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The Cult of Anti-Mormonism Hannah Smith, Becket Fund Senior Legal Counsel, quoted in the Wall Street Journal on the importance of freedom of religion in the political process.

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The Cult of Anti-Mormonism

The faith of Romney and Huntsman is a target of liberals and conservatives.

By William McGurn

Here’s some advice for Republican candidates appearing at Tuesday’s presidential debate at Dartmouth College. When you are asked, as you will be asked, what you make of the Christian pastor who called the Mormon faith a “cult,” there’s only one appropriate answer.

It comes from the last sentence of Article VI of the Constitution, and it reads as follows: “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

The Mormon issue arose Friday, when a Dallas pastor introduced Texas Gov. Rick Perry to a gathering of social conservatives in Washington. Shortly thereafter the same pastor, Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church, told a group of reporters that Mormonism was a “cult” and definitely “not Christian”—a not so veiled reference to the GOP front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Since then, the press has had a field day trying to get the other Republican candidates on record whether they share Mr. Jeffress’s theological understanding.

This is not the first time Mr. Romney has seen his faith become an issue in a GOP presidential contest. In December 2007, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, the New York Times ran a story quoting Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, as asking, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Mr. Huckabee went on to beat Mr. Romney in those caucuses, and some say Mr. Romney’s Mormonism cost him among the evangelicals who flocked to Mr. Huckabee.

This time around, Republicans have not one but two presidential candidates from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The other, of course, is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Still, public allusions to the Mormon faith remain sensitive, as the media attention generated by the cult remark indicates.

Partly this has to do with white evangelicals, who are an important bloc in the Republican coalition. Thus many stories on the issue of Mr. Romney’s Mormonism invoke a striking May survey from the Pew Research Center. According to this survey, 34% of white evangelicals report themselves “less likely” to vote for a Mormon for president.

That’s fair enough as far as it goes. The same Pew survey, however, shows something much less reported. This is that, overall, more Democrats than Republicans are hostile to a Mormon candidacy (31% to 23%). More interesting still is Pew’s finding that when it comes to this particular animus, “liberal Democrats stand out, with 41% saying they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate.

As disappointing as these attitudes might be, far more alarming for Mormons are the attacks on Mormon property and Mormon livelihoods just three years ago that registered barely a peep among the same media now so obsessed with Mr. Jeffress. These attacks happened during the 2008 campaign in California over Proposition 8, a state referendum to ban same-sex marriage. When opponents of the measure found that Mormons had contributed heavily to its passage, ugly attacks followed.

LDS temples in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City received envelopes filled with white powder, provoking an anthrax scare. A Book of Mormon was burned outside an LDS chapel in Denver. Other Mormon chapels were vandalized.

Individuals fared even worse. The head of the Los Angeles Film Festival was forced to resign after his contribution was made public. Ditto for a fellow Mormon who ran the California Musical Theater. A former gold medalist who served as U.S. chef de mission for the 2012 Olympic Games in London likewise stepped down. A 67-year-old woman who had donated just $100 stopped working at the restaurant her mother owned to spare it further protest.

Hannah Smith of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty puts it this way: “At the heart of the First Amendment is the freedom to participate in the political process regardless of faith,” she says. “When people of any faith face retribution—either through violence or intimidation or loss of their livelihood—as a direct result of that participation, America has lost something.

So it’s good to see Republican feet now being held to the fire on an issue the Founders resolved in 1787. Even more encouraging would be a press willing to give attention to very real concern among politically active Mormons: whether a Romney nomination would mean LDS members staying on the sidelines out of fear of the kind of attacks on their property and their livelihoods that their co-religionists experienced with California’s Proposition 8 and its aftermath.

So amid all the coverage given to Pastor Robert Jeffress, ask yourself this question. If you were a Mormon, which would you consider the real threat to your liberty: what some Dallas Baptist says about your faith—or organized attacks intended to intimidate and drive you off the public square?

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