Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New York Times Ad Backstory and Interview

Meridian Magazine had this interesting article about the No Mob Veto ad placed in the New York Times recently. Link's at the bottom.

Violence and Religious Intimidation: No Place in Civil Society

Publisher's Note: Following are excerpts of a phone interview by Meridian 's Editor-in-Chief, Maurine Proctor, with Kevin “Seamus” Hasson, Chairman and President of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Last week The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed its thanks for a full page ad that recently ran in the New York Times decrying the violence and intimidation that has been directed toward it in the wake of California 's Prop 8.

The ad, written by Kevin “Seamus” Hasson, is a project of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a powerful and successful Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. Operating in both the courts of law and the court of public opinion, they represent people of all faiths and have stepped up for Anglicans, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Native Americans, Zorastrians and any religious groups whose rights are trampled in the public square.

Hasson, who is a Catholic, said, “I think most of my clients are wrong theologically, but I think we should defend their right to be wrong.”

He said that the LDS Church did not ask the Becket Fund to defend it, nor pay for the ad, nor did they know about it before hand, but, he said, in a civil society we must be on guard to protect religious freedom.

Ad Language

“The way we thought we could do our part,” he said, “was to round up a coalition that was as broad as we could, from conservative Jews to Liberal Jews, from believers to non- believers, from supporters to opponents of Prop 8. In the ad, he wrote, “We're a disagreeable lot… Nevertheless, we're united in this: the violence and intimidation being directed against the LDS or “Mormon” church and other religious organizations—and even against individual believers—simply because they supported Proposition 8 is an outrage that must stop.”

The ad continues, “Of course, when a religious organization enters the public policy arena, it must be prepared for disputes. Religious groups can't claim some sort of special immunity from criticism. Nevertheless, there's a world of difference between legitimate political give-and-take and violent attempts to cow your opponents into submission. Violence and intimidation are always wrong, whether the victims are believers, gay people, or anyone else.

“Some of the violence is being stoked by public statements denouncing the LDS for merely participating in the debate at all-as if that were somehow illegal. The question isn't even close. Participating in ballot initiatives is legally different from politicking for candidates. It is perfectly lawful for charities, including religious ones. It is perfectly appropriate as well that all voices be heard. That is a basic point of democracy: the proper response to free speech you disagree with is your own free speech in reply, not attempting to coerce your opponents into silence.

“Regrettably some public voices have even sought to excuse the threats and disruptions simply as “demonstrations” that got out of hand. Perhaps that's true in some cases. Far too many, however, seem never to have been demonstrations in the first place, but more nearly mobs, seeking not to persuade, but to intimidate. When thugs send white powder to terrorize any place of worship, especially those of a religious minority, responsible voices need to speak clearly: Religious wars are wrong; they are also dangerous. Those who fail to condemn or seem to condone that intimidation are at fault as well. Consciously or not, they are numbing the public conscience, with endangers all of us.”

Twin Dangers

Hasson sees twin dangers if, as a society, we turn a blind eye to the intimidations leveled at the Latter-day Saints and other religious groups.

The first danger is that violence and intimidation directed toward a religion will come to be seen, not as an aberration, but as normal. “If we allow it, it will come to be seen as tolerable, a tolerable level of violence. It is disappointing that the anti-prop 8 media plays right along. A couple of pro-gay websites have been heroic and have said this is an outrage and should stop. However, many gay spokespeople have said, we have suffered at the hands of religious people over the centuries, you should expect some payback.”

He said that with 46% of Californians voting against Prop 8, and only about 5% of the population being gay, the intimidation could be coming from any quarter. “The point is that religious intimidation is not acceptable and we cannot let our society go there the way that Europe did when it tolerated pogroms against the Jews or the way some places began to tolerate terrorism in the 80's.”

The other danger would be that extreme fringe elements on the other side seek revenge for being so badly treated.

19th Century Parallels

Hasson said that you'd have to look to the 19 th century to see any kind of parallel to the violence that has surrounded Prop 8, which he considers a huge step backward.

What is little known, he said, is that in the 19 th century, the First Amendment with its freedom of religion clause did not apply to the States, therefore they could legally outlaw religion. Catholics often felt the brunt of this.

In Vermont it was a constitutional requirement that all office holders be Protestants. In the state of Massachusetts , the Congregationalist church was the official state church until 1832. In 1854 the Massachusetts legislature created a commission to investigate nunneries, among other things looking to expose the dungeons that were supposed to be secreted beneath them. A law was passed that only the King James Bible could be read in convent schools.

Riots broke out in Philadelphia in 1844 when groups, claiming that Catholics were a danger to the nation, broke into a nunnery, expelling nuns and orphans with blows and cursings, defiling graves and sacred objects, and burning St. Augustine's church to the ground.

A potent group called the “No Nothings” began to flourish in the 1850's, whose goal was to exclude Catholics and foreigners from any position of power.

Of course, the Latter-day Saints have their own stories of being driven, murdered, and persecuted in those times.

However, said Hasson, when the First Amendment started becoming a part of the states' laws in the beginning of the twentieth century, people thought those days were behind us. “These historical events,” he said, “are the closest analogy to the outrage that is being perpetuated in the name of Prop 8. This is not a happy development.”

A Declaration

The Becket Fund's New York Times ad ends with a stout declaration that says they mean business. As Hasson said, “We recommit to be in this for the long haul and to back up our words.”

The ad ends: “Therefore, despite our fundamental disagreements with one another, we announce today that we will stand shoulder to shoulder to defend any house of worship—Jewish, Christian, Hindu, whatever—from violence, regardless of the cause that violence seeks to serve. Furthermore, beginning today, we commit ourselves to exposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry against any faith, on any side of any cause, for any reason.”

If you would like to add your name to the ad, go to So far about 2,000 people have added their names, including some groups, said Hasson, who have hounded the LDS Church theologically in the past.”

Hasson said, “I know we've pricked a few consciences in the gay community and let them see that what some of them are doing is counterproductive to their cause.”

Family Leader has volunteered to collect stories of intimidation, hate mail, jobs threatened or lost for the Becket Fund. If you have such stories, write to Maurine Proctor at

Meanwhile, national columnist Maggie Gallagher has written a letter to President Monson, that can be found at which details some of the attacks against the Church, and then pledges:

We, the undersigned, utterly condemn and reject the ongoing unprecedented efforts to incite religious hatred and bigotry towards members of the LDS Church because, as American citizens, you have courageously exercised your core civil rights to speak, to vote, and to donate to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

We pledge to work with you and for you not only to protect marriage, but to protect the rights of all religious citizens, including the LDS Church, to participate freely (without threats of retribution or retaliation) in the political processes of this country in defense of the Judeo-Christian values—and the common good—we hold so dear.

So far this letter has received over 5,000 signatures including many of the top Evangelical leaders such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, Dr. Gary Bauer of American Values, Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptists Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and many more.