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August 20th, 2010
12:36 PM ET

My take: Why aren't more Mormons supporting Islamic Center?

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

When America’s leading Republicans started to ratchet up the rhetoric over the Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero, I immediately thought of my former governor Mitt Romney.

In 2007, when he was running for the Republican nomination for president, Romney gave a speech that I described at the time as “an instant classic in American civil religion." In "Faith in America," he spoke glowingly of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. He also said he had himself learned much not only from Catholics, evangelicals and Jews but also from “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.”

Romney also chastised earlier Americans, however, for failing to live up to the promises of the First Amendment. Where Reagan had referred to this country as a “shining city on the hill” for all the world to see, Romney said it was important to remember that the United States has also been a place of religious bigotry.

The Puritans arrived in the New World seeking religious liberty, he said. “But upon finding it for themselves,” they “denied it to others.” This bigotry exiled Ann Hutchinson from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and drove Brigham Young and other pioneering Mormons onto their westward trek to Utah.

As I wrote in my 2007 piece on this speech, for Romney, the moral of this history lesson was clear:

Americans today should rise above religious bigotry, not least by evaluating presidential candidates on the basis of their credentials instead of their religious tradition. After all, Romney said, “Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.”

These were the words that came to me when Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and other Republican leaders started to double down on the anti-Islamic rhetoric.

I thought that Romney, as a Mormon, might speak out passionately for the First Amendment. I thought he might remember how the founder of his religion, Joseph Smith Jr., was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob. I thought he might recall how the U.S. government brought down much of its coercive power against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Apparently not.  According to a statement released on August 10 by his spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom, “Governor Romney opposes the construction of the mosque at Ground Zero. The wishes of the families of the deceased and the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda compel rejection of this site."

More recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a Mormon, opened the floodgates for what will likely be a steady stream of Democratic equivocation on this important issue. "The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley said in an August 16 statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else.”

One of the realities of robust religious liberty in the United States is that members of minority religions grow complacent over the years.

When Catholics see Muslims denounced as dangers to America, foreigners following the dictates of foreign law, they think “them” rather than “us,” forgetting the burning of their convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834 by anti-Catholic mobs.

When Mormons see Muslims as a group found guilty of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, they think "them" rather than "us," forgetting how Mormons as a group were found guilty of the atrocities of September 11, 1857, when Mormon vigilantes attacked a wagon train of Arkansas emigrants to the Utah territory, killing some 120 innocent men, women, and children.

Perhaps I am wrong for holding Mormons to some higher standard, but I do. I believe that members of a religious group that has been persecuted almost to extinction should stand up and speak out when Newt Gingrich starts likening Muslims to Nazis and Tea Party advocates start referring to Islam as a cult. At a minimum, religious minorities should not fall into the Puritan trap of demanding religious freedom for themselves while denying it to others.

That is why I found the opposition of Abraham Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League to the Park51 project so dispiriting, and why I find the recent statements of Reid and Romney both sad and shameful.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.


soundoff (170 Responses)
  1. ochoo

    Stephen funny thing about what you have here and the placement of this place of worship. You seemingly tries to make a pretty vague sschmear on the LDS church of today with one of yester-year. Then use of widely missunderstood taunts to incite more of a convoluted issue.

    Why did you NOT mention the fact that the LDS church has for years sought to build a temple in Connecticut to offer the churchs' patrons a place of worship and it has been denied permits and other building must haves in order to build this structure. So the church has not pushed it through nor has it made an issue of this, but has deferred to what the local\state people want. If you have seen these temples they are beautiful stuctures well maintained and look like well manicured parks around them. It is a double standard. For the lack of misguided fear and not in my back yard retoric of the local people. So why in this case should this be one of we are going to build it and by golly your will be darned or we do not care what the families or public opinion is. The other issue is one where a greek orthdox build was destroyed on the site of ground zero and they were told no you can not rebuild the church what is the diffence here they own the ground why can they not build a place of worship also?

    August 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    Why should they?

    August 20, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
  3. Jeffrey

    What's really funny, in a horribly depressing way, is how many Mormons don't even know their own history. So many modern Mormons rant against socialism, communism, etc. and yet what were the two main forms of economies tried in Church histo...ry? The Law of Consecration ("Righteous" Communism), and the United Order ("Righteous" Socialism).

    On this particular issue, the Church owns the land and controls the monument of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which was perpetrated by Mormons. That would be like today the "Muslim church" (if a singular one existed) owning the site of the trade center, and controlling whatever monument ends up there.

    And yet, what do we see? So many Mormons frothing at the mouth about imagined communism/socialism or whatever other economic principle they don't understand, and complaining about the "insensitivity" of a Muslim community center being built two blocks from the former site of the Trade Center.

    Which begs the question: who are Mormon Republicans listening to? The prophets, or Glenn Beck?

    August 20, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
    • David

      Nice straw man. We Mormons know full well our history of when it comes to the United Order and the Law of Consecration (which by the way is still practiced today, and is not just a program buried in our history – so you've already got one point against you). But more importanatly, we know the differences that exist between those programs and philosophies of communism and socialism. When one takes a shallow look at the programs, they may seem like either communism or socialism on the surface, but the devil is always in the details. When you truly understand those details, you realize that there's a world of difference. Those details are why the Church and its membership as a whole have prospered under the Law of Consecration, but millions died under Mao's Great Leap Forward. I think your sentiments regarding the LDS faith drive your understanding (or lack thereof) of history, when it should be the other way around.

      August 20, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  4. songbird

    This is ridiculous! This has nothing to do with religious freedom or censorship...

    Just build the mosque somewhere else. This is not going to bring anyone together. It is interesting that it is happening while Barak is President and there are questions about his allegiances. Only time will tell. Political correctness is just stupid...

    The decision makers don't have the backbone to just state that this is plain wrong. Go worship down the street not on the place where thousands where massacred by others of your faith... Show a little respect...

    August 20, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
    • Talgrath

      I agree, show a little respect! Like that strip club just a block away from Ground Zero is doing (to note, the proposed site is 2 city blocks away)! Show a little respect by destroying everything our country was built upon to score political points! Show a little respect by respecting the Constitution which clearly states that people that aren't Christians are second class citizens! Or you could show a little respect (for everyone) by not making a fuss out of this, by living your life and not being filled with hatred; the victims of 9/11 were killed by hatred, and you express the same ugly ideas of religious intolerance and superiority by opposing this mosque. The victims of 9/11 deserve better than this, they deserve to be respected by keeping our great country a land of opportunity and freedom for all, even if they scare you.

      August 20, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
    • Mel

      Songbird, it has EVERYTHING to do with the 1st amendment. If we want people to support our right to worship where we want, we had dang well better support their right to do the same.

      August 21, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
  5. Dandini

    It would be nice if editors, and journalists, and politicians, and judges, and religious leaders, and etc., held themselves to higher standards as well. But not likely to happen. Why? Because everyone has a bias against or for all things to some extent.

    I am biased towards supporting what the majority of the immediate relations to those who died at the Two Towers would prefer.

    August 20, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  6. DavidH

    The people of Missouri in 1800s were not prejudiced and did not object to Mormons. They just objected to Mormons' living in Missouri. They said, keep your church, just change your address. Just like the opponents of the mosque. Come to think of it, Spain, in the 1400s and 1500s was not prejudiced against Jews and Muslims at all. They just objected to nonChristians living in their country. They said, either convert and stay or, we support you in your decision to remain Jewish or Muslim. You can practice your religion all you want and build all the mosques and synagogues you want, just do it outside of Spain. Build it, but change the address.

    August 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
    • Jed Merrill

      Again another miss informed statement, or a fib, whatever – The truth of this is Mormons felt special and tried to take people's lands. And the Sidney Rigdon gave a speech on the fourth of July, which called for the extermination of all 'gentiles', gentiles are Christians. Well, the people in the state got upset about this, and how Mormons were killing them, and Boggs repeated back Mormon Sidney Rigdon's words on the Mormons.

      Joseph Smith approved of Mormon Sidney Rigdons calling for extermination of all gentiles and printed it in a pamphlet.

      Now for Romney Mormon family history, Romney comes from the Pratt line. The Pratt's were the ones which pushed bigotry against blacks into the Mormon Church. And Romney's ancestor took a married southern man's wife, as his own polygamist wife. Well, the southern man got upset Pratt took his wife, and went and shot Pratt killing him.

      Romney don't mess with the south, they never have put up with you all –

      August 20, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
    • Daniel Ortner

      As a Parley Pratt fan I feel obliged to here mention that the husband that murdered Pratt was by all accounts a drunkard and likely an abuser. She ran away from him because of that. Her marriage to Parley was in a different state and she was only married because of the difficulty of arranging for an official divorce. Its so easy to distort reality to fit an anti-mormon bias.

      August 24, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  7. Jon Miranda

    Muslims have a habit of building Mosques where they believe great victories took place.

    August 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  8. SamandJan

    This is not an abusive post, all can be documented, it is their belief system, so they cannot knock someone else's belief system, and talk about walking all over the constitution and human rights!

    1. Mormon’s believe they are to rule over the United States in a theocracy –
    2. Mormon’s believe the man will have the power over his wife to raise her from the dead or not in the first resurrection.
    3. Mormon’s believe in church first, and be a traitor to your wife and kids, if the church tells you to
    4. Mormon’s believe they will have lots of wives in the next life
    5. Mormon’s believe they are right and everyone else is wrong, so when Mormon’s be things wrong it is o.k.
    6. Mormon’s don’t tell the truth, and hide what they are really doing
    7. Mormon’s wanted to over throw the American Government and set up a government under their prophet.
    8. And Cleon Skousen was told to start the Center for Constitutional Studies by the prophet, and people get a lot of the White Horse Prophesy being taught to them, and Cleon Skousen LIED about his training, he had NONE of the training he stated he had. Even Hoover didn’t like Cleon Skousen, and thought him a danger.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Keith

    Why aren't more hom-ose-xuals supporting sharia law and this mosque? Probably because they'd get hanged for doing so once their role of useful idiot was fulfilled.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  10. SamandJan

    Now Jared we ALL know how the 'church' works". The church removed the name of Kyle Sampson from the alumni list at Brigham Young University, so the press would not see or get the information he was a church member. The church leadership is behind a lot and Mormon politician listen and are always in touch.

    Jed Merill is spot on ==== Romney's are too use to lying and so are their friends.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  11. SamandJan

    Hope Romney likes my post 🙂

    Lies will always catch up to you –

    August 20, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Jed Merrill

      It is only a matter of time. and the lies will come home to roost == Shame, shame, shame on the Romney's and the two useful idiots they are using.

      🙂 hope the Romney's like the post!

      August 20, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  12. Jared

    Don't lump all of us in with those interested in getting re-elected or elected in the next couple of years... As of yet I have not hear any official statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint (Mormons) but as a member of that church I know the church teaches in the 11th Article of our Faith that "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

    I think anyone can see there are no legal grounds to blockade the contruction of such a place of worship. Honestly I am fine with it. However, if it here me and I were seeing the level of scrutiny and the hate it is creating I would have to consider if I was really helping my point or hurting it. If they choose to go forward with it, good for them. If they choose to change their minds in hopes that people might not be so upset about it, fine.

    I hope that groups like those building the Cordoba House can build relationships and help people not have so much fear. Personally I think the Muslim faith is a beautiful one with a lot of rich history and good values to share.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  13. Sy2502

    Why aren't the Mormons (or any other religious minority, for that matter) defending the mosque? Because each of them wants freedom of religion FOR THEMSELVES ONLY. Each of them believes to be the one and only true religion, so why step up to defend another? They probably gloat over every difficulty other religions have. Just another example of how poisonous and divisive religion is.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  14. Reality

    It is all about what is taught in mosques. Stop the koranic teachings that male Muslims should dominate the world by any means and then we will talk about Const-itutional rights. Until then no Muslim can be trusted and the Declaration of Independence takes precedent over any const-itution amendments.

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

    Mohammed could not have known the size of the world, but several passages in the Koran show that he envisioned Islam dominating all of it, however large it might be: “He it is who sent his messenger . . . that he may cause it [Islam] to prevail over all religions´(Koran 9:33, M.M. Ali; see also 48:28 and 61:9). M.M. Ali designates these three passages as “the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam in the whole world.”

    Mohammed’s successors, the caliphs, quoted passages like these to inspire Muslim armies as they advanced out of Arabia, imposing Islam by the sword upon a peacefully unsuspecting Middle East and North Africa, as I described in the previous chapter.

    Islamic armies, imbued with what Mohammed claimed was divine authorization, imposed Islam by force over vast areas, all the while extorting wealth from subjugated Jews and Christians to fund their ongoing conquests. As I noted, major defeats at Tours, France, in A.D. 732, and again at Vienna, Austria, in A.D. 1683, halted Islam’s attempt to take all of Europe by force. Gradually Islamic forces were forced to retreat from Europe, except for part of the Balkans. But Islam has again set its sights on a conquest of Europe and of European civilization, wherever the latter has spread to North and South America and other regions. Muslim strategists ask their followers, Why do we find in these modern times that Allah has entrusted most of the world’s oil wealth primarily to Muslim nations?

    Their answer: Allah foresaw Islam’s need for funds to finance a final politico-religious victory over what Islam perceives as its ultimate enemy: Christianized Euro-American civilization. So, Islam follows Nazism, fascism and communism as the world’s latest hostile takeover aspirant.

    Nazis, fascists and communists failed. Does Islam have a better chance at success? I believe it will flounder if we awaken to its threat in time; yet, if there is not adequate planned resistance, Islam does have a better chance of succeeding. Communism’s world takeover attempt was guaranteed to fail because its economic policy was naively contrary to human nature. Advocating the rubric What is mine is thine, and what is thine is mine, communism failed to see that human nature will not keep those two balanced propositions in equilibrium. Like a female black widow spider consuming her mate, the latter part of the formula makes a meal of the former, leading to the collapse of any system based upon that formula.

    In contrast, political systems do well if they can persuade people to adhere to What’s mine is mine and What’s thine is thine maxims.

    Only if a strong religious incentive is added does such an idealistic formula have any long-term chance. Even then success will be spotty. But communism (and Nazism, for that matter) excluded religion. And that mistake was the final nail eventually clamping a lid on communism’s coffin. Communism, on a historical scale, perished while still in its childhood.

    Islam is not repeating communism’s mistake. Mating political cunning and incredible wealth with religious zeal, Islam does have a chance to succeed and will succeed unless major parts of the Western world unite to take appropriate countermeasures. But many Western leaders, unable to believe that a mere religion could possible be a serious political threat, keep proclaiming themselves as Islam-friendly, reasoning that all religions are good-aren’t they?

    A Muslim strategist in Beverly Hills, California, declared several years ago, as quoted by a friend of mine: “Now that the struggle between Western democracies and international communism is winding down, it is time for the real and final struggle to begin, and we are going to win!”

    When will people realize that just as there are good doctors and quacks, good cops and rogue cops, there can also be good religions and bad religions?

    August 20, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • Melissa

      Because the difference between a good cop and bad cap, and good religions and bad religions is that one is an individual person that uses both will and reason to determine action. A religion is a thing. It has no will or reason on it's own. It's the individual people that decide what they will or won't do and some choose to do so in the name of religion. Islam isn't the enemy here. If terrorists didn't have a "god" to do horrible things in the name of I"m sure they'd find something else to do violence in the name of. Heck, banjo playing raccoons for all we know.

      Oh, and isn't it the goal of every religion whether it be Christianity, Islam, Buddism etc, to spread and find new followers? I don't think Islam is hardly the only religion to espouse "spreading the word". I'm know there are directives in the Bible to go forth and spread it's word.

      So all in all, you're another ignorant fool with no education spouting off random nonsense into cyberspace.

      August 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
    • Mel

      Your Mormon horse is a little high there, Reality.

      One can take any book of scripture and find things that are very disturbing. I, like you, believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. But ( using your logic against Islam scripture ), we Mormons believe we can get people drunk and cut off their heads, just like we killed people at MMM, or the Aiken Party, or whatever.

      You see, any scripture can be misused, even ours.

      August 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
    • Reality

      Mel,

      Mormon "horse" by that you mean the Mormon business cult fronting as a religion with said religion being founded by Joe Smith, one of the great con men of the USA?

      August 22, 2010 at 12:55 am |
  15. Jed Merrill

    L-dG you must be off your medications, Romney's love to torture people, they also like to lie a lot.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  16. L-dG

    "And Mitt is for torturing people, Romney’s love to torture people..."

    Oh that is just glorious, Jed. Now go take your medication.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  17. Jed Merrill

    Matt at Mountain Meadows, Mormon's tore down the Cross marking the victims mass grave. And Mormon"s only allow a bunch of rocks to be a memorial to the MMM victims, while building a gleaming statue of John D. Lee in Ceder City. AND Mormons own the land around at Mountain Meadows and will not let the land go federal. What doesn't belong in the WWC area is a Mormon Temple. Mormon Church leadership need to start fessing up.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
    • Bob Loblaw

      Jed,

      Your Mormon hatred is quite apparent from your posts. Ironic that you chose to post comments on an article about religious tolerance. I've been to the site of the massacre. Its actually a very nice memorial. Also, John D. Lee was a founder and leader of early Cedar City. The city paid for the statue of him [with tax money], not the LDS Church.

      September 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  18. Jed Merrill

    Mitt Romney Torture Series
    http://justthoughts-blogger.blogspot.com/

    One good reason is because so many high level Mormons were behind the creation and implementation of enhanced tortures. Another reason is Wally Hilliard a Mormon Bishop trained some of the 9/11 terrorist at his air field in Florida.

    And Mitt is for torturing people, Romney’s love to torture people - and the Muslims are playing the role the America Indian’s played during the Mormon Massacre of Fancher'’s Wagon Train on Sept. 11 also. The Mormon’s did the murder then blamed the Indian’s.

    Typical.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  19. Matt

    Mormons would not construct a church at the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. That would be insensitive to the people who died there as the result of a twisting of the religion. It was not intended or supported by the church but it would be horrible for the church to use the site. I'm sure that if you asked Romney if Muslims have the right to build anywhere he would say yes, but how uncaring do you have to be to do it?

    August 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  20. Pete

    So Stephen Prothero, does someone have to support the building of a Muslim edifice on the grounds of two skyscrapers destroyed by Muslim fundamentalists in order to be sufficiently anti-religious-discrimination to you? If a pack of Mormons burned your house down, would you fight to have a chapel built on the lot where your house used to be?

    August 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.