Friday, March 18, 2011

LDS Church Clarifies Position On Immigration After Criticism Of Presiding Bishop H. David Burton's Presence At Bill-Signing Ceremony In Utah

On March 17th, 2011, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a clarification of its position on immigration in the wake of criticism directed towards it because of the presence of Presiding Bishop H. David Burton at the ceremony where Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed four different immigration bills into law. Because Bishop Burton is a General Authority, his presence at the event was considered to be an implicit Church endorsement of the bills, since it is widely perceived that when General Authorities speak out publicly, they are speaking authoritatively on behalf the Church even if its not an official "thus saith the Lord" appearance. Specifically prompting the Church's response was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune in which reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack suggested Burton's presence was no accident or private decision, and further wrote “One thing is clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has abandoned its claims to neutrality on these bills.”

Although the LDS Church does not endorse or oppose specific political parties, candidates or platforms, it has always reserved the right to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that have significant community or moral consequences. They consider immigration to be one of those issues. Here's the pertinent part of their response:

Before the 2011 Utah Legislative session began, the Church announced its support for the Utah Compact. Our hope was that lawmakers would find solutions that encompassed principles important to Mormons and other people of good will:

* We follow Jesus Christ by loving our neighbors. The Savior taught that the meaning of “neighbor” includes all of God’s children, in all places, at all times.
* We recognize an ever-present need to strengthen families. Families are meant to be together. Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society.
* We acknowledge that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders. All persons subject to a nation’s laws are accountable for their acts in relation to them.

Our focus during the legislative session was to encourage laws that incorporated these principles. The Church did not dictate what kinds of bills should be proposed. Like many others on Capitol Hill, Church officials voiced its views and trusted the state’s elected officials to do their job. We consider the comprehensive package passed by lawmakers to be a responsible approach to a very complicated issue. Bishop Burton was invited, along with other community leaders, to witness the signing of a series of immigration bills by Utah Governor Gary Herbert and to show support for the diligent efforts of lawmakers in this area.

So not only was Bishop Burton present at the signing ceremony strictly of his own volition, but the LDS Church, despite its neutrality on immigration, explicitly recognizes the right of every nation to enforce its laws and secure its borders, and to hold accountable those who fail to respect a nation's borders.

Whether this statement by the Church will mitigate the anger manifested by immigration restrictionists who are specifically upset with the guest worker provisions in Utah HB116 remains to be seen. ALIPAC's William Gheen, who encouraged people to target the LDS Church prior to the signing of the bills, has renewed his criticism of the Church, and based on the Tribune's article, erroneously accused the Church of "sending" Bishop Burton to the signing ceremony. ALIPAC is calling for the defeat of every Utah lawmaker who voted for HB116.

Roy Beck of NumbersUSA also criticizes the Utah bills, claiming that the "cheap-labor Chamber of Commerce lobby has taken over the Republican Party and is, in effect, blocking thousands of unemployed citizens and legal immigrants from jobs being held by illegal foreign workers". But he avoids criticizing the LDS Church, as does most others who criticize the Utah Bills.

The LDS Church will survive the criticism, just as it survived the criticism over Proposition 8.

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