History Question

The newsroom section of has issued an article about political neutrality. I recommend reading the entire statement, which goes into more depth than the usual brief letter of political neutrality read over the pulpit each election season. I was particularly pleased to see this line:

The Church does not extend reprimands or ecclesiastical punishment to persons who choose not to support its views on these issues.

I trust this will be reiterated to well-meaning but perhaps over-eager local leaders.

I was also struck by this sentence:

Issues on which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has felt compelled to take a firm stand include civil rights, MX missile testing in Utah, same-gender marriages, pornography, gambling and Utah alcohol laws.

For each of these issues , I can think of specific statements or actions by the church — except for “civil rights.” But I am no history scholar. To what is this statement referring when it talks about taking a firm stand on civil rights? What am statement(s) am I overlooking?


  1. How about this one from President Hinckley:

    “I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.”

  2. “We would like it to be known that there is in this Church no doctrine…or practice that is intended to deny the enjoyment of full civil rights by any person regardless of race…we believe that all men are the children of the same God and that it is a moral evil for any person or group of persons to deny any human being the rights to gainful employment, to full educational opportunity, and to every privilege of citizenship…We call upon all men everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.” — Elder Hugh B. Brown, Oct. 1963 General Conference

    We as a people have experienced the bitter fruits of civil discrimination and mob violence…In revelations received by…Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the Lord made it clear that it is ‘not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.’ These words were spoken prior to the Civil War….It follows, therefore, that we believe the Negro, as well as those of other races, should have his full Constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope that members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate.” — The First Presidency, in 1969

    Granted, one might take a cynical view of these statements, given the context of the times–but I don’t imagine they could have avoided making statements about the civil rights movement during this era even if they wanted to.

    I’m not aware of any statements re civil rights after the 1978 revelation. But then, it *was* 197-freaking-8

  3. I’m not certain if this is what they mea, but it certainly fits the bill: the ERA battle. From a different perspective the Church has lobbied quite heavily for Hate Crimes legislation.

  4. The Church was not an active participant in legal legislation that sought to give civil rights to African Americans — at least I can’t find any evidence of political lobbying on our behalf. The sentiments from church leaders in the 60s are heartfelt, but they were deemed by many Americans to be “propaganda,” as the Church did not extend the priesthood to African Americans at that time. I’ve had many non-member friends who grew up in that era tell me that everyone they knew felt Mormons were racist and against true civil rights and equality. If they are talking about current civil rights battles, the ERA bill is the only one I can think of where we took a stand, and it was against the bill and equal rights. So I’m baffled. Has the church taken a political stand on immigration issues? Could that be considered a civil rights issue?

  5. Yes, the civil rights phrase is puzzling. Particularly since I’ve heard from an inside source (friend of a 70) that “the brethren” are heartily embarrassed that they did not take a more proactive and progressive stance towards civil rights issues in the 60s and 70’s. They feel that they really missed the boat on that one. My understanding is that they just kind of sat back and didn’t do much with regard to civil rights – pro or con.

  6. I’m a little baffled about the civil rights statement myself. The church does not have the most admirable track record in this arena.

  7. Dennis: I loved this talk by President Hinckley, but everything else on this list (MX missile, SSM, etc) can be linked to a specific law, event, policy — and a general statement to the membership or a public statement weighing in on a policy matter. And Rebecca, I love the Hugh B. Brown quote (reading his biography in high school was a life savor!) — but ditto the comment above. . . .

    But what was the specific context of the 1969 statement Rebecca quoted? Anybody know? I don’t think it was in response to any policy/law as were the items listed.

    J./Sarah: ERA came to my mind as well, but to use “civil rights” as a euphamism for “ERA” seems odd, given the *specificity* of the next item in the list: MX Missile testing in Utah. If they meant ERA, why not say it? Hate crimes legislation, perhaps — but if memory serves, didn’t the church issue a 2003 statement saying that they didn’t *oppose* the hate-crimes bill before the Utah legislature? “Not opposing” is something different that supporting . . . Is there more to this story, J?

  8. Is there more to this story, J?

    Just that there is significant internal support for them and the Church exploits them in the prosecution of things like vandalism. I had thought that they actually supported that bill. I should check stuff like that before I comment, I guess.

  9. With respect to civil rights, the church as a collective entity only issued the positive statements from Hugh B. Brown already mentioned. Those were read as First Presidency declarations. President Brown, at least, was almost certainly quite sincere in those remarks.

    However, before 1963, as well as in individual remarks afterwards, many of the General Authorities spoke against the civil rights movement. Elder Benson repeatedly explained that the movement was a communist front. President McKay evidently had private opposition to the movement (see the Prince and Wright biography) and J. Reuben Clark had a quite public opposition (see Quinn’s biography of him). This record dates back to pioneer times; Utah was organized as a slave territory, after all.

    However, my guess is that the “civil rights” mention was about the First Presidency statements from Hugh B. Brown in favor of the movement.

  10. “The Church does not extend reprimands or ecclesiastical punishment to persons who choose not to support its views on these issues.”

    This is particularly ironic considering the fact that Jeffrey Nielsen, the BYU teacher who contested the church’s stance on gay marriage, was reprimanded and his teaching contract cancelled as a result.

    (Sorry, Deborah, if I’m hijacking your thread by mentioning Nielsen. Feel free to delete if you think I’m being too inflammatory)

  11. Jana: Yeah, I read about that *just* after I posted this question. Does seem incongruous for both “announcements” to come out the same day.

  12. Jeffrey Nielsen’s editorial was nothing more than a plan to become a martyr. He was clearly in violatoin of his contract, and was cut loose for it.

    He received no reprimands or ecclesiastical punishment from the Church. He simply lost his job for violating his contract.

  13. I believe the 1969 statement was probably a general press release–actually, there were several statements over a 10-15 year period that basically said the same thing, and they included general statements to the press, letters to the church, and statements in General Conference–but none responding to or supporting specific legislation (and nothing before the 1960’s). (At least none that I’m aware of.)

    I’m sure that when they say “civil rights” they are referring to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, and yes, they are putting an attractive spin on the history, but technically…the statements themselves can’t be classified as neutral, even if they were too little, too late.

  14. I apologize for the impudence of my blogger name. I tried (literally) more than eight names and always got the error message “this name is not available.” In frustration I wrote “dammit all to hell” in the name box. I got the error message:
    “this format not acceptable, no spaces please.” So I wrote dammitalltohell in the name box expecting the same earlier reply and instead it went through.

    So, now, I’m going to breakt he rules again.

    I have a question. I’ve been trying to contact Exponent II about a manuscript I submitted two years ago. I’ve written multiple times on contact w/ no reply. I’ve written U.S. mail to the P.O. box. Nada in the way of a reply.
    Is anyone out there?


  15. damit 🙂

    Sorry for the frustration on a couple of levels. Send me an e-mail at exponentblog at gmail dot com, and I’ll see if I can put you in touch with the paper editors of Exponent II.

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