Can Mormons Be Fair Judges and Jurors?

Jeff BreinholtMormon 43 Comments

The task was simple. Get a list of the area’s religions and invite them to a Cobb County Planning Commission meeting. The clerk went to the Yellow Pages and did her job, with one exception. She intentionally passed over three entries in the directory: the Muslims, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Mormons [1].

The Muslims, we might understand. The Jehovah’s Witnesses? They don’t serve in the military, salute the flag, or vote, and there is a rumor they are not supposed to serve as jurors. But the Mormons? They pride themselves on being good American citizens. Why would they be excluded from civic functions like this?

Perhaps there is an impression that Mormons do not serve effectively in secular governmental functions. Is this reasonable? Can the LDS be trusted, for example, to be fair-minded judges and jurors in secular American legal disputes?

I believe this is a legitimate question, based on the proliferation of written opinions where concerns over Mormon religious bias are raised. There seem to be an unusually large number of cases – I counted 35 cases in which it was alleged that Mormon participants as neutral observers in the legal system could not be fair. This number consisted of 19 claims that Mormon judges should be disqualified and 16 cases involving LDS prospective jurors.

The judge cases go back over 50 years and involve allegations that LDS judges could not be fair in disputes involving Fundamentalist Mormons, the Howard Hughes will, the Equal Rights Amendment, corporate disputes involving the Mormon Church, cases involving Mormon victims, and criminal prosecutions involving black people, non-Mormons, drinking and rape [2]. Most of these cases were in Utah, Idaho and Nevada.

Mormon juror cases go back to 1970, and involve concerns that Mormons are more likely to apply the death penalty and that they would biased in sex, obscenity, and Mormon-victim cases and in matters with Mormon witnesses [3].

How about religions that are commonly confused with Mormons? I did not find a single case involving the Christian Scientists. I found one case involving a Seventh-Day Adventist prospective juror, going back over 50 years ago [4].

For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I found 32 cases, all involving prospective jurors [5]. This could be expected because, as noted above, there are some who view Jehovah’s Witnesses as having a religious obligation not to serve as jurors [6]. Perhaps there are not enough Jehovah’s Witnesses who become judges for their disqualification to be sought.

Most Mormons would be chagrined at the accusation that they cannot effectively serve as judges or jurors, yet there are far more challenges to their fairness than with these other American minority religions, even the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My strong sense is that parties seek to disqualify Mormon judges on religious grounds more than they do judges from other religions, even the big ones like the Catholics.

Why do I think this? It is because those few other cases I stumbled on – involving the attempted disqualification of Jewish, Catholic and Episcopalian judges – generally cite cases in which recusal is sought of Mormons [7]. If there were other cases involving the religion in question, they presumably would have found and cited them, since it would have been more persuasive authority. The paucity of these cases forced them instead to cite the Mormon cases.

I anticipated that this inferential reasoning would not be good enough for some people, so I set out to look for the actual number cases in which parties sought to remove Catholic judges. The Catholic Church is several times larger than the LDS Church. You would expect that they had far more attempted judge disqualifications.

Guess what? After searching high and low, I could only find 12 Catholic judge disqualification cases, with the first one coming in 1990 [8]. The Mormons, it seems, have even the Catholics beat on this score.

[1] Bats v. Cobb County, GA, 495 F.Supp.2d 1311 (N.D.Ga. 2007).

[2] Musser v. Third Judicial Dist. Court of Salt Lake County, 106 Utah 373, 148 P.2d 802 (Utah 1944); Hayes v. Forman, 93 Nev. 490, 568 P.2d 579 (Nev. 1977); State of Idaho v. Freeman, 478 F.Supp. 33 (D. Id. 1979); State of Idaho v. Freeman, 507 F.Supp. 706 (D. Id. 1981); Singer v. Wadman, 745 F.2d 606 (10th Cir. 1984); Orr v. Orr,108 Idaho 874, 702 P.2d 912 (Idaho App.,1985); Winslow v. Lehr, 641 F.Supp. 1237 (D.Colo. 1986); Fuller v. Harding, 699 F.Supp. 64 (E.D.Pa. 1988); Schmidt v. Medley,935 F.2d 278 (10th Cir. 1991); Snyder v. Viani,112 Nev. 568, 916 P.2d 170 (Nev.,1996); Bakalov v. State of Utah, 4 Fed.Appx. 654 (10th Cir. 2001); In re McCarthey, 368 F.3d 1266 (10th Cir. 2004); Salt Lake Tribune Pub. Co., LLC v. AT & T Corp., 353 F.Supp.2d 1160 (D.Utah,2005);. U.S. v. Maness, 2006 WL 1663843 (D.Alaska 2006); U.S. v. Kahre, , 2007 WL 2110500 (D.Nev. 2007); Sherratt v. Friel, 2007 WL 2815314 (D.Utah,2007); Ventress v. Japan Airlines, 2008 WL 763185 (D.Hawai‘I 2008); Sherratt v. Friel, 275 Fed.Appx. 763 (10th Cir. 2008); U.S. v. Kahre, 2008 WL 5246034 (D.Nev. 2008)

[3] State v. Kay, 25 Utah 2d 43, 475 P.2d 541 (Utah 1970); Robinson v. Wolff,349 F.Supp. 514 (D.Neb.) 1972; U. S. v. Credit, 2 M.J. 631 (AFCMR 1976); State v. Lamb, 116 Ariz. 134, 568 P.2d 1032 (Ariz. 1977); Piepenburg v. Cutler, 649 F.2d 783 (10th Cir. 1981); U.S. v. Wolters, 656 F.2d 523 (9th Cir. 1981); U.S. v. Affleck, 776 F.2d 1451 (10th Cir. 1985); Paradis v. Arave, 667 F.Supp. 1361 (D.Id. 1987); Hornsby v. Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 758 P.2d 929 (Utah Ct.App.1988), Seagrave v. Gomez, 974 F.2d 1343 (9th Cir. 1992); State v. Wood, 868 P.2d 70 (Utah 1993); State v. Bowman, 124 Idaho 936, 866 P.2d 193 (Idaho App. 1993); State v. Fuller, 182 N.J. 174, 862 A.2d 1130 (N.J. 2004); People v. Proffitt, 2003 WL 21711374 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 2003); State v. Wood, 868 P.2d 70 (Utah 1993); People v. Mays, 2007 WL 2774702 (Cal.App. 6 Dist. 2007).

[4] People v. Weitz, 255 P.2d 40 (Cal.App. 3 Dist. 1953)

[5] Mathis v. State, 167 Tex.Crim. 627, 322 S.W.2d 629 (Tex.Cr.App. 1959); U.S. v. Dangler, 422 F.2d 344 (5th Cir. 1970); State v. Jackson, 317 N.C. 1, 343 S.E.2d 814 (N.C. 1986); Chambers v. State, 724 S.W.2d 440 (Tex.App.-Hous. [14 Dist.] 1987); Powell v. Bowersox, 895 F.Supp. 1298 (E.D.Mo. 1995); State v. Watkins, 114 N.J. 259, 553 A.2d 1344 (N.J. 1989); People v. Sanchez, 208 Cal.App.3d 721, 256 Cal.Rptr. 446 (Cal.App.4.Dist. 1989); People v. Tyburski, 196 Mich.App. 576, 494 N.W.2d 20 (Mich.App. 1992); People v. Hill, 3 Cal.4th 959, 13 Cal.Rptr.2d 475 (Cal. 1992); State v. Davis, 1993 WL 593 (Minn.App. 1993); State v. Davis, 504 N.W.2d 767 (Minn. 1993); Davis v. Minnesota, 511 U.S. 1115, 114 S.Ct. 2120 (1994); State v. Eason, 336 N.C. 730, 445 S.E.2d 917 (N.C. 1994); People v. Woods, 643 N.E.2d 1331 (Ill.App. 1 Dist. 1994); People v. Brown, 1996 WL 33357148 (Mich.App. 1996); Sudul v. City of Hamtramck, 221 Mich.App. 455, 562 N.W.2d 478 (Mich.App.,1997); People v. Martin, 64 Cal.App.4th 378, 75 Cal.Rptr.2d 147 (Cal.App.1.Dist.1998); State v. Tucker, 334 S.C. 1, 512 S.E.2d 99 (S.C. 1999); Hodges v. State, 856 So.2d 875 (Ala.Crim.App.,2001); People v. Cash, 28 Cal.4th 703, 122 Cal.Rptr.2d 545 (Cal. 2002); State v. Dehaney, 261 Conn. 336, 803 A.2d 267 (Conn. 2002); U.S. v. Kincade, 345 F.3d 1095 (9th Cir. 2003); State v. Wise, 359 S.C. 14, 596 S.E.2d 475 (S.C.,2004); Hodges v. State, — So.2d —-, 2007 WL 866658 (Ala.Crim.App. 2007); People v. Juarez, 2007 WL 1140468 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 2007); Castro v. State, 233 S.W.3d 46 (Tex.App.-Houston [1 Dist.] 2007); Hyde v. Branker, 2007 WL 2827411 (E.D.N.C. 2007); Persad v. Conway, 2008 WL 268812 (E.D.N.Y. 2008); People v. Schreiber, 2008 WL 1810305 (Cal.App. 3 Dist. 2008); Com. v. Dennis, 597 Pa. 159, 950 A.2d 945 (Pa. 2008); In re Pilshaw, 286 Kan. 574, 186 P.3d 708 (Kan 2008); People v. Avila, 46 Cal.4th 680, 208 P.3d 634 (Cal. 2009); Ali v. Hickman, 571 F.3d 902 (9th Cir. 2009).

[6] In re Jenison, 265 Minn. 96, 120 N.W.2d 515 (Minn.1963); State v. Everly, 150 W.Va. 423, 146 S.E.2d 705 (W.Va. 1966); Petition of Williams, 474 F.Supp. 384 (D.Ariz. 1979); U.S. v. Maskeny, 609 F.2d 183 (5th Cir. 1980); Wilson v. Georgetown County, 316 S.C. 92, 447 S.E.2d 841 (S.C. 1994)

[7] U.S. v. Fiat Motors of North America, Inc., 512 F.Supp. 247 (D.D.C. 1981); Menora v. Illinois High School Ass’n, 527 F.Supp. 632 (N.D. Ill. 1981); U.S. v. El-Gabrowny, 844 F.Supp. 955 (S.D.N.Y. 1994); Petruska v. Gannon University, 2007 WL 3072237 (W.D.Pa. 2007).

[8] Sabatier v. Suntrust Bank, Slip Copy, 2009 WL 2430892 (S.D.Fla. 2009); Paul v. D & B Tile of Hialeah, Inc., Slip Copy, 2009 WL 2430901 (S.D.Fla. 2009); Bettis v. Toys R Us, — F.Supp.2d —-, 2009 WL 2423752 (S.D.Fla. 2009); Hoatson v. New York Archdiocese, 280 Fed.Appx. 88, 2008 WL 2235607 (2nd Cir. 2008); Petruska v. Gannon University, 2007 WL 3072237 (W.D.Pa 2007); Hoatson v. New York Archdiocese, 2006 WL 3500633 (S.D.N.Y. 2006); In re Disqualification of McDonnell, 101 Ohio St.3d 1223, 803 N.E.2d 822, 2003 WL 23209396, 2003 -Ohio- 7357 (Ohio 2003); U.S. v. Arena, 180 F.3d 380, 1999 WL 365271, 52 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 908 (2nd Cir. 1999); In re Disqualification of Fuerst, 77 Ohio St.3d 1253, 674 N.E.2d 361, 1996 WL 734380 (Ohio 1996); Rizzuto v. Rematt, 273 Ill.App.3d 447, 653 N.E.2d 34, 210 Ill.Dec. 447, 1995 WL 383314 (Ill.App. 1 Dist. 1995); Feminist Women’s Health Center v. Codispoti, 69 F.3d 399, 1995 WL 649927, 95 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 8594, 95 Daily Journal D.A.R. 14,830 (9th Cir. 1995); Savage v. Trammell Crow Co., 223 Cal.App.3d 1562, 273 Cal.Rptr. 302, 1990 WL 137572 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 1990).

Comments 43

  1. So Jeff, when you say that you “believe this is a legitimate question,” it sounds like you agree there is serious doubt whether Mormons can be fair and impartial judges and jurors. You have seemed like a fairly reasonable guy up until now, so I’m guessing this is just a case of poor phrasing.

  2. The Muslims, we might understand.

    We might? You mean in the sense that we might understand that xenophobia exists even though we deplore it, or did you have some other explanation in mind?

  3. I think you guys are being a little hard on Jeff. Within context I don’t think either of those statements is particularly unreasonable.

    I think what Jeff was saying is not that he personally thinks there is a serious doubt as to whether or not mormons can serve as fair and impartial judges and jurors. I don’t think he was commenting qualitatively either way. He was saying that, based on the large number of cases where such a complaint was raised, it’s legitimate to look at the issue.

    I read his comment with respect to muslims in a similar way. I don’t think he was saying that he agrees that muslims should be excluded. Rather, I read his comment to say that it’s understandable, if not excusable, for a person to feel like muslims may not be completely partial. Although I’m not an expert on Islam, it seems that there is a pretty overt allegiance to the religion over that of secular governments (particularly western governments), similar to that of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this instance, I don’t labeling such attitudes as xenophobia is not totally apropriate, in my opinion. Certainly there are better ways of handling such concerns than simply ommitting all muslims from the process, but I don’t think any such concern is necessarily xenophobic.

    For what it’s worth, I think the question of mormon impartiality is a fair question. I think mormons, historically, have been without question an insular people. In many ways this is natural, as there was a time when this was as much a survival function as it was a cultural attitude. I think, though, that some of this mindset exists even to the present day. My whole life I’ve watched mormons make character judgments based solely on a person’s membership, activity, positions held in the church, etc. It’s not at all unreasonable to think that this might carry over into a civic setting. Obviously each person should be judged on his or her own merits, but generally speaking, I think it’s a completely fair question.

  4. Well said, BrJones. For the record, I do deplore xenophobia. I look at this as a fair question in much the same way as the discussion of whether a Mormon could be President. As long as their are doubts, it is because the LDS are not doing enough to dispel them. Same with judges/jurors. The Internet community is a good vehicle for addressing it.

  5. Comment #3 should read “it’s understandable, if not excusable, for a person to feel like muslims may not be completely IMpartial.”

  6. Very interesting. Several years back I applied for a job with our County DA’s office. When I met with the DA, he started asking a number of probing questions about my being Mormon (my mission and BYU were on my resume). He later told me he had to do that because he needed to make sure I wouldn’t use the power of the office to coerce people in any way toward my religion. I was dumbfounded by this treatment and told him: “Look, my religion is not going to adversely impact my ability to do my job fairly and impartially any more than it would for any Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Evangelical, Seventh-Day Adventist, or you name it.” He seemed to be satisfied with the answer, actually seemed to like the fact that I gently pushed back in my tone and answer.

    I ended up getting the job offer, but I didn’t take it.

  7. brjones (and Jeff),

    I was just asking. I really did want to know if Jeff had another explanation in mind. I think you’re wrong about Muslims and secular government, though. The fact that Muslims believe that Islamic law is superior to secular government is no more reason to exclude them from public life than is Mormon belief that the United States government will one day be replaced by a theocratic world government headed by Jesus Christ.

  8. About 3 years ago, I was called up for jury duty. When I was being examined by the attorneys, they asked where I went for my undergraduate work (as I am a grad student now, and they were going to call witnesses who are university professors). I told them BYU, and then, for the next 10 minutes, they tried to come as close as possible to asking something like ‘Even though you are Mormon, can you listen to a case where the defense is claiming the man died because of smoking, and not the asbestos in his work place of 40 years?’ They never explicitly mentioned my religion, but asked about my moral views, my personal feelings. Each time they used those words, there was a pregnant pause, in which it was clear to me they wanted to say ‘religious views’.

    So a question is: are lawyers even allowed to ask potential jurors what religion they are? From my experience, it seemed they wanted to but couldn’t.

    I was selected as a juror, but thankfully, they settled before the trial started, as it came about 2 months before my qualifying exam.

  9. #7 – I’m not sure that comparing the muslim view of government to that of a mormon is helpful to your position. That’s the whole point of this conversation. The point is that much of society views mormons the same way they view muslims on this issue – to whit, if it came down to it, they’d take their marching orders from religious authority over secular government authority. This is one of the big reasons that Americans are uncomfortable with a mormon as president, and again, I think it’s a fair question.

  10. I look at this as a fair question in much the same way as the discussion of whether a Mormon could be President. As long as their are doubts, it is because the LDS are not doing enough to dispel them.

    I think those doubts are reasonable, actually. Mormon belief places the authority of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints above that of the President of the United States. If a devout Mormon were the POTUS and the POTCOJCOLDS ordered him to do something, his religion would require him to do it.

    Mormons, of course, know that’s not the way things work. The Prophet doesn’t go around giving orders to politicians. Ex-Mormons and even fair-minded anti-Mormons also recognize this.

    But — and this is a big but — the Prophet could if he wanted to. He just doesn’t. So what Mormon politicians basically tell us is, “Trust us. Trust us, that’s not the way things work in the Church. The Church doesn’t give us political orders.”

    And that’s true. The Church doesn’t give Mormon politicians political orders. But has that always been true? Not exactly. The Church has been involved in government during its history. Does the Church sometimes give something approaching political orders to its members? Yes. Quite recently, in fact.

    So why wouldn’t the Church give orders to a Mormon President? “It just wouldn’t. Trust me.” Well, probably so. And probably people should believe a Mormon candidate when he says that. But that doesn’t mean the question itself is unreasonable.

  11. #10 – Good points, kuri. I’ll go you one further – how is a mormon politician now supposed to answer questions about Prop 8? Granted, most mormon politicians are probably conservatives, so it’s not going to be a big stretch for their politics to be in line with the church, but what about a politician on the national stage, who is trying to play to the middle? The church’s position on gay marriage, and gay issues generally, is nowhere close to the middle. Assuming that a politician is an active, devout mormon, that has been given the lord’s will with respect to gay marriage, is it not fair for the electorate, and the public in general, to assume that that politician will follow the counsel given by Salt Lake? I think for most politicians it’s absolutely true that, as Mitt Romney said many times, their personal adherence to church counsel does not intersect with fulfilling their civic duties in elected office. That said, politicians make many judgment calls, and their personal values and beliefs have an enormous influence on their fulfillment of public duties (I’m thinking of Bush’s telephone conversation with Jacques Chirac), so again, it’s fair to worry that what comes out of Salt Lake might find its way into public policy. Even if there are individuals who would never let this happen, and even if church leadership would never take advantage of such a situation, I certainly think it’s a fair concern.

    One more point. When Joseph Smith ran for President of the United States, he made crystal clear that his presidency would serve as a platform for spreading the gospel to the all the world. Considering the reverence accorded JS by active members, isn’t it also fair for non-members to be concerned that mormon politicians would use JS as a template in politics, as they do in so many other areas of their lives?

  12. brjones,

    I think the Mormon position is worse, actually, since Mormons are beholden to a central, unified religious authority, while Muslims aren’t. It’s thus somewhat more reasonable for a Muslim to assert his or her own understanding and conscience as the only bases for action.

  13. #10

    I don’t know that it follows that the church wouldn’t try to exercise political power through an elected official.

    1964 Delbert Stapley, then one of the twelve, wrote to MI Governor George Romney most specifically attempting to influence him. It’s a matter of Gov. Romney’s character that he was not intimidated. In other circumstances another individual might well take direction from an Authority.

  14. #13 – I think in all likelihood, no one from the church would make such overt political requests in this day and age. I think the church is far too careful with its image, etc. Your point is well taken, though, Alice, and again, none of this is geared (from my perspective) to indicate that such things WOULD happen, but rather to show that outside concerns about such things have some legitimacy, and are not simply fueled by prejudice.

  15. brjones and Alice,

    I think the concerns are much more reasonable than Church leaders would like people to believe. Again, I think the response ultimately boils down to “Trust me.” Voters should then decide on a case-by-case basis if they find a given Mormon candidate credible enough to vote for.

  16. Yes. It’s extraordinary that that letter was made public. We have no idea how many other attempts were made in Gov. Romney’s case or in the case of other officials that have not made it to the light of day or what efforts may have been made face to face.

    Let me be clear. I don’t know that other efforts were, in fact, made and I’m not suggesting that there were any. But, still, to me it’s so stunning that such a sensitive bombshell was leaked that I have to concede at least the possibility that other sensitive items have been protected in secret as we would suspect the Stapley letter was intended to.

  17. The letter is upsetting to say the least. I wonder sometimes what really happens in the upper levels. Senator Bennett (according to the SL Trib) inserted language into a bill so that illegal immigrants could serve missions in the US w/o holding the church liable. Yet Senator Reid has no problem stating he feels the church was wrong funding Prop 8.

  18. how is a mormon politician now supposed to answer questions about Prop 8?

    I think Senator Reid answered that question well recently.

  19. Do you think the Mormon’s have more influence than other affinity groups on thinking of its ‘adherence’? Creedal Christians, NRA, Gun Control, Huffington Post, atheists, environmentalists. This smacks of the idea that it is still legitimate and ‘reasonable’ to discriminate against Mormons as a group.

  20. #19 – I’m not sure I completely understand your question. I will say from my own experiences, though, that when I meet a mormon, I am much more likely to feel like I know what that person personally believes than I would be with, say, a catholic or a baptist. And I’m not talking about the particulars of their faith, as one who used to be a believing member. I dont’ think it’s unfair to say that mormons are more homogenous and orthodox, as a rule, than members of most other religions. That may have something to do with the fact that it is still a relatively small group of people, but I think it has to be acknowledged that mormon leadership makes a point of demanding a greater degree of orthodoxy, and of keeping the clamps on dissention, to a degree that most other mainstream religions do not. That being the case, I think it’s a natural extension to feel like it’s ok to treat a mormon, or mormons generally, in accordance with what you know about the mormon church. I think this is why people judge mormons individually on what comes from Salt Lake, and not so much on an individual basis. Because mormons have shown an unusual propensity to accept and adopt those declarations.

  21. brjones (20),
    You may think that you’re much more likely to know what a Mormon believes when you meet her, but you’d be wrong. Maybe in some region Mormons are more homogeneous than other religious believers, but not in much of the country and world. The congregation I attend in Chicago is far more racially and socioeconomically diverse than, for example, any law firm I have worked for or the area I grew up. And political, social, and religious views seem to run a very broad gamut. I guessed political preferences wrong a lot when I was in New York, and there were probably more Democrats than Republicans in the ward I attended in Virginia.

    That is to say, you (or anyone else) may believe, just by knowing my religion, what I believe. But you’d be wrong. And that’s what is insidious about the implication that Mormons (or Muslims or anyone else) are unfit to be fair judges or jurors by virtue of their religion.

    And kuri, while voters should definitely decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to vote for a Mormon candidate, I would hope they’d use the same case-by-case criteria for candidates who were not Mormons. And frankly, I don’t see why centralized authority suggests that Mormons like sheep would follow: Catholic politicians aren’t uniformly anti-abortion and anti-war. And Mormons don’t do everything the prophet says. I don’t see any reason to assume that the Church would have undue influence on a Mormon legislator, especially one whose constituents were largely not members of the Church.

  22. #21 – Sam, I didn’t say I was right, I said that was my inclination. I don’t think it’s entirely unfair, though. I have interacted with people of many different natioanlities and religions in my life, as I’m sure you have, and as I said, I have found a far greater homogeneity among mormons than among most other groups. That doesn’t mean ALL mormons are the same, and I never suggested that. That said, there are many things that pretty much all active mormons believe, such as tenets of the word of wisdom, the truth of proxy ordinances for the dead, the phyical nature of god and jesus, etc.. These are very unique beliefs that are not common to mainstream Christianity, per se. In fact they are, objectively speaking, relatively radical religious beliefs, but they are also common beliefs to virtually all active mormons. I think finding that kind of uniformity of belief in doctrines and practices is rare in other religions. That’s all I’m saying. Obviously judging another person for the actions or beliefs of another person or group is wrong. But I don’t think it’s unfair to say that when you meet an active mormon, you can have a better idea of what he or she believes, at least in part, than many other religious groups.

  23. Wyoming,

    Do you think the Mormon’s have more influence than other affinity groups on thinking of its ‘adherence’?

    I don’t think so. I think corporations (big business) have more influence on the political process than any other interest group. That’s no different for Mormon politicians.

  24. While I think that Mormonism promotes a type of homogenity that other religions don’t, I still like the fact that we have Harry Reid and Glenn Beck under the same “roof”.

  25. Sam,

    while voters should definitely decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to vote for a Mormon candidate, I would hope they’d use the same case-by-case criteria for candidates who were not Mormons.

    Of course.

    And frankly, I don’t see why centralized authority suggests that Mormons like sheep would follow: Catholic politicians aren’t uniformly anti-abortion and anti-war. And Mormons don’t do everything the prophet says. I don’t see any reason to assume that the Church would have undue influence on a Mormon legislator, especially one whose constituents were largely not members of the Church.

    There are two main differences between Catholic and Mormon politicians. First, “everybody knows” that American Catholic laypeople generally don’t pay much attention to certain teachings of the RCC. That’s less clear, at least in terms of being conventional wisdom, in the case of Mormons. Second, because the LDS Church has a mostly lay priesthood, Mormon politicians are often rather more like clergymen running for office than like ordinary members of a church. If a Catholic priest, for example, were to run for President, I don’t think it would be bigoted to ask him what influence the RCC would have on his policies. So I don’t think it’s bigoted to ask a Mormon Bishop or Stake President, for example, what influence the LDS Church would have on his policies either.

  26. kuri,
    Everybody may know that Roman Catholic laypeople don’t pay attention to the Vatican, but, in my experience, everybody is wrong. I worked at a firm with Mario Cuomo, and had the change to hear him speak a number of times. He says (and I see no reason to doubt him) that he is a devout Catholic, and has gone into great detail about how he justifies his pro-choice political stand, notwithstanding the Church’s (and presumably his own) opposition to abortion. Moreover, there’s that one Bishop who, every four years, tries to tell Catholic voters that pro-choice Catholic politicians should be excommunicated. I take your point that there appear to be a larger number of Catholics that are, let’s say, less worried about Vatican statements, but there are a fair number who are.

    And, while there is some truth to the idea that a Mormon politician is potentially clergy, I don’t see how that would be different from being in a lay Catholic society or the group leader of an Evangelical youth group (assuming it’s an unpaid group leader).

    And brjones, of course members of the Church have certain beliefs in common. But so do participating members of almost any organization. Federalist Society members are relatively homogeneous when it comes to beliefs on the proper size and role of government. Surfers are pretty homogeneous about what the best use of a person’s time and resources is, especially when there are waves. Chicagoans are largely dedicated to the ideals of deep-dish pizza, while New Yorkers are thin-crust people. So of course Mormons’ religious views will be relatively homogeneous (and, sadly, racially we’re not as diverse as we should be). But politically, musically, artistically, professionally, and in every other way, I don’t see homogeneity, and I don’t see why homogeneity would be a logical conclusion of a share religious background.

  27. #27 – With all due respect, Sam B., if you don’t see political homogeneity in the mormon church, you’re not looking. Obviously that doesn’t apply to everyone, and variations will occur largely correlating with geographic setting. That said, the largest groups of mormons are in the western united states and south and central america, and the overwhelmingly dominant policital leaning among those members of the church is conservative. I’m not saying there aren’t variations, but I do think the generalization is true. When you add to that the political stances the church has taken over the years with respect to women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, etc., I think it’s unbelievably naive to say that that has not had an effect on the politics of members of the church. I do think that effect is diminishing with younger generations, but I think if you’re going to argue that mormons are, as a rule, politically diverse, I think that’s just not the case. I think the opposite is true. There is a reason that Utah is far and away the most conservative state in the nation, and those numbers aren’t driven by non-mormons.

    I also think it’s a fair distinction to make regarding preconceived notions of mormons versus other religions. For example, if you meet someone who is an active member, you can know right off the bat that they probably don’t drink, they probably don’t smoke, drink coffee, would frown upon premarital sex (regardless of the age), would not want to work on Sunday, would be offended by profanity, etc. Obviously any one of these things could very well be untrue with any given member, but as a rule, I think they are fair assumptions. I think some of these things have practical implications that are fair to consider. For example, if I’m an employer and my interviewee has a mormon mission on his or her resume, I think it is absolutely fair for me to be concerned that they will refuse to work on Sunday. I find it difficult to find a lot of correlations that are so obvious in other religions.

  28. I think there’s a range of LDS attitude. To some extent, and certainly in my age group, I know I’m a proof of it ’cause I sure don’t resemble the rest of my ward. I have no doubt they’d let me know it too if I ever shared my feelings with them freely.

    That said, if I were gay and I had to appear before a US court, I would not feel very sanguine about it if the judge or any jury members were known to be LDS. Altho my own beliefs should reassure me, the practical fact of what the LDS temperament and the specific and aggressive teachings of the church are would make me sweat bullets.

    And it would be hard to believe anyone who said they’d feel good in the same hypothetical circumstances.

  29. “It’s a matter of Gov. Romney’s character that he was not intimidated. In other circumstances another individual might well take direction from an Authority.” This is true of every political candidate – will they allow their personal affiliations to dictate their actions or will they either 1) follow their own conscience and judgment or 2) follow the will of the people who elected them. It is unconscionable that an individual elected to public office would not do either 1 or 2 (there’s a lot of political debate between public servants as to which of the two is the right course for an elected official). However, Mormons are no more or less susceptible to the character flaw of bending to pressure from their affiliations than any other group. Politicians often kowtow to special interests or large campaign donors’ interests. That’s equally repugnant and reflects poorly on their character. The issue is not what Mormons would do, but what an individual candidate would do. End of story.

    To assume that all Mormons would behave in a specific way is to misunderstand human nature. It is discriminatory, plain and simple. But voters are allowed to practice discrimination, and they do it all the time. There’s no way to stop them. People often vote for a candidate with whom they identify or against one they mistrust, and trust is often no more than familiarity.

    alice – to your scenario, I say bunk – because there is a cross-examination. Mormonism is not the only thing one knows about a juror. For example, how would you feel if the Mormon was a mother of a gay son who welcomed him and supported him openly? How would you feel if the Mormon was someone who self-identified as having SSA? How would you feel if the Mormon credibly stated a belief that gay people should be treated equally with no discrimination.

    Some Mormons seem to apply a different set of standards to fellow members than they do to the world at large. IOW, a Mormon might be more judgmental of someone who had accepted church teachings but then left it behind. That’s again probably an example of identification bias. Judging more harshly when the person has rejected something you value. Just personal observation, but I think most Mormons realize that non-Mormons can be good people who don’t live the standards of the church, and they would not think any less of them for it: premarital sex, being gay, drinking, smoking, etc. These are uniquely Mormon lifestyle choices that are not the norm for non-Mormons, so the standards for non-Mormons are different from a Mormon perspective.

  30. #30


    As I said, I’m one of those Mormons who might be sitting on a jury with the same sympathetic attitude toward a gay litigant or petitioner that I’d have for a straight one. But, the odds being what they are, I wouldn’t bet on it. You might be different but if you were, I bet we’d both have to conclude that it was beating the odds.

    And as for Gov. Romney, I hope I gave him and his character their due. I really admire what he did!

    As you say, as citizens I’m sure we’re all hoping any candidate has the integrity he showed. OTOH, we can only speculate about how many Mormons, receiving a letter on the stationery of the church, letterhead of the twelve would have the strength not to second guess their own consciences.

  31. alice – well, beating the odds or not, I’d be inclined to ask a lot more questions than religious affiliation if I felt attitudes toward homosexuals were a factor in a case. I think it’s just as likely to say someone will be a homophobe who has lived his/her entire life in a small town. Or is an evangelical. Or is from a macho culture.

  32. Fair enough. But then I’m not sure small towns, etc. is what this entry was about. Anyone can have any position on any given topic. But if the topic is homosexuality and a reaction to it, it isn’t statistically reasonable to count on the average Mormon having an open mind.

    I respect your positions generally, hawkgrrrl, but again all I can do is shrug. We are talking about a community of people who just got thinly veiled permission from a ranking official to abandon their own children in response to perceived immorality.

  33. BTW, I really do respect your well considered and well articulated opinions, hawkgrrrl. And I’ve made my point so I won’t argue it further. I invite you and others to have the final word.

  34. Sam,

    And, while there is some truth to the idea that a Mormon politician is potentially clergy, I don’t see how that would be different from being in a lay Catholic society or the group leader of an Evangelical youth group (assuming it’s an unpaid group leader).

    I don’t think asking how any of those things would influence a presidential candidate would necessarily be inappropriate. I think the inappropriateness — or even bigotry — comes when we assume we know the answer without even asking.

  35. Would an environmentalist decide fairly in a natural resource case or policy? Would a liberal democrat treat big business equitably? I think environmentalism is a religion that produces predictable policy leanings. Would it makes sense to select a juror based on their preference of Glenn Beck vs. MSNBC?

    I have also lived different places and experienced prevalent thought affinity groups. It still seems like Mormonism disqualifies us from objectivity and good judgement more than other affinity choices.

  36. “These are uniquely Mormon lifestyle choices that are not the norm for non-Mormons, so the standards for non-Mormons are different from a Mormon perspective.”

    I think to assume that most members of the church really understand this is a somewhat naïve view, with respect to members of the church generally. Hawk, your understanding of the gospel is obviously deep and nuanced, but the church does not really focus on nuance, and I think most members don’t pursue it. I agree with you that the WoW, for example, is an internal behavioral standard for members only, but I’ve seen and heard countless members in my life click their tongues and judge non-members for saying and doing things that aren’t in line with the revealed word of god – smoking, drinking coffee, etc. I think there are not many religions or other groups in the world that accept, literally, that there is another human being who, when he tells them to do something, it’s exactly the same as god telling them himself. This is very unique, and raises concerns that don’t apply to other groups. This is why environmental or other political considerations are bad comparisons. When dealing with political or other considerations, a person ultimately only answers to him or herself. For mormons, there is another person, or group of persons, to whom they accept that they are accountable. I just don’t think there are many analogous groups out there, including other religions.

  37. Most of these cases were in Utah, Idaho and Nevada.

    Bingo! There’s a very important element missing from this post (which overall I like a great deal; thanks): context. The key difference between the other religions used for comparison purposes and the Mormons is not numbers, as you first hypothesize, but that Muslims, JWs, Catholics, etc. do not have a culture region named after them. The Mormon/non-Mormon dynamic in the Mormon Corridor remains a powerful divide, which in my mind explains why so many Mormons have been disqualified in these cases. If you take the Mormon out of the culture region, you don’t have those in-group/out-group tensions, which is why there are so few cases outside the UT, ID, NV area. I recommend you take a look at Kathleen Flake’s essay in Religion and Public Life in the Mountain West, edited by Jan Shipps and Mark Silk, which deals to some degree with the tensions between Mormons and non-Mormons.

  38. Kuri: “I think the inappropriateness — or even bigotry — comes when we assume we know the answer without even asking.” Very well said. That’s my point really, but you said it much better.

    BrJones: “I think to assume that most members of the church really understand this is a somewhat naïve view, with respect to members of the church generally. Hawk, your understanding of the gospel is obviously deep and nuanced, but the church does not really focus on nuance, and I think most members don’t pursue it.” The majority of my formative experience with members’ attitudes toward non-members is from far outside the Mormon corridor. When Mormons are in the minority, there is no tongue-clicking or holier-than-thouing about things that are accepted as the norm by 99% of your neighbors. On the contrary, I have found that many members are almost apologetic to others about our unique standards, making it clear that they don’t judge others over these things. I think David G. makes an excellent point that these cases were mostly in the Mormon corridor where that is apparently not the case. I think the point about in-groups & out-groups is very valid.

  39. #39 – I definitely agree about the importance of geography. I guess my response to that would be to reiterate that because the majority of mormons live in the western United States and south and central america, I think some degree of generalization is still valid. The fact that the vast minority of members who live outside of that area are more integrated or self-aware doesn’t disprove the generalization. Obviously there are exceptions to any rule, and I think there may be many exceptions. That said, where do the majority of high-profile mormons hail from? Why, the mormon corridor, of course. So in most instances, I think we’re right back to talking about “Utah Mormons.”

  40. To make a decision about a juror or a judge based on their religion—NO MATTER WHAT THE RELIGION IS—-is an affront to the First Amendment of the Constitution. That type of religious discrimination has no place in a free country

  41. #41 – Peggy, if you’re talking about the government, in some capacity, making such a decision, then I would agree with you. Otherwise, you are incorrect (in most instances) that the constitution is implicated. Furthermore, I disagree that it has no place in a free country. Freedom runs both ways. It allows people to espouse whatever religious beliefs and activities they choose, but it also allows others to react and respond to those beliefs and activities in an appropriate way. Nothing in the constitution, or even in a religious-based conceptualization of freedom, guarantees the right to believe and do as one pleases without consequence. Obviously there are bounds within which such responses should be confined. In general, though, I disagree with the notion that people shouldn’t be making judgments about people based on their religion. Every person makes judgments about other people every day. We form judgments based on the way people dress, the things they say and the beliefs they hold. It is not inappropriate, in my opinion, to include religious beliefs and activities in that criteria. How many of us can honestly say that we would not form some kind of judgment of a parent who belongs to a religion that teaches you should let your child die rather than seek secular medical help? We would be negligent not to consider such factors. Again, there are legal bounds in some situations placed on the ways that we can respond to such factors in this country, but I disagree with the general idea that it’s wrong to judge someone, at least in part, based on their religion.

  42. Even the Catholics beat.. Hmm. I’m Catholic, and you’ve got me curious: what were the cases Catholics were disqualified on? You should note that while Mormons only have BYU as a big nationally known first rank law school, that there are many first rank Catholic law schools – Georgetown, Fordham, BC, Villanova, Notre Dame, etc. There are over a dozen Catholic schools on this list, for example: .

    Not only that, but there about 70 Million Catholics against 6 million Mormons in the U.S. 22% vs. 2% of the US populace, in other words. No idea as to the number of judges from each church, but it’s probably proportional. We have 5 Supreme Court Justices, anyway, which is disproportionate. I know you probably think Catholics weird and exotic and Catholic faith bizarre, or something, but in large swathes of the country, we are predominate. Not only that, but unlike what I suspect is a somewhat more uniform Mormon community Catholics pretty much run the gamut as far as political views and ideology is concerned. Even if you were dealing with abortion or a case dealing with the Church herself, directly, there’s no telling what a Catholic judge would rule these days. This isn’t early 20th Century Boston or NYC where the bishop’s word is law to the faithful, anymore. The Supreme court record on abortion and the sex abuse scandal I think have pretty much conclusively established that.

    Anyway, you have me intrigued as to why any Catholic judge would be removed for religious affiliation..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *