Imagine with me, a moment, a tribe of Native Americans. And imagine that there was a burial ground of deep significance where many of their predecessors had died, having been driven from their homes by a brutal genocide. The site is so revered that it’s considered sacred. Many members of the tribe travel there and draw spiritual strength from the lives of those that died there. They draw close to those ancestors by reverently re-enacting the experiences of those that traveled that site.
The problem is, they don’t own this land. It’s owned by the federal government. Because these Native Americans respect that holy ground, they want to make sure that others don’t desecrate it. They want to share the sacred feelings that permeate the hills. They don’t want non-native Americans to ridicule their beliefs or mock their rituals. They want to be able to tell people what is appropriate behavior on such an important site.
But it’s owned by a foreign power, controlled by outsiders.
The ACLU is, of course, taking up the fight. They’re all about protecting the rights of people, correct?
Now, let’s shift our imaginations a little. It’s not a native American tribe, but an established American church, the LDS church, my church. It’s a site where a large group of our pioneer ancestors died as they struggled to find a peaceful home in the mountain west. They had been driven from their lands in Nauvoo, Illinois by a violent mob and an extermination order signed by the governor of the state. As they crossed the prairies, they were caught by a brutal winter and many of them died at a place called Martin’s Cove. Others were saved by rescue parties sent from the Salt Lake Valley, made of other mormons that had made the journey before them.
To members of our faith, this is sacred ground. Rather than reject their beliefs in Nauvoo and find safety, they chose to stand firm to their testimonies and be driven away, eventually to die in a frigid wilderness.
This land is sacred to us as a reminder of our heritage.
But the land is owned by the government.
As a tribute to this experience, the Church negotiated a lease of this land from the federal government. A part of that lease allows the Church to regulate the behavior of visitors (mormon and non-mormon alike) at the site, to preserve the sacred feelings there.
And the ACLU is involved. But not to defend the rights of the believing, but to rail against them. The Church has no right, they claim, to tell others what to do or say on federal land. That violates the constitutional right of all to free speech. So, if someone wants to stand at the site and preach hatred of the mormons at our sacred site, they should be allowed to.
Let’s go back to the original imagined scenario. Let’s reverse the roles. What if someone were to go to a Native American sacred site and start ridiculing their beliefs, practices, and traditions. How fast do you think the ACLU would jump to defend the natives’ rights to worship in peace? Heads would be spinning as the lawyers would swarm.
But the mormons are the target du jour. The flavor of the month for the wolf pack. We’re traditional, conservative, rich, and powerful (not individually, of course, but as an organization). As much as I don’t like it personally, we also tend to vote Republican. It’s like we’ve got a “Kick Me” sign on our backsides and a target on our foreheads.
We’ll survive. “No Unhallowed hand…” and all…