It was somewhat disappointing that except for Mitt Romney, none of the Republican candidates who were asked to comment at last night’s GOP presidential debate on the recent attack on Mormonism by a Rick Perry supporter chose to give a straightforward defense of religious liberty. Of course, since Romney was the candidate whom Pastor Robert Jeffress thought evangelicals should oppose because of his faith, that didn’t do much to clear the air about this nasty episode. But those inclined to blame Perry or any other Republican for condoning, or at least not vigorously opposing this attempt to inject religious bias into politics, could read the New York Times this morning and see prejudice is alive and well in the sacred precincts of the liberal establishment’s paper of record.
Columnist Maureen Dowd chose to dip her dainty toe in the muddy waters of religious bias in a column titled, “Anne Frank, a Mormon?” The point of the piece was not to belatedly slam Jeffress’s statement but to support it, albeit in a backhand way. Her goal was to mock the Mormon faith and its practices in a manner she wouldn’t dare do if she were discussing Judaism or Islam. In highlighting Mormon religious beliefs and practices in a deprecating manner, Dowd was signaling that it was okay for the Times’ readers to harbor prejudice against Mormons, especially strong adherents of the faith like Mitt Romney, while still thinking of themselves as decent liberals.
Of course, as she admitted, it’s easy to mock any faith, and the columnist is well-known for having a negative opinion about the Catholic faith in which she was raised. But would the Times let her get away with poking fun at the skullcaps or items of clothing associated with religious Jews such as the fringed garment many Orthodox Jews wear? Would she have mocked Muslims for their burqas or head coverings? But in an era where a satire about Mormons is a Broadway hit and many liberals worry about Romney’s ability to beat President Obama next fall, right now it’s open season in the Grey Lady on Latter Day Saints.
It should be specified the Mormon practice of seeking out every name of everyone who ever lived — even the victims of the Holocaust — and posthumously baptizing them into their faith was deeply offensive to non-Mormons. To its credit, the official LDS Church finally gave it up in the 1990s, but the ill will that this ritual created still lingers.
But Dowd’s only purpose in dredging that story up now is to pour some fuel on the always-simmering fires of religious prejudice. The columnist concluded by saying that “Republicans are the ones who have made faith part of the presidential test. Now we’ll see if Mitt can pass it.” But rather than debunking Jeffress’s statement, which preached that evangelicals should reject candidates of non-Christian faiths (among which he listed Mormons, who do consider themselves Christian), the liberal Dowd doubled down on it in a piece in which she strived to back up the pastor’s claim the Mormon church is a cult.
One needn’t agree with Mormons on theology to understand their church poses no threat to other Americans. Nor do you have to be a Mormon to comprehend what Dowd is up to here is an attempt to delegitimize not only a faith but also a specific presidential candidate. It is one thing to laugh at Mormons or the eccentricities of any faith in the confines of a Broadway theatre. It is quite another to highlight the religion of a politician in such a way as to question his fitness for office.
The absence of a religious test for public office is one of the foundations of this republic. But that hasn’t stopped the Times from allowing one of their columnists to use their pages to re-light the fires of religious prejudice. That the editors of the paper consider Dowd’s anti-Mormon screed worthy of publication is nothing short of a disgrace.