Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

Can a Church Member support the ACLU? (Part II)

This post is a continuation of my prior post discussing whether an LDS church member could support the ACLU. The prior post set out threshold points including the sin / crime distinction and the idea of balancing of the good. This post will discuss areas in which LDS doctrine might be seen as conflicting with ACLU belief.

Potential Areas of Conflict

The first step we will take in reviewing the doctrines of the two organizations for conflicts is to make a preliminary assessment of areas where any conflicts are likely to exist. At this stage, the assessment will be a largely intuitive matter, a simple listing of areas of law or politics where, based on my observation, church members often seem to be at odds with the ACLU or its perceived position.

And at first glance, there are several areas in which it seems possible church doctrine and ACLU belief could come into conflict. These include drugs, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, welfare, gay and lesbian issues, women’s rights, gun control, prisoners’ rights, the Boy Scouts, and national security.

We will now begin a closer examination to see which of these issues (if any) present real potential conflicts, and which are red herrings.

Drugs

The church position on drugs is clear: Drug use is a violation of the Word of Wisdom and is contrary to the commandments.

The ACLU stance on drugs is quite different. The organization argues that the “war of drugs” should be ended and that most drugs should be decriminalized. The ACLU has litigated against mandatory minimum sentencing laws and against drug policies that are perceived as having a disproportionate impact on minorities.

These two positions are certainly different. However, they are very much reconcilable. The church position is that one should not use illegal drugs — just as one should not use alcohol, tobacco, tea or coffee. This spiritual admonition does not require an accompanying legal ban. In fact, for every other aspect of the Word of Wisdom, there is no accompanying legal ban. Tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea are perfectly legal substances. Church members are not required to maintain abolitionist positions on these substances.

To put this in terms of the prior discussion on sin and crime, the LDS belief in that use of some substances is wrong (sin) does not require members to support legal restrictions on the use of such substances (crime). As long as the ACLU is not actually promoting drug use — and I have seen no evidence that it is — its position in favor of decriminalization of drugs does not appear to conflict with a belief in the validity of the Word of Wisdom.

The Death Penalty

The ACLU is opposed to the use of the death penalty.

It has been my experience that many church members favor the death penalty. Utah is a death penalty state. Recently, there has been some media coverage of Utah’s practice of firing squad executions and these have been attributed to Mormon belief.

Such a connection is tenuous at best. Despite public sentiment in favor of the death penalty, there is no requirement that church members support the death penalty. The church has no position on the death penalty that I could locate.

(Church members who support the death penalty can point out that there is no lack of scriptural verses which could be used to support a belief in the death penalty (such as Captain Moroni’s execution of dissenters in Alma 62:9-10). However, there are an equal number of scriptural statements which could be used to support a position against the death penalty, such as Matthew 5:38-39 or John 8:3-11. The scriptures do not clearly indicate that either position is correct.)

Because the church has no position on the death penalty, there is no conflict between its position and the ACLU position.

Welfare

The church encourages self-sufficiency and hard work. The ACLU has litigated against restrictions on welfare and opposes many so-called “welfare reform” statutes.

Is the ACLU position contrary to the church’s position? There is no reason to think that the two cannot coexist. The church encourages people to work for a living, and promotes ideas such as self-sufficiency and emergency preparedness. Such a belief can coexist with the idea that some people may need welfare assistance due to lack of education, emotional or physical handicaps, addictions, or other long-term problems. In fact, many scriptures emphasize the need to give to the poor — which is exactly what the ACLU focuses on.

There is room for disagreement, since church members may think that the ACLU’s tactics are not the most effective way to help the poor. However, there is nothing inherent in the ACLU’s position on welfare that is irreconcilable with church beliefs.

Affirmative Action and Racial Justice

The ACLU supports affirmative action. On other race-related issues, the ACLU has worked to protect voting rights of minorities and has litigated against police abuse against minorities.

On many of these issues, such as police abuse or voting rights, there is obviously no conflict. The church has no position on affirmative action. However, church leaders are required to be called by revelation. (See Article of Faith 5). Thus, it seems likely that the church would be opposed to any requirement that its appointment of leaders be subject to affirmative action. However, the ACLU has not, to my knowledge, advocated such a position. The Civil Rights Act has an exception for religious organizations, and in addition the Supreme Court has firmly established a right to appoint ecclesiastical leaders without state regulation.

(The church’s previously held position that Blacks could not hold the priesthood may have been criticized by the ACLU. I do not know whether or not this is true; the church has had its new policy for as long as I can remember).

Thus, I do not see any conflict between church doctrines and the ACLU’s support of affirmative action and other laws intended to help racial minorities.

Immigration, Prisoners’ Rights, National Security, and Gun Control

I group these four together because I think they are truly red herrings. The ACLU does have positions on many of these topics. And the ACLU position is often, in my experience, at odds with individually held political beliefs of some church members. The church, however, does not have positions on these topics, and there is no reason a church member cannot support the ACLU positions in these areas.

Recap of Discussion thus far

Thus far, the discussion has examined ACLU beliefs relating to many issues and found no conflict with church doctrines. These areas are drugs, death penalty, affirmative action, welfare, and some red herrings (gun control, immigration, prisoners’ rights, and national security). Each of these areas has needed only a brief discussion to establish the lack of conflict between ACLU and church beliefs.

There remain three major areas (and one tangential area) of potential conflict which will require more in-depth discussion. The three major areas are women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, and abortion; the tangential area is the Boy Scouts. The third post in this discussion will address these issues.

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August 29, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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