I am still in Utah for a speech and I have spoken to many people here about the current presidential campaign. Many locals here have expressed dismay over the missteps of the Romney campaign. However, David Twede, 47, a scientist and managing editor of the online magazine MormonThink.com, says that his criticism of Mitt Romney has led to his being called to account — and possible excommunication — from the Church of Latter Day Saints. The fifth-generation Mormon says that Church elders demanded names of other Mormons with which he was working on the site. He says he was told “Cease and desist, Brother Twede.” The controversy has now been reported on the Washington Post, Huffington Post and a number of other sites – though primarily as a political story. From a legal standpoint, the case raises a classic conflict between free speech and free exercise that we have discussed in other areas.
I could not find any response to the allegation from the Church on the underlying factual allegations.
MormonThink.com is a site where Mormons engage in scholarly debate about the religion’s history and politics. Twede says that his bishop, “stake president” and two leading members called him to a meeting in a Florida Mormon church. He says that he was informed that he faced charges of “apostasy” for the writings on his blog. He says that he was fingered by a member of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, which includes many professors for Brigham Young University, over his blog. This case is being championed by Steve Benson, the Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist for The Arizona Republic and grandson of former secretary of agriculture and Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson. Benson left the Church in 1993 and has become a critic of the LDS.
Twede wrote an article about Romney last month titled “The God of Mitt Romney: Why Do Some Claim He’s Not Christian?” The leaders allegedly told him that they did not like to see a discussion of the church or its connection with Romney.
I have always found the LDS community to be very open to dialogue and discussion on controversial issues, including some of the recent stories related to Romney. After all, the Church has not excommunicated Harry Reid. Accordingly, I am a bit surprised by the allegations which raise very troubling questions, including the alleged role of academics at BYU who should be supportive of free speech values. While BYU is closely tied to the Church, it is viewed as the Notre Dame of the LDS — a university founded on church principles but committed to the academic enterprise. If this account is true, the intolerance of dissenting voices will only serve to marginalize the Church and its members. However, this may be an irreconcilable conflict between religious doctrine and free speech.
We have written repeatedly over the dangers of private censorship by companies and universities. Government censorship and harassment is largely deterred by the First Amendment, but the Bill of Rights does not protect people from private forms of retaliation. Yet, religious organizations are present a different question from other institutions in protecting their religious values. I have previously written how I believe free exercise rights and antidiscrimination laws are increasingly in conflict. I view the religious values as trumping such laws in many cases.
Clearly the Church as a right to enforce its religious edicts and values on all of its members. The LDS expects its members to adhere to standards of conduct in their private life and has long incorporated church members into a highly structured church organization that extend from Salt Lake City down to individual neighborhoods. That is part of its tradition and has a high degree of secrecy surrounding its rituals. Thus, LDS officials could argue that this type of feedback and corrective action is part of the Church’s tradition and faith structure. Accordingly, they could argue that, if Twede wishes to remain a Mormon, he must accept the guidance and directions of the Church. Most religious organizations have inviolate values that are the basis for good standing in the Church. It often raises difficult questions since free exercise protects the right of churches to maintain their core traditions and values. Churches are by definition bond in religious dogma and traditions. They are not generally debating clubs on core principles or practices — though some churches are more tolerant of such discussions than others. Individuals have the right to continue to speak but may have to leave such organizations if their views are inherently inconsistent with membership in the Church. While I find such threats to be intolerant and problematic from a free speech standpoint, I am not a member of the LDS and I am not sure of the extent to which LDS members pledge obedience to the church leadership on such questions. Catholic church and other churches have a history of taking measures against those who fail to adhere to church doctrine, including academics in some cases. What is intolerance to some is merely faith-based discipline to others. It is also not clear the extent to which the intervention was over the degree of discussion of internal Church matters that are viewed as inappropriate for public discussion. In my view, the greatest concern is the degree to which the action was taken as a response to the criticism of Romney which seems removed from any direct church doctrine or value. In the end, however, the church determines who may remain a member of good standing. I would hope however that one could remain a member of good standing as a Mormon and still be a critic of Romney.
What do you think?
Source: Daily Beast