost for Real Clear Politics?

“I would be highly surprised if Giuliani or Thompson tries to make [Mitt Romney’s] Mormon issue salient. If I were advising either one, I would suggest that he not try--any political victory he achieves from the issue might be quite pyrrhic. Such an attack leads itself right into a discussion of the role of religion in the lives of the candidates - and that, in turn, could make the once divorced Thompson (who seems to have lobbied for a pro-abortion outfit) and the twice divorced Giuliani (who is pro-choice) look worse than Romney” (bold italics added).

This statement, like its many cousins across the media networks, is not overtly discriminatory. It does not explicitly state that Mormonism is a suspicious religion. Nor does it suggest that nobody vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. However, what it does say ought to invoke shock and outrage. Intentional or not the author places Mormonism on similar footing with divorce and abortion—as if being Mormon is a flaw that compares to culpable marital failure or (gasp!) murder. Even though Mormonism is considered the lesser "offense," it is still mentioned as something that gives voters similar heartburn. He goes on to state:

“I think Romney may have caught a real break with Thompson and Giuliani as his two major opponents. If, per chance, Huckabee or Brownback had ascended to the top tier—they could possibly have exploited the Mormon angle without undue damage to their candidacies. But not Thompson and Giuliani. I do not think that either of them has the "standing" to get into the thick of a battle over personal religious beliefs.”

The ironic thing about Mr. Cost's statement is that he probably didn't realize it was discriminatory. Likewise, most non-Mormon readers would probably fail to find it discriminatory. And that's sad, because it only demonstrates how insensitive people can be in their treatment of Mormons. Can you imagine if someone were to make a similar statement about Jews, comparing Judaism with questionable behavior? "So and so was responsible for a nasty divorce. So and so is pro-abortion. So and so is a Jew." You can bet that few media outlets would dare publish something so outrageous. The politically correct police and Jewish support groups would be all over them, and rightfully so. For some reason Mormons don't enjoy the same support. Perhaps it's because they are a forgiving people who tend to turn the other cheek. Perhaps it's because they are a relatively new religion. Regardless of the reason, it's obvious that discrimination against Mormons is alive and well.

So where do we go from here? Mitt Romney's candidacy has clearly exposed that many Americans still have a big problem with religious discrimination. It is a problem that casts a dark shadow on America's professed values of equality, justice, and freedom of conscience. It is a problem that highlights the inability of many Americans to respect people with different or unfamiliar beliefs. Finally, it is a problem that won't go away until we start asking ourselves some hard questions. Will we choose to persist in religious bigotry, or will we choose to respect people solely on the basis of their being human? Will we continue to compare a person’s religious preferences with outright objectionable behavior, or will we rise up and see The Difference?

For the full text of Jay Cost's article click here.