Evan Millsap is and undergraduate teaching fellow at USU.
Of the many accomplishments in Thomas Jefferson’s life, he was most proud of a bill for the establishment of religious freedom, which he wrote as a Virginia state legislator. This bill not only allowed for freedom of conscience but explicitly established the inalienable right of free exercise of religion. Or, as Jefferson’s friend James Madison put it, not just toleration, but the full freedom to practice religion. Jefferson wanted this accomplishment to be inscribed in his epitaph, “because by [this]…I wish most to be remembered.”
More than anything else, the nation’s founders treasured freedom of religion.
Surprising then, that our legislator, Edward Redd, who claims to support America’s founding principles, opposes the very religious freedom that Jefferson cherished. Redd is constantly crusading against Utah’s favorite whipping boy: polygamists.
Unfortunately, Redd and company are doing all they can to circumvent the protections the Constitution offers to societal outcasts like polygamists. They recently voted to reaffirm Utah’s clear anti-bigamy stance. Consenting adults found practicing their religion will be charged with a third-degree felony and punished with five years in prison. Five years – not for abuse or fraud, but for “religious cohabitation.”
Madison and Jefferson would be outraged. They were baptized Anglicans, yet they made it their personal cause to fight for the Baptists, a minority in the state who most people regarded as backward crackpots. John Adams fought in a similar fashion for the rights of Jews in Massachusetts.
If you stand Redd up against Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, not only does he not measure up, he stands diametrically opposed to their most sacred principle. By supporting this bill, Redd is fighting alongside men such as James Buchanan, Lilburn Boggs, and Thomas Ford, who had Joseph Smith arrested for charges of – among other things – polygamy.
The LDS Church has moved on from Smith’s polygamous roots and into the modern age. Now that we no longer practice Mormon fundamentalism, men such as Redd have decided to persecute it.
Why do Utah’s lawmakers hate polygamists? Rep. Noel, the sponsor of the bill, told the Salt Lake Tribune that one of his biggest complaints is that people often confuse them with mainstream Mormons. “The fact that individuals come up there and testify that they are FLDS Mormons insults me and bothers me. They are an apostate group and they are no part of my religion.”
There you have it. Redd, Noel, and others are violating the fundamental rights of Utahns because they’ve committed the ultimate crime: apostasy from the one true church. Our police officers, our jails, and our tax dollars will be spent to drive these religious misfits into jail, underground, or out of the state. Gov. Boggs would be proud.