Religious Intolerance Plays Role in Presidential Politics


Judge a person by his character, not his race, color or creed.  

It seems Americans — liberals and conservatives alike — could use a booster shot on this topic, at least when it comes to the issue of Mormons, or members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Two men with LDS roots, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are candidates for the Republican nomination to be president. A sizable chunk of Americans haven’t warmed up to that idea.

According to a recent poll by the Pew Center for American Politics, roughly one in four American voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is LDS. The rate is about 23 and 20 percent for Republicans and Independents respectively, 31 percent for Democrats.

LDS is a uniquely American religion, just as jazz is a uniquely American form of music. (OK. OK. That’s about where similarities end.) But still, for many Americans a “stake house” is the place you go for sirloin and Moroni (a key angelic figure in the LDS religion) is the guy who invented the radio.

About 1.5 percent of Americans are Mormon, but in Utah, more than half are. I grew up (Protestant) in Idaho, which is about 25 percent LDS.  

I have lived in cities where the mayor was LDS and in state where the governor was LDS.  As a newspaper reporter on the cops-and-courts beat I watched judges who where LDS mete out justice, and watched prosecuting attorneys who were LDS prosecute. I’ve had schoolteachers and childhood friends and shirttail relatives and mountain climbing companions who were LDS. I have worked for and alongside LDS colleagues, both in newsrooms and in the woods.

In my experience, all these Mormon folks can be summed up in one word: human.

No doubt, whenever political power and religious institutions mix, there’s opportunity for trouble.  But it’s illiberal to judge candidates by their religion. It was wrong to judge John Kennedy solely for being Catholic in 1960. It was wrong to smear Obama with the jeremiads of Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008. And it’s wrong to judge Romney and Huntsman solely for their beliefs in 2011.

There are plenty of reasons to vote against either candidate. Judge ‘em by how they vote, how they govern and from whom they take money. But where they spend their Sundays is irrelevant.

Sometimes, the most insidious, treacherous parts of democracy are the whisper campaigns. What other silent undercurrents are driving voters in these troubled times?

Image: Mitt Romney's Mormon faith may cost him votes and that ain't right.

 Ben Long is an outdoorsman, conservationist and writer in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director at Resource Media and is a former Sunday School teacher, though few would ever guess it.

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