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February 07, 2012 09:35 PM UTC

Romney Quotes Mormon Founder at Centennial Rally

  • by: eestidaisy

While campaigning in Colorado yesterday, Mitt Romney invoked his own religious heritage in chiding President Obama’s alleged attack on the First Amendment. As reported by NPR this morning, Romney attacked an Obama-backed decision by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to require religiously-based health providers to include contraception in their health insurance packages. What NPR did not report is that Romney channeled the words of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, to argue against this decision.

According to Romney, the Obama Administration’s decision to require religious organizations to cover the cost of  “contraceptives, morning-after pills – in other words, abortive pills,” would force people of faith to violate their own reckoning of good versus bad. Romney argued:

Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president who is willing to protect America’s first right – a right to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. (Emphasis added.)

This last phrase would have chimed in the heads of those who grew up in the Mormon faith, who at an early age had to memorize the Mormon church’s thirteen Articles of Faith, written by Smith to familiarize non-Mormons of essential Mormon beliefs. Article 11 reads:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. (Emphasis added.)

While other American historical figures (e.g., William Bradford, George Washington) have used near identical language, it is doubtful Romney was quoting these gentlemen given the ubiquity of the phrase “dictates of our own conscience” in Mormon culture.

Aside from highlighting the fact that Romney’s position disregards women’s health and notions of reproductive justice, why do I bring this up? No reason in particular, except to point out that the crowd cheered Romney after he made that statement. Little did yesterday’s crowd know that they were cheering the words of Joseph Smith.

But, for those of you with less political but more philosophical interests, it is interesting to note that Smith wrote the 11th Article of Faith shortly after Mormons began the practice of polygamy. With this statement Smith was attempting to defend the practice by appealing to what was then a new notion of liberty for the time: the Harm Principle, as espoused by the young English liberal John Stuart Mill. Simply, Smith’s message to his non-Mormon neighbors was “you leave us free to pursue our notion of the good life (polygamy) and we will leave you free to do the same,” so long as neither party causes physical or moral harm to the other.

Mill eventually agreed with Smith. In his treatise On Liberty, Mill defended Mormons’ right to practice polygamy:

[I]t is difficult to see on what principles but those of tyranny [Mormons] can be prevented from living [in a remote corner of the earth] under what laws they please, provided they commit no aggression on other nations, and allow perfect freedom of departure to those who are dissatisfied with their ways.

There are many good reasons to disagree with Mill here, reasons that I’ll leave aside for now. But the Harm Principle now resides as the cornerstone of modern libertarianism. Do modern-day libertarians still agree with Mill’s position on polygamy?  


7 thoughts on “Romney Quotes Mormon Founder at Centennial Rally

  1. Of all the possibly controversial things one might quote from Joseph Smith, I think we can all agree that this one is fairly innocuous.  So what is your point?  To intimate that Romney is trying to infest America with the evils of Mormonism?  To try to take a strained, at best, attempt to drudge up the more publicly questionable aspects of Mormonism (i.e. polygamy)?  

    Heaven forbid that a crowd cheer with a statement containing a partial quote from Joseph Smith relating to an entirely different matter!  They must all be religiously polluted and brainwashed now!  How scary…

    1. jmatt12, I am implying nothing between the lines in my post, which implications you seem defensively eager to find. I was merely making an observation. Nowhere do I protest his usage of Smith’s words. Why do you think that? The passage quoted by Romney is indeed innocuous, at the least, and well stated at best. I do not find irony that the crowd cheered at those words, I only observe that they did. I’m not trying to be shocking. I believe that most Mormons would be excited to know that Romney quoted Smith to the cheers of many.

      1. But I am one of those that thinks the government should get out of the marriage business entirely.  Instead of fighting over what should be recognized as a proper marriage or not, how about we just make it so that all people who want to take advantage of the inheritance privileges and other benefits available to be able to do a civil union?  Then you can get married at the church or organization of your choice, and live the way you want.  You want five civil unions with five women of consenting age, go ahead.  If a woman wants to have 5 unions with 5 guys, or 3 guys and 2 women.  Who cares?

        So in that regard, I agree with Mill.  Its rare, but it does happen.

        1. I think it’s a win-win. Let each religious institutions define marriage for themselves. Let the government have the same standard for everyone — gay, straight, bi, whatever. Get the government out of the domain of religion altogether. I would gladly swap my 26 year straight marriage for a civil union if it meant my gay and lesbian friends could have what I have.

    2. There was nothing wrong with the reference nor the content of the reference. Religious liberty is something Democrats and Republicans can all embrace equally.

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