Civil rights and religious leaders speak out
Declaring “no mob veto,” a full-page ad in the New York Times on Friday denounced the “violence and intimidation” directed at members of the LDS Church who supported California’s ban on gay marriage.
“When thugs … terrorize any place of worship, especially those of a religious minority, responsible voices need to speak clearly: Religious wars are wrong; they are also dangerous,” reads the advertisement paid for by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, based in Washington, D.C.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has come under fire from gay rights activists across the country since coming out in support of California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state’s constitution that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
In a statement Friday, church officials expressed gratitude to the dozen civil rights and religious leaders, ranging from Catholic to evangelical Christian to Orthodox Jew, who attached their names to the advertisement.
“This was a thoughtful and generous gesture at a time when the right of free expression of people of faith has come under attack,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve, in a statement. “We join with those of all religious faiths and political persuasions who have called for reasoned and civil discourse on matters that affect our nation.”
The Human Rights Campaign, however, decried the ad, calling it “corporate hypocrisy.”
“Calls for tolerance of certain religious viewpoints rings hollow in a world where religion often stands by tolerating violence perpetrated on God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children,” said Rev. Erin Swenson, a Presbyterian minister who sits on the HRC’s Religion Council.
Scott Walter, executive director of the Becket Fund, insists his nonpartisan, interfaith group is not taking a stand on same-sex marriage.
“We’re only about religious liberty,” he said. “When houses of worship are being attacked, we’re concerned. We’re against violence against anyone.”
Matthew Holland, a political science professor at Brigham Young University, said he sees an unprecedented show of support for the LDS Church from a wide spectrum of coalitions, affinities, associations and even some unexpected groups.
“The fact that they are willing to step forward and, in such a prominent way, be so supportive is something that we haven’t really seen before,” Holland said Friday night.
Many of the individuals who signed the ad are prominent national and international figures, Holland said, including Richard Cizik, vice president for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals; Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights; Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Michigan; and Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement.
Holland said he finds it significant that high-profile members of conservative Evangelical groups supported the ad because of divisive sentiments that emerged during LDS Church-member Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign.
“These very prominent leaders from the Evangelical right are now stepping up to give voice and solidarity to the church,” he said.
In recent weeks, national bloggers have called for boycotts of businesses owned by LDS members, but Becket Fund officials said lines were crossed when LDS churches were vandalized and envelopes containing white powders were sent to temples in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.