What effect?

Ed Darrell EDarr1776 at AOL.COM
Mon Jun 16 15:07:27 PDT 1997

Robert O'Brien wonders about lasting effects in law of persecution of the
Mormons, versus the effects of laws that bind Jehovah's Witnesses; and Jim
Henderson chimes in noting that discrimination against Catholics has a long
history on this continent.

First, I would say that the legacy of the Mormon cases is both large and
deep.  Prior to the Poland laws, federal legislation dealing with marriage
and family was essentially non-existent.  For better or worse [no pun
intended at first, but now I rather like it], marriage and its regulation
became a potential issue for federal law.  Once this barrier was breached, it
became easier for federal courts to act on issues involving marriage -- in
Loving v. Virginia and Griswold v. Connecticut, for example.  Had polygamy
not been at issue before the Court, marriage might not have come to the Court
for another 75 years.  The further legacy is another unintended consequence:
 With polygamy banned, there was little reason to keep Utah from statehood,
especially when the Mormon Church agreed to abide by the laws of the U.S. on
polygamy, and then equalized the party split and took Nevada's constitution
lock, stock and barrell.  Without Utah, would there have been a Smoot-Hawley
tax?  (Ugh!  who cares.)  Would prohibition have been repealed? (Some other
state would have been the 33rd.)  Would the vote for women have been approved
so early? (Utah women cast the first votes in the U.S.)  The legacy is not
long in the Supreme Court, but it is a significant one.

Second, one might easily argue that religious discrimination against minority
groups has been the norm in the U.S. -- let's not forget the Mormon
persecution of passing pioneers that culminated in the Mountain Meadows
Massacre, nor the persecution of Baptists by the formerly persecuted
Congregationalists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  What religious group has
not been discriminated against?  Jews were kept out of companies during the
Gilded Age, according to William Miller, but also kept Protestants out of
their successful companies.  Catholics sought protection and then
accommodation in Maryland; Quakers, Mennonites and other pacificists were
harassed during the American Revolution and Vietnam; Jehovah's Witnesses
we've discussed already; non-Anglicans were kept from office in Virginia, but
Anglicans were oppressed in other colonies.  Presbyterians disagreed with
other Presbyterians and forced divisions; Lutherans and Methodists probably
have a few tales, too.  Moslems, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Ba'Hais --
what sect in the U.S. has not been in a minority, and has not been subject to
overt discrimination, if not discrimination by law?

This fighting against discrimination by religious groups is so much a norm
that we can't seem to stop it.  Today the Southern Baptist Convention opens
here in Dallas.  America's largest Protestant sect plans to deal with
official pronuncations of protest, using the tools invented by
almost-powerless minorities.  Policy resolutions have been proposed against
health care for homosexuals and against ordination for women.  Both of the
resolutions borrow language of oppressed monorities for their justification.

The difference between the Mormon cases and the Jehovah's Witnesses cases was
50 years of growth and wisdom.  IMHO, of course.

Have we learned better how to protect the rights of minority religions, and
the importance of doing so?  Have we the will to do it?

Ed Darrell
Duncanville, Texas

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