The full motivation is unclear for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Church) Public Affairs branch lobbying hard for the passage of HB 116 and/or Presiding Bishop H. David Burton’s attendance at the bill signing. It could be extortion from Mexico as I have been informed the Church is concerned about property ownership and taxes in Mexico. In addition, there were open attempts made to hold up or stop visas for LDS missionaries. It may also be a combination of the extortion and the apparent fact that the Church has a burgeoning illegal immigrant membership (update: see also this study on the church and illegal immigration).
The debate is vital to Utah’s Latino population, many of whom are LDS. [Tony] Yapias and others estimate that 50 percent to 75 percent of members in Utah’s 100-plus Spanish-speaking congregations are undocumented. That includes many bishops, branch presidents, even stake presidents. The church sends missionaries among undocumented immigrants across the country, baptizing many of them without asking about their status. It also allows them to go to the church’s temples and on missions.
Neither is a good excuse for supporting terribly flawed legislation which effectively terminates the Church’s 150 year stance in support of the US Constitution and “…obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
The statistics cited above, if true, also brings up a significant moral issue. Illegal immigrant Mormon members have not only broken US immigration law but have also committed identity theft, engaged in document fraud, and perjury for their jobs all of which are felonies with victims (often children – see here and here or here for all documentation/background). However, it looks like it will twist Church principles into a pretzel: Members can’t drink tea/coffee if they want to be eligible to go to the LDS Temple…will that rule now be rescinded along with other, perceptively less serious crimes/infractions as reasons for temple denial?
One answer will be that the law is unfair. However, how can one argue the inverse (can’t drink tea etc) when there is no other victim and there have been demonstrable health benefits. Continuing with the current policy would seem to lead to the Church having to come up with a laundry list of acceptable and unacceptable violations (moral and legal) for temple attendance as members wonder what exactly the extent of “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” is. Not doing so would make the permission process seem arbitrary and capricious. Who knows what the long-term impact will be, however.
At this time church leaders (President and his two advisers) have taken no position on the bill. One thing is clear, the Church’s Public Affairs branch looks like the epitome of deception and cowardice. From the article [emphasis added]:
Burton’s presence was an extraordinarily public endorsement for the LDS Church, which typically prefers to work in the background….
…And that surprised many who have been told repeatedly by the church’s spokesmen that it had no position and that its lobbyists,
Bill Evans and John Taylor, were on Capitol Hill solely to answer questions.
Public Affairs is certainly deceptive to veil itself in “neutrality” all the while doing the exact opposite in the elite back rooms. As stated in the article, it doesn’t take sitting for hours in Senate offices to prove your neutrality (if that didn’t belie their stance, I don’t know what would). Public affairs also supported deceptive legislation. HB116 was developed out of public view (in back rooms) as SB288 and then placed in HB116 in an attempt to ensure a vote on concurring with the amendments rather than a full debate on the bill. HB 116 passed during an abnormally late session late at night with little debate…coincidentally on the same night (and means) as the heavily decried HB477.
It certainly takes no courage to hide in the exclusive areas in the House and Senate with the elite lobbyists out of public view during debate. Why that practice is allowed in the first place baffles me but that’s for another day.
Finally, yet again, plenty have mentioned compassion for illegal immigrants but entirely ignored the victims of their identity theft. The Church has been, thus far, silent on these victims (many of whom are members) as well.
Exit questions to ponder: How would an admitted US citizen ID thief vs an illegal immigrant ID thief fare in admittance to a temple? Has the Church policy regarding the US Constitution and sustaining the law changed?
UPDATE (3/22): A few days ago, LDS Church Public Affairs issued a statement seemingly trying to distance itself from its role in HB116. However, for those who were present during the vote, and according to legislators (I’ve been asked not to reveal their names at this time) there is no question that the Church’s aforementioned lobbyists were heavily involved and explicitly lobbying legislators to support that specific bill.
UPDATE 2 (3/22): When lobbying legislators, Public Affairs lobbyists also provided a copy of the Deseret News editorial entitled “A model for the nation” (which includes a call for work permits for illegal immigrants) when pressing legislators to vote for HB116.
NOTE: I have the following only from one source at this time and would like to confirm it: An attendee to the March 19th Utah County Republican Central Committee meeting reports that Senator Madsen openly stated that the LDS Church had a greater role is passing HB 116 than did the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and was clearly pressuring legislators who they perceived could switch their votes.
If anyone else was in attendance, please contact me to confirm this (I prefer more than a single source).
Edit: The above note has since been confirmed.