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Mormons Engulfed by Marriage, Baptism, Torture Controversies

May 6, 2009

While President Obama's looming commencement address at Notre Dame sadly remains controversial among a vocal minority of Catholics, it is one of America's fastest growing faiths which is at the center of three political storms this week. On Tuesday, ABC confirmed AmericaBlog's reporting that a Provo LDS member posthumously baptized Obama's late mother. Continuing his church's active role in opposing marriage equality, a Utah Congressman moved to block Washington DC's plans to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. And as the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility prepared to release its report on the Bush torture team, a Salt Lake City columnist lamented that several his fellow Mormons were among its key players.
As the New York Times reported, the draft of the 220 OPR findings will likely recommend only limited sanctions such as disbarment - and not prosecution - for the lawyers who architected the Bush administration's regime of detainee torture. But while former Bush officials are scrambling to water down the report before its final release, back in Salt Lake City one columnist already pronounced his verdict on his Mormon brethren.
In his piece titled, "LDS lawyers, psychologists had a hand in torture policies," the Salt Lake Tribune's David Irvine regretfully concluded:

Reading Mayer's disturbing book [The Dark Side] is likely to lead to the conclusion that the Constitution is more imperiled than ever; but it also reveals the troubling fingerprints of several of my fellow Mormons whose handiwork, not the Obama election, did so much to create the present crisis.

Troubling, indeed. Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flannigan, who told his fellow LDS congregants that it was gratifying "to work in a White House where every day was begun with prayer," also insisted that "'inhumane' can't be coherently defined" when it comes to brutal interrogation techniques like waterboarding. Before his lifetime appointment to the federal bench and before he signed his name to the August 2002 memo which infamously pronounced that torture ""must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death," Judge Jay Bybee was a graduate of the BYU law school.
And as it turns out, the two psychologists contracted by the CIA to reverse engineer the military's SERE program as the basis for the practice of waterboarding were also LDS members. As Retired Air Force Col. Steve Kleinman said of James Mitchell and John Jensen, men with no prior experience in detainee interrogation:

"I think they have caused more harm to American national security than they'll ever understand."

Meanwhile, other of their fellow church members continue to have an outsized impact on America social policy.
As Maine and New Hampshire stand on the brink of codifying same-sex marriage in those states, the District of Columbia Council voted 12-1 to recognize the nuptials performed elsewhere. Under DC's home rule charter, Congress has 30 days to review the legislation. And looking to reprise his Church's essential role in the passage of Proposition 8 which ended gay marriage in California, Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz promised a fight to block the bill:

"Some things are worth fighting for, and this is one of them. It's not something I can let go softly into the night...I recognize the Democrats are in the majority, but I represent the majority of Americans on this issue."

Not according to the latest opinion polls. As a CBS survey last week revealed, a majority of Americans has now moved away from Chaffetz's position of no legal recognition for same-sex marriages.
No doubt, even larger majorities of Americans were stunned to learn of the growing controversy over the Mormon practice of posthumous baptism. Already under fire for retroactively adding Jewish victims of the Holocaust to their ranks, the Church of Latter Day Saints acknowledged Tuesday that on June 4, 2008 one of its Provo, Utah faithful performed the ex post facto baptism ordinances for President Obama's late mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.
During the 2008 campaign presidential campaign, Mitt Romney introduced a religious test for office when he declared, "People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president" and "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." (Romney also famously announced that Muslims need not apply to his future Cabinet.) As he returned to the stage to help rebrand the Republican Party this week, Romney's own faith is once again at the center of the political storm.
At least for this week. On May 17, President Obama delivers the commencement address at Notre Dame. Then it will be Catholics' turn in the culture war spotlight.

2 comments on “Mormons Engulfed by Marriage, Baptism, Torture Controversies”

  1. This is pretty unfair. You can't indict a religious faith based on your disagreement with what a few of its members do.

  2. Any indictment in the above blog would be an indictment of the individuals mentioned; no one was suggesting that the LDS church approves of torture. But it would be interesting to know what the church thinks about the fact that some of its members
    were so prominent in promoting and practicing torture.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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