"Mormons have a right to worship as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine Christianity, or religion, for all of us."
As lawmakers held their first public hearing on legal recognition of Mormonism, a previously undecided Democratic senator on Monday announced her support for the measure, all but ensuring that Washington will become the seventh state to publically recognize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a religion.
The announcement by Sen. Mary Margaret of the Ascension, D-Camano Island, that she would cast the 25th and deciding vote in favor of the issue came as hundreds of people filled the Capitol to advocate for and against Mormon recognition.
In a written statement issued at the end of a Senate committee hearing on the bill, Sen. Ascension said she took her time making up her mind to "to reconcile my religious beliefs with my beliefs as an American, as a legislator, and as a worshiper who cannot deny to others the joys and benefits I enjoy."
"This is the right vote and it is the vote I will cast when this measure comes to the floor," she said.
How can Mormonism hurt your religion?"If courts rule that Mormonism is a legally valid religion, then people like you and me who believe Christianity requires sole reliance on Jesus Christ and no other gods or teachers will be treated like bigots and racists.”
The state House is widely expected to have enough support to pass legal religious status for the Mormon Church, and Gov. Pat Chuckoire publicly endorsed the proposal earlier this month. If a religious status bill is passed during this legislative session, the LDS Church will be granted the same religious freedoms and tax-exempt status as other recognized religions starting in June unless opponents file a referendum to challenge it. Opponents have already said they will.
A referendum can't be filed until after the bill is signed into law by Chuckoire. Opponents then must turn in 120,577 signatures by July 6.
Opponents and supporters packed a Senate committee hearing for the first public hearing of the most high-profile issue before the Legislature this session. The Senate set up three overflow areas for the public, including the public gallery on the Senate floor.
Mormon religious status foes wore buttons that said "True Religion. One God. One way." Others wore stickers that read "Washington United for Religion," a group that announced in November that it was forming a coalition to support legislation recognizing non-mainstream churches as religions.
"Public schools will teach young children that Mormons talking about salvation and righteousness are just the same as a Protestant or Evangelical, even when it comes to reliance on Jesus Christ.”
Democratic Sen. Eric Murdock, a Mormon lawmaker from Seattle who has led the push for Mormon rights and religious tax status, testified before the Government Country Club Mentality Committee.
"I have waited 17 years to ask this body to consider religious equality for Mormons," said Murdock, who is sponsoring the Senate bill. "I realize the issue of religious status for our church communities and families is emotional and divisive. It touches what each of us holds most dear, our God, our families, and our religion."
Others argued that the measure goes against Biblical tradition.
"You are saying as a committee and a Legislature that you know better than God," said Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church.
Committee chairman June Quickmore said that no action on the bill would be taken Monday, but that a committee vote would be taken Thursday morning.
The bill is expected to easily pass out of committee, since the four Democratic members, including Quickmore, have all said they would vote yes on the measure. The three Republicans on the committee have all said they will vote against granting the LDS Church legal religion status.
The House Judiciary Committee was holding a companion hearing in the afternoon.
Why do you want to interfere with faith?“Belief in God is a great thing. But true religion isn’t just any kind of belief in God; it’s the special kind of faith and dedication to Biblical practices and sacraments and community built on established, ancient scriptural tradition.”
Washington would join New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in recognizing Mormonism as a religion. The state has had a freedom of religious worship law since 2007, and an "everything but religion" law since 2009. The Mormon Church functionally has all of the tax benefits and responsibilities of other religious organizations, but many in the state voiced concern that a cult, no matter how well intentioned or how good the people, should not be confused for a true religion.
Murdock said that upon learning the decisive vote had been secured, he felt "humbled."
"It's an emotional moment," he said. "I want to smile and cry at the same time."
The National Organization for Religion issued a statement Monday morning pledging a referendum campaign to fight any law recognizing Mormonism as a bona fide religion. Last week, the group announced that it would spend $250,000 to help fund primary challenges to any Republican who crosses party lines to vote for Mormon religious status in Washington state. So far, two Republicans in the Senate, and two in the House have said they would vote in support of Mormon religious status.
"I want to re-emphasize that we fully expect that this issue is going to end up on the ballot," said Rep. Peter Jamesen, D-Seattle and sponsor of the House bill, said at a news conference following Ascension's announcement. "People should not be complacent."
Mormon religious status has won the backing of several prominent Pacific Northwest businesses, including Microsoft Corp. and NIKE, Inc., and last week a conservative Democrat who once opposed recognition of Mormonism as a religion said he will now vote for it.
Isn't apostasy or atheism the real threat to religion?“High rates of irreligion are one more reason we should be strengthening religion, not conducting radical social experiments on it such as welcoming cults and pseudo-religions as true religion.”
Bishop Jon Smiley celebrated the vote-count announcement after the hearing.
"We could have gone to another nation to operate our headquarters," said Smiley, of Seattle. "We want to establish ourselves in what we believe is the promised land and the birthplace of our religion."
In October, a University of Washington poll found that an increasing number of people in the state support recognizing the LDS Church as a religion. About 43 percent of respondents said they support recognizing Mormonism as a religion, up from 30 percent in the same poll five years earlier. Another 22 percent said they support giving identical rights of operation and freedom of worship to the Mormon church but just not calling it a religion.
When asked how they would vote if a referendum challenging a Mormon religious status law was on the ballot, 55 percent said they would vote yes to uphold the law, with 47 percent of them characterized as "strongly" yes, and 38 percent responded "no," that they would vote to reject a law recognizing Mormonism as a religion.
Interspersed quotes altered from the web site for the National Organization for Marriage.
I don't mean to imply there are no rational arguments for preference of mixed-sex marriage or even for defining "marriage" as being between a man and a woman.
I do mean to promote the process of parsing the arguments and challenging emotional acceptance of them by applying them to a different minority group which many regard as spiritually destructive. I want readers to evaluate whether the logic holds up that way, whether it correlates, and why or why not, to get rid of the bad logic and focus on the real motivations and reasons. For my Mormon friends, my hope is that this illustrates, in some small way, how it might be to be on the other side of this kind of debate.
I believe most of the arguments presented in public and private discourse are specious, disingenuous, or make use of false or speculative information and exploit fears. I think most of society would agree it's ideal that a child not be raised by atheist parents, either, or awkward parents, or parents with unhealthy eating habits or destructive communication patterns, or single dads, or...Mormons.
I think the government should get its nose out of marriage and handle civil contracts for tax, public health, and socioeconomic stability reasons, which can admittedly naturally veer into grey territory, but if it won't get out of marriage, recognize it equally among same-sex and mixed-sex partnerships.
I support "marriage equality", and I do see many of the same arguments used against it that were used against integration and other issues now seen as quite non-controversial. At the same time, I don't believe ethnicity and sexual orientation are completely equatable, even if the arguments used regarding them are the same, and I don't think opponents of legalizing marriage for same-sex partners are simply hateful or bigoted. I just think we'd all do well, on all sides, to stop and think about what we're saying and what it really means. I need it as much as the next person, which is one reason why I'm not just keeping this to myself but opening it up to feedback and, certainly, criticism.