Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Mormon Question and the Limits of Liberty: Thoughts from 1884

The following two-paragraph editorial remark on the subject of "The Mormon Question" appeared in the 25 July 1884 issue of the New Holland Clarion and illustrates one on-the-ground perspective of LDS polygamous practices in light of the American tradition of religious liberty:
Religious liberty is the right of every citizen of the Republic. Congress is forbidden by the Constitution to make any law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." For a century, under this guarantee, Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Gentile, have worshipped God according to the dictates of conscience. But religious liberty must not be perverted to the justification of offenses against the law. A religious sect, strongly intrenched in one of the Territories of the Union, and spreading rapidly into four other Territories, claims the right to destroy the great safeguard and muniment of social order, and to practice as a religious privilege that which is a crime punished with severe penalty in every State of the Union. The sacredness and unity of the family must be preserved as the foundation of all civil government, as the source of orderly administration, as the surest guarantee of moral purity.

The claim of the Mormons that they are divinely authorized to practice polygamy should no more be admitted than the claim of certain heathen tribes, if they should come among us, to continue the rite of human sacrifice. The law does not interfere with what a man believes; it takes cognizance only of what he does. As citizens, the Mormons are entitled to the same civil rights as others, and to these they must be confined. Polygamy can never receive national sanction or toleration by admitting the community that upholds it as a State in the Union. Like others, the Mormons must learn that the liberty of the individual ceases where the rights of society begin.
What do we make of this asserted principle here, "the liberty of the individual ceases where the rights of the society begin"?

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