Thursday, September 3, 2009

Did Ted Kennedy Put The Statue Of Moroni Atop The Boston LDS Temple? Orrin Hatch Says "Yes"

I always wondered why two seemingly political polar opposites like Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) got along so well. A story published on September 1st, 2009 in the Belmont Citizen-Herald may provide an answer. Utah Policy also discusses the Citizen-Herald story.

According to the story, Ted Kennedy was responsible for getting the statue of Moroni placed atop the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built on Belmont Hill in Boston.

Senator Hatch was the first one to blow the whistle. During Kennedy's memorial service on Friday August 28th, Senator Hatch delivered a speech, and was discussing Kennedy's legendary ability to cross political party lines to get things done for friends. In describing Kennedy's graciousness, Hatch claimed that Kennedy helped secure the placement of the spire on top of the Temple.

“There was another time, when the Mormon Church was nearing completion of its temple here in Boston, Belmont, I think,” Hatch said. “I was approached by several people working in the temple and informed that the city would not allow a spire to be placed on the top of the temple with an angel on top, as is customary on Mormon temples. I immediately called Ted and asked for help. Not long after that conversation, he called me back and said, quote, ‘All of Western Massachusetts will see the angel Gabriel on the top of the Mormon Temple’,” Hatch claimed, laughing. “I had to inform Teddy that it was actually the Angel Moroni, a prominent figure in the LDS faith.”

Hatch is not the only one to make that claim. Two days before the memorial service, Jared Whitley wrote on the Utah Policy daily blog about another instance when Kennedy made the claim. Whitley, a former Hatch staffer and associate director in the White House communications under President George W. Bush, wrote on August 27th that Hatch and Kennedy met together in December 2006 to discuss health care policy. Whitley said Hatch commended the state of Massachusetts for getting health care reform approved, adding that then-Gov. Mitt Romney was doing a good job as governor. Whitley claims Kennedy rolled his eyes and Hatch ribbed him about not ganging up on Romney because he was Mormon. Whitley claims Kennedy said, “You call Mitt and ask him who got the spire put on your Boston Temple. Thanks to me, half of Western Massachusetts can see the archangel Gabriel all lit up at night.”

The statue controversy first erupted during the construction phase. A few neighbors became alarmed by the proposed temple's size and filed suit with the intention to have the temple torn down. It wasn't specific anti-Mormon bias; the plaintiffs argued that the state's Dover Amendment, which exempts religious buildings from local zoning, violated the separation of Church and State. But in 2000, the Belmont ZBA decided to permit construction anyway. Opponents sued, and in February 2000, the Middlesex Superior Court threw out the decision by the Belmont ZBA to allow the steeple.

Proponents sought to overrule the Middlesex Court, and in May 2001, the Supreme Judicial Court threw out the Middlesex Superior Court decision and approved the statue. In her ruling in favor of the LDS Church, Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote that the Middlesex Superior Court used “an erroneous legal test” to conclude whether the steeple serves a religious purpose and entered “an area of inquiry that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits.” Marshall also wrote, “It is not for judges to determine whether the inclusion of a particular architectural feature is ‘necessary’ for a particular religion.”

Hatch's remarks re-opened a few old wounds. Some of those who opposed the construction of the temple always wondered why their litigation was spiked, and were disappointed to hear that Ted Kennedy may have exercised influence behind the scenes.

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