In November 1845, an Illinois man offered a challenge to his neighbors: the first person to kill a Mormon would be rewarded with a gallon of whiskey. Taking this man up on his offer, a group of ill-reputes sought out their prey. They chose Morley’s Settlement as their stalking ground, an area just south of the Mormon stronghold of Nauvoo, Illinois.
An angry mob had burned Morley’s Settlement to the ground earlier that year, but Mormons continued to tend the crops they had planted there during more hopeful days. My fourth great-grandfather, Edmund Durfee, was one of those farmers. On November 15, he went down to harvest one last bushel of grain before the winter set in.
As Durfee and his fellows worked the field, they noticed in the distance that a wagon full of hay had caught fire. They rushed to the scene to douse the flames—and with that, the gang of thugs had these Mormon farmers right where they wanted them. They emerged from their hiding spaces and opened fire on the unarmed men, killing Durfee and earning their gallon of whiskey.
There are hundreds of similar stories of persecution against early Mormons in America, many far more brutal and heinous than this one. This unique history of oppression has imbued modern-day Mormons with a deep conviction that individuals should be free to worship how, where, and what they may. This commitment to religious liberty is not feigned or imagined; it is ingrained in our DNA.
So it should come as little surprise that most Mormons were deeply troubled when Donald Trump proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States. We know what it is like to be singled out by the government for “special treatment.” Once you give the government power to treat people differently based on their religion, it’s only a matter of time until that power is turned around and used on you. This is one of the many reasons Trump has had such difficulty attracting Mormon support, an issue The Donald himself acknowledges.
Stop Pretending Mormons Have a Hidden Agenda
But over the weekend, former representative Tom Tancredo and his friends at Breitbart claimed that Mormon concerns over religious liberty are all a smokescreen to hide the real reason many Mormons don’t like Trump. He wrote:
According to the mainstream media, Trump’s call for ‘extreme vetting’ of Muslim immigrants in his foreign policy speech kicked open a hornets’ nest of Mormon concerns about ‘religious tolerance.’
The truth is more simple, as is often the case in politics, and it has nothing to do with religious freedom as practiced by Americans under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
It is an open secret in Washington, D.C. that the Mormon church supports open borders and lax enforcement of immigration laws. Many Mormon politicians have been supporting amnesty and open borders for decades.
Tancredo would have you believe that Never Trump Mormons aren’t concerned at all for religious liberty. Rather, our opposition to Trump stems from our secret marching orders from Salt Lake City to support open borders.
To make this point, Tancredo first went to work redefining Trump’s position on Muslim immigration. He repeatedly states Trump only wants to ban “likely terrorists” from entering the United States, not all Muslims. “No,” he declares, “barring jihadists is not religious persecution.”
By redefining Trump’s position on Muslim immigration, Tancredo seeks to show that Trump is not actually targeting an entire religious group; he’s only targeting terrorists. Since Trump is targeting people based on their support for terrorism and not their religion, the reasoning goes, Mormon opposition to Trump can’t possibly be about religious liberty.
Of course, no reasonable person would oppose preventing Muslim terrorists and extremists from entering our borders. But this misrepresents Trump’s actual position. Last December, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” This is far more expansive than simply targeting “likely terrorists” (unless Trump thinks all Muslims are likely terrorists). Trump insists his ban will be temporary—presumably until his “extreme vetting” can be implemented—although he has given no indication of how long it would be in place.
When a presidential candidate proposes using the power of the federal government to target an entire religious group for special treatment, First Amendment advocates everywhere and of every creed should be concerned. To dismiss these concerns as tacit support for jihadists is dishonest.
The Mormon Church Actually Respects the Law
But what of Tancredo’s claims that the Mormon Church supports open borders? Here, again, the Breitbart article gets it all wrong. Tancredo need only google “Mormon Church immigration” to find the church’s official position on illegal immigration. It begins:
Most Americans agree that the federal government of the United States should secure its borders and sharply reduce or eliminate the flow of undocumented immigrants. Unchecked and unregulated, such a flow may destabilize society and ultimately become unsustainable.
As a matter of policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its members from entering any country without legal documentation, and from deliberately overstaying legal travel visas.
This statement is difficult to square with Tancredo’s claims that the Mormon Church supports open borders. To be clear, most Mormons are not exactly hardliners on immigration. Polling shows Mormons are more likely than the general public to view immigration as a positive thing.
The church’s official position calls for a middle-ground approach that, in addition to securing the border, offers legal status for undocumented immigrants without necessarily offering them a pathway to citizenship. Mindful of our own past as refugees, the church has also recently increased its efforts to welcome and assist refugees from war-torn regions.
But while church leadership might not be as hardline on immigration as Tancredo is, it is incredibly disingenuous to claim they are advocating for open borders. Furthermore, if keeping the flow of illegal immigration going was such a big priority for Mormon voters, John Kasich would have won the Utah caucus earlier this year, not border hawk Ted Cruz.
I don’t blame Tancredo and his friends at Breitbart for misrepresenting the reasons many Mormons oppose Trump. It’s far easier for them to paint Mormons as amnesty-loving liberals than it is to honestly ask themselves why Trump is struggling with the most reliably Republican demographic in America. The truth is, there are dozens of legitimate reasons many Mormons are repulsed by Trump, and his threats towards religious tolerance are merely one.
Tancredo’s article shows that Trump supporters have little interest in winning over disaffected Mormon voters. Perhaps they know a lost cause when they see one.