Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

Can a Mormon Support the ACLU? (Part III)

This is the third and final post addressing the complicated issue of whether church membership is consistent with ACLU membersrehip. The prior two posts dealt with threshold issues in the discussion and with many areas in which it was determined that no conflict existed. This post deals with three more complicated issues (as well as a tangential issue): Women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, and abortion, and the tangential issue of the Boy Scouts.

Women’s Rights

The ACLU has litigated in favor of women’s rights and fought workplace discrimination. The church, meanwhile, has stated that men and women have different roles in God’s plan, especially in the care of the family.

Many of the ACLU’s actions regarding women’s rights are clearly compatible with church beliefs. There is no church doctrine, for example, supporting sexual harassment or workplace discrimination in most settings. Ecclesiastical positions, as noted above, are exempted under law so do not present a problem.

There is one aspect of women’s rights where the ACLU position is at odds with the church position. That is the Equal Rights Amendment. The ACLU supports the ERA while the church has opposed it (see this article).

Much of the church’s opposition to the ERA appears to be based on issues which will be addressed later in the discussion (homosexual issues and abortion) and which may have their own solutions (as we will discuss). However, the fact remains that the ACLU supports the ERA and the church discourages its members from supporting the ERA. This is a direct conflict which can only be resolved by a “balancing of the good” (as discussed in the first post) — that is, a church member may support the ACLU if he feels that the good that they do outweighs any harm from their support of the ERA.


The church is opposed to abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and life or health of the mother. The ACLU has a strongly pro-choice position, defending a woman’s right to an abortion and litigation against restrictions on that ability.

These positions are at odds. Much of the difference can be reconciled by reference to the sin / crime distinction. That is, it is possible to believe that abortion is a sinful act, which a church member should not engage in, and also to believe that abortion is a subject which is not appropriate for state regulation.

However, it is difficult to fully reconcile all of the ACLU position — including opposition to parental notification, abstinence education, and hospital choice about whether to provide abortions — with the church position. It seems to me to be possible to reconcile all of the ACLU position by using the crime / sin distinction. But a more comfortable reconciliation, at least for me, is done by balancing the good — recognizing that the ACLU does much good, and either refusing to accept the entire ACLU position on abortion, or finding that, on balance, any harm caused by the ACLU position on abortion is outweighed by the good the organization does.

Homosexual Rights (also addressing Boy Scouts)

The church has strongly opposed homosexual behavior as well as gay marriage. The ACLU, in contrast, defends homosexual rights including gay marriage.

These positions appear very dissimilar. But there are many aspects in which there is no disagreement. For example, the church believes homosexual acts are a sin. The ACLU does

not dispute this characterization. Similarly, the ACLU has brought cases and advocated that gay kids not be discriminated against at school; that gay employees not be discriminated against at work; and that laws criminalizing homosexual behavior be struck down. None of those positions are contrary to official church position.

In short, there are many areas within the rubric of “homosexual rights” where there is no direct conflict between church position and the ACLU position. Much of the lack of conflict can be traced to the sin / crime distinction. However, there are areas with more direct conflicts. Those areas deserve some attention:

Gay marriage

The church is opposed to gay marriage, while the ACLU has argued that it should be legally allowed. This area is actually less problematic than it first appears. A church member can believe (1) that gay marriage is wrong — that it is a sin — because homosexuality is contrary to gospel commandments, but (2) that the state should not discriminate in this area, i.e. should permit gay marriage. Such a position is consistent with the sin / crime distinction.

The issue is complicated, however, by the fact that the church has campaigned against gay marriage in California. This gives some indication that church members should not support gay marriage. I am unsure of what weight to give the fact that the church has campaigned politically on this issue. It may still be possible to resolve differences in gay marriage using the sin / crime distinction. To the extent that church activity in the political arena suggests that this distinction could not be employed to reconcile the two positions, the church member must use the balancing of the good test, and could reasonably conclude that the good done by the ACLU outweighs any harm done by their position on gay marriage.

Gay adoption

A very similar outcome applies to gay adoption. Again, the church does not support adoption by homosexuals, while the ACLU has supported a right to such adoptions. Again, the difference can be reconciled at least in part by reference to the sin / crime distinction — it may not be inconsistent to agree on spiritual condemnation of behavior while allowing the state’s criminal or civil laws to permit such behavior. And again, the church’s political statements make me unsure that the difference can be fully resolved using the sin / crime distinction. Any difference that cannot be resolved using the sin / crime distinction could reasonably be resolved under the balancing of the good test.

Boy scouts

The final potential issue, which is related to gay rights, is the difference of opinion regarding the Boy Scouts. The church has supported the Supreme Court decision allowing the Boy Scouts to exclude homosexuals, while the ACLU opposes that decision. This issue is peripheral. The difference can be explained using the sin / crime distinction — it may be morally right for the Supreme Court to rule as it did, but constitutionally inconsistent. As

for the underlying issue, again, it is quite possible, using the sin / crime distinction, to maintain that the Boy Scouts are required under the Civil Rights Act to admit homosexuals, while also believing that homosexual acts are not allowed under gospel principles.


This lengthy discussion has shown, I hope, that ACLU membership can be consistent with church belief. Not all church members will support the ACLU, of course. Because this discussion has relied in part on a balancing test for which individual members will have different results, it is possible that many church members will find ACLU membership to be inconsistent with their personal church membership. However, the balancing tests may also, depending on the member’s feelings on the issues, reasonably be resolved in the other way, allowing (as in my case) for ACLU membership consistent with church membership.

This discussion has treated the statements and positions of both organizations in a substantially similar, impartial way. I recognize that church membership is very different than ACLU membership. Church membership is a way of life, while ACLU membership is a small political statement. I know that the church is true and have a testimony of the church in a way that I will never have with the ACLU, or any other purely temporal organization.

However, I do think that the ACLU does much good in the world today. I am proud of both my church membership and my ACLU membership. I believe that both organizations do many important things. And because I find both organizations to be beneficial, I am very happy to be a member of them both.


August 29, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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