The Mormon (LDS) Church is meddling in politics again this week, having sent out official church letters to church members in no fewer than four states. In those letters, the Mormon Church takes the questionable step of asking its members to vote, in effect, as a single organization. At least when it comes to certain, church-concerning issues. The purpose of the voting instructions? The Mormon Church is apparently opposed to two ballot initiatives in particular: the legalization of recreational marijuana and the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide.
While based in Utah, the Mormon Church has a membership that spans the globe, and Mormon Church leaders have apparently decided to use their religious organization’s members as political pawns, urging them to reject proposed laws that the Mormon Church has apparently deemed offensive or otherwise unpalatable.
In total, Fox 13 Now reports that the Mormon Church sent out two different letters to church members in four western states. The first addressed the proposed legalization of recreational marijuana and was signed by the top of the Mormon Church’s leadership, none other than the church’s “First Presidency,” Thomas S. Monson, Henry B. Eyring, and Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
In that letter, the Mormon Church’s leadership warns its members in Arizona, California, and Nevada of the dangers of marijuana use and speaks of the current U.S. drug “epidemic.” Members who received the letter are told of the dangers marijuana poses to the brains of children and further advised that children in homes where recreational marijuana is available could be harmed by the drug.
In closing, the Mormon Church “urges” its members to “let their voices be heard” by voting against the ballot measures that would legalize recreational marijuana in their respective states.
Earlier this year, the Mormon Church weighed in on medical marijuana use in Utah as well, reports Fox 13 Now. In that instance, the Mormon Church took two different stances on two different medical marijuana ballot initiatives, supporting one [Senate Bill 89] that allowed for the use of cannabis extract, while opposing one that allowed for “whole plant” cannabis usage [Senate Bill 73]. The Utah Senate passed SB 89, which had the support of the Mormon Church.
“While we are not in a position to evaluate specific medical claims, the Church understands that there are some individuals who may benefit from the medical use of compounds found in marijuana. For that reason, although the Church opposes SB 73, it has raised no objection to SB 89. These two competing pieces of legislation take very different approaches when it comes to issues like access, distribution, control and the potential harm of the hallucinogenic compound, THC.”
Ironically, Utah, the stronghold of the Mormon Church, is in the midst of an opioid crisis that rivals any in the United States, reports The Guardian. An opioid crisis that is costing more and more lives every year due to unintentional overdoses, and one that impacts many Mormon Church members, which make up roughly 64 percent of the state.
“The LDS church is a big part of it. I go to church every week and I see where the challenge is. They make people feel that they should be perfect and they feel inferior, like they can’t live up to the standards of what they expect them to live up to. So they start using prescription painkillers not to address pain, physical pain, but the mental issues that go along with feeling inferior. That you just cannot cope with all the things you’re expected to be and to do.”
Many believe that legalizing recreational marijuana use could help curb opioid overdoses both in Utah and around the nation, saving the lives of Mormons and non-Mormons alike. In many instances, opioid dependency begins with a legitimate prescription for painkillers, the very types of painkillers that medical marijuana often replaces.
In this week’s letters, the Mormon Church also called upon its members in Colorado to reject a proposed law that would allow for physician-assisted suicide in the state. According to the Mormon Church, “life is a gift that should be cherished even in difficult situations.” As such, the Mormon Church once again “urged” its members to vote in accordance with the desires of Mormon Church leadership in an attempt to sway the vote toward an outcome that the Mormon Church desires.
The Mormon Church has refused to comment regarding its efforts to meddle in the secular politics of multiple states outside of the letters sent out to thousands of members.
This is far from the first time that the Utah-based Mormon Church has attempted to use its religious position of power to influence secular politics in both Utah as well as other states. In recent years, the Mormon Church as seen its political stranglehold begin to slip, even within the borders of the state it calls home, losing its hard-fought battle to ban same-sex marriage outright in Utah. In fact, a federal appeals court judge in Utah ruled to allow same-sex marriage in the state before the SCOTUS’s historic 2015 ruling which recognized marriage as a human right and legalized same-sex marriage across the nation.
In the aftermath of the Mormon Church’s blistering defeat regarding same-sex marriage law, the religious group issued new guidelines for members who may have same-sex parents. According to the new rules, children of same-sex couples cannot become members of the Mormon Church until they are 1) 18 years old, and 2) disavow their parents’ lifestyle. The policy change resulted in multiple mass-resignations from the church, as well as allegations of bigotry.
The Mormon Church also famously fought against the legalization of same-sex marriage in California, as well. As Huffington Post reports, the church admitted in 2009 that it spent nearly $200,000 in “non-momentary expenditures” in California for use in opposing same-sex marriage in the state. The news that the Mormon Church had been funding the anti-LGBT marriage efforts in California came after months of denial that such a thing had been going on, and just one day before the deadline to disclose donations to the cause. Reportedly, the church had been attempting to keep its political efforts in California low-key.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put zero money in this [the passage of Prop. 8].”
Ultimately, Prop 8 passed in California, effectively outlawing same-sex marriage in the state via constitutional amendment. However, after a lengthy legal battle, Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional on February 7, 2015. That decision effectively legalized same-sex marriage in California and undermined the Mormon Church’s efforts to sway the law in that state.
What do you think? Is is appropriate for religious organizations to politicize from the pulpit (or via letter)? Should it be legal for the Mormon Church to “urge” its members to vote one way or another in an attempt to influence secular legislation in the United States?
[Featured Image by David McNew/Getty Images]