Former Republican Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Click image to expand.A recent blizzard of liberal columns has framed the debate over American Islam as if it were no more than the most recent stage in the glorious history of our religious tolerance. This phrasing of the question has the (presumably intentional) effect of marginalizing doubts and of lumping any doubters with the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, the anti-Semites, and other bigots and shellbacks. So I pause to take part in a thought experiment, and to ask myself: Am I in favor of the untrammeled "free exercise of religion"?
No, I am not. Take an example close at hand, the absurdly named Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More usually known as the Mormon church, it can boast Glenn Beck as one of its recruits. He has recently won much cheap publicity for scheduling a rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington. But on the day on which the original rally occurred in 1963, the Mormon church had not yet gotten around to recognizing black people as fully human or as eligible for full membership. (Its leadership subsequently underwent a "revelation" allowing a change on this point, but not until after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.) This opportunism closely shadowed an earlier adjustment of Mormon dogma, abandoning its historic and violent attachment to polygamy. Without that doctrinal change, the state of Utah was firmly told that it could not be part of the Union. More recently, Gov. Mitt Romney had to assure voters that he did not regard the prophet, or head of the Mormon church, as having ultimate moral and spiritual authority on all matters. Nothing, he swore, could override the U.S. Constitution. Thus, to the extent that we view latter-day saints as acceptable, and agree to overlook their other quaint and weird beliefs, it is to the extent that we have decidedly limited them in the free exercise of their religion.
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