Helping Breitbart and Trump Understand Mormons (and the Constitution)

Just this week Breitbart published a startling attack on Mormon Church leadership for the tepid support proffered to Trump by Mormons who are traditionally a reliable Republican vote. Among the doozies mongered by the Constitutional scholar Tom Tancredo is the following:

According to the mainstream media, Trump’s call for “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants in his foreign policy speech kicked open a hornets’ nest of Mormon concerns about “religious tolerance.”
The truth is more simple, as is often the case in politics, and it has nothing to do with religious freedom as practiced by Americans under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Oh, and I can’t help but include this one:

ISIS leaders must be rolling in the mosque’s aisles in uncontrolled laughter over the Mormon concern over Muslim immigration, considering that religious liberty is the first casualty wherever radical Islam and Sharia are enforced.

I’m very tempting to dismiss Tancredo’s “they discriminate so we should discriminate, too” logic as self defeating and a perfect recipe for destroying civilized society. But let’s take his challenge to Mormon “church leadership” that is “suffer[ing] an episode of moral incoherence” seriously and provide a clear thinking rebuttal.

Here is the text of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution (the portion dealing with religion):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The real question here is not whether Mormons support jihadist immigration as much as Tancredo would like to demagogue the subject, but rather this:

Does the Federal Government have the right to favor or punish individual establishments of religion?

James Madison spearheaded the inclusion of the Bill of Rights into the Constitution in order to break the millennia old cycle of religion coercing the government and government coercing religion. From their perch in time they saw centuries where the Catholic Church also exercised secular power with the Pope sometimes playing the part of King and other times as General. Let’s not even get to the Inquisitions.

Madison and Jefferson were sick of religious injustices even in their beloved Virginia where, at the time of the signing Declaration of Independence, it was illegal to preach any other religion than the official Church of Virginia — the Anglican Church. Think of that. In Virginia they were locking up Baptist ministers for the sole crime of preaching the Baptist faith.

How did they break that cycle? By taking away the right of the Federal Government to make laws that favor or punish individual establishments of religion. Let’s for a moment compensate for Tancredo’s lack of imagination.

Brett: Mr. Tancredo, so you believe the Federal Government has the right to pass a law punitively targeting Muslims?

Tancredo: Yes.

Brett: But surely this means that all faiths are less protected, since you’ve just argued that the government can negatively target any establishment of religion.

Tancredo: I don’t seem to follow…

Brett: It’s okay. What I’m saying is, “Is it okay for the government to then pass a law persecuting Jews?”

Tancredo: What? The Federal Government would never do that!

Brett: I’m sure that assurance would provide great comfort to the descendants of Holocaust survivors. But more to the point, I’m not asking about what today’s government would or would not do, I’m asking about what they have a right to do. Do you believe they have a right to discriminate against Jews?

Tancredo: Most Jews vote Democratic anyway, they make up over 50% of Democratic campaign contributions, so this is a hard one for me to answer.

Brett: Let me help you, the answer is “No”. The government does not and should not have the right to punish people for being Jewish or of any other faith. Now let me ask you if you think the government has the right to favor one religion over another?

Tancredo: Like favoring Baby Jesus?

Brett: Yes.

Tancredo: Absolutely! I love Baby Jesus!

Brett: So the Federal Government should encourage people to believe in Baby Jesus?

Tancredo: Absolutely!

Brett: So, let’s say that the Evangelicals believe that Mormon Missionaries are a threat to Baby Jesus (many of them do) and got together to lobby the Federal Government to revoke all passports for missionaries of all faiths except for Evangelicals, would that be okay?

Tancredo: Quit getting all trickery slippery with me, the Federal Government would never do that!

Brett: Again, what I’m asking is, “Does the Federal Government have the right to do such a thing?”

Tancredo: I’m not the best with hyperbolical questions.

Brett: I wouldn’t say that, I think you’re quite good with hyperbole, but it’s actually ‘hypothetical’ that you meant to…oh…whatever.

Tancredo: I’m really not sure, my common sense says, “No.”

Brett: I rest my case. Mormons do not think the government should have the right to favor or punish an individual establishment of religion — including the Muslim faith. Granting that right to the government could easily be used against Mormons in the future and has been used against Mormons in the past.

But I should clarify, we Mormons aren’t just concerned about protecting ourselves. We love Muslims and believe that when we do a kindness to a Muslim, we do it to Jesus himself because that’s what he told us, in a book called the Bible.

Tancredo: I know, I’ve read Two Corinthians.

Brett: Clearly, clearly a hyperbiblical scholar you are.