The Last Acceptable Prejudice
by David Keithly
I know what you’re thinking – political correctness has taken all the fun out of bigotry. Before this whole “PC” movement, one of the best things about being American was that you could always find someone to look down on for no good reason. But nowadays it has becoming harder and harder to cling to prejudice without coming off looking like those nut-jobs from the Westboro Baptist Church. For all of you longing for those bygone days when you could discriminate against someone just because they were different from you, you will be happy to hear that there is still at least one group you can still openly discriminate against in America. The Mormons.
At six years old, I was pretty sure that one day (after a successful career as a professional baseball player) I would become the President of the United States. People had been telling me for my entire life that if I was willing to work hard, I could be whatever I wanted to be. For me, the idea that I was the master of my destiny was a universal law – like gravity. And although the professional baseball career didn’t pan out (I peaked too early – at age 11), I’ve carried this basic idea with me throughout my life. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I realized that it was a lie. I could never be President – because I am a Mormon.
Not everyone is aware of this limitation. Most notably, there are still two Mormon contenders vying for the Republican presidential nomination. But if polls are any indication of ultimate success, both Huntsman and Romney would lose in a presidential race. According to Gallup polls [insert online: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2011/06/mormon-president-gallup-poll-mitt-romney-jon-huntsman-/1 ] conducted this summer, regardless of platform, views, ability, or qualifications, nearly 1 in 4 voters simply would not vote for a Mormon candidate.
As a long-time member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am honestly confused by such reluctance to elect a Mormon candidate. I am even more confused by the mainstream media’s complete acceptance of this prejudice. During the last presidential election cycle if anyone admitted to not wanting to vote for Obama because of his race, the media immediately labeled the offender as a bigot and a racist. Concerned news anchors lamented that, even in this enlightened era, there are still those who would cling to such archaic notions. Where is the outrage when a quarter of the population refuses to consider a candidate because of his religious views?
In terms of beliefs, Mormons really are not that different from other Christian faiths. We believe in God. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind. We believe in the Bible. There are differences as well. In addition to the Bible, we believe in other books of scripture. Mormons aren’t supposed to smoke or drink alcohol or coffee. We do not believe in having sex before marriage–which might explain why so many twenty-something Mormons are married. On the topic of marriage, we do not believe in or condone polygamy. The church discontinued the practice in 1890.
So what is the hold-up? Why are so many American voters still uncomfortable with the idea of a Mormon president? Are they afraid he will re-institute prohibition and add coffee to the list of prohibited beverages?
Mormons aren’t the only religious group that voters don’t trust with the presidency. In fact, a Muslim or atheist candidate would face even more voter opposition than a Mormon.
As a country, we’ve made progress in the past fifty years. Before John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, many voters claimed that they would not elect a Catholic to the presidency. Their fear was that the Pope would run the country. Those fears proved to be unfounded.
One of the hallmarks of American democracy is the freedom of religion. In this country, we’re free to practice whatever religion we see fit. Some of our best-known and most respected Presidents did not affiliate with any one religion. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson were all unaffiliated with any specific religion.
Unfortunately, in the current political climate, freedom of religion comes with an asterisk. In America you’re free to practice whatever religion you see fit, unless you want to run for President. If you want to be President, you’re okay if you’re a Catholic; but if you want to play it safe, you ought to be some form of Protestant.
I understand that many voters may have valid reasons for not wanting to elect Romney or Huntsman based upon their individual platforms or policy agendas. What I cannot understand is how a quarter of voters in this country would refuse to elect a candidate purely on religious grounds, or why some many others find that reason to be acceptable. It is shameful.
David would be happy to send missionaries to your house if you want to know more about the church . . . or you could just go see The Book of Mormon on Broadway.