It's Time to Speak Out Against The 'Mormon Boycott'

Supporters of gay marriage have reacted with anger at the passage of California Proposition 8, which amended the California state constitution to provide that only marriages that fit the traditional definition (one man, one woman) will be recognized. The resulting protest movement has devolved into anti-Mormon bigotry which has been met with silence by liberal civil rights groups.  The anti-Mormon fervor has become so nasty, and is growing at such a pace, that it is time to speak out against the "Mormon boycott."

The use of boycotts in support of gay marriage, including by some
law professors, preceded the passage of Prop. 8.  These boycotts, which aim at suppressing political speech, are distinct from the boycotts of the black civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.  The civil rights boycotts sought not to suppress speech, but to provide access to goods and services by targeting those people withholding the goods and services. 

Regardless of whether one supports the use of boycotts in the Prop. 8 context, the targeting of Mormons is gross hypocrisy considering that other groups, such as Blacks and Latinos, likely were the decisive electoral factor. A persuasive argument can be made that Mormons have been singled out because they are a relatively small group with political power mostly in one state.  The irony of singling out a religious group which has itself been the victim of discrimination appears lost on anti-Prop. 8 boycott groups.

The anti-Prop. 8 boycott efforts have not been limited to Mormons, but Mormons have been the primary focus of public vitriol and at the center of the boycott movement.  The evidence is mounting daily that the "Mormon boycott" efforts of pro-gay marriage groups have gone too far, and have devolved into anti-Mormon hate speech. 

While the web is filled with hate speech by fringe elements directed at many groups, the anti-Mormon efforts are openly embraced and promoted by a wide range of anti-Prop. 8 groups.  Anti-Mormon hate speech no longer is on the fringe, it is at the heart of the post-election anti-Prop. 8 campaign.  The examples are too numerous to list completely.  This sampling reflects the breadth and increasing scope of post-election anti-Mormon activities:

  • The creation of a boycott list of Mormon-owned hotels. The creator of the list states as follows: "I personally won't do business with any Marriott hotels, as they are owned by Mormons. I'm done with this shit. They just use the money against us."
  • Additional calls for a boycott of all Mormons: "While much ado is being made about the overwhelming support of prop 8 by black voters in California, there is little ado being made about getting even with the Mormons...."
  • A boycott of the entire state of Utah because of the high percentage of Mormons, and other efforts targeting Mormons as "hate's banker, and we need to make sure that their moral bankruptcy becomes a fiscal one as well."
  • Protests at Mormon churches around the country, including New York City, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles.
  • Postings on Daily Kos and elsewhere calling for boycott of Mormon owned businesses: "Businesses owned by Mormons, who tithe to the Church, should also be boycotted. Large amounts of Church income comes from tithings. Vote with your wallets! Every dollar less that you give to a tithed Mormon is a dollar less that can be tithed and spent on anti-gay activity."
  • Postings on YouTube of blatantly anti-Mormon videos calling on people to "Boycott the Utah Hate State and the Mormons."
  • The creation of high profile websites devoted to portraying Mormons as having betrayed the U.S. by taking control of the Boy Scouts and other devices: "The Mormon people have been able to flourish because of this country's generous spirit. But now, history has reversed, and it is the Mormons who have become the oppressor."
  • The production of an anti-Mormon musical by the creators of South Park, which is expected to start rehearsals soon.
  • Calls not to tip Mormon waiters: "Now do not tip, hire, or do any business with a Mormon. 10% of their income goes to the church that worked tirelessly to take the civil rights away from people. They are a Nazi organization who only what their point of view followed. I asked my waiter if he were a Mormon, when he said he was I did not tip him, telling him, I was sorry but I can not support bigotry."
  • Suggestions that Mormon businesses that do not wish to be harassed should post signs in their windows against Prop. 8: "Any business, Mormon or otherwise, can take the simple step of posting a sign on the premises urging the repeal of Prop 8, or make a public statement against it."
  • Calls to fire a Mormon employed by the American Jewish Congress because he supported Prop. 8.
  • The forced resignation of the Mormon director of the Los Angeles Film Festival for support of Prop. 8.
  • The investigation by the State of California of the Mormon Church's tax exempt status, even though religious organizations routinely support or oppose political causes without losing their exempt status.
  • A hotel in New Mexico luring visitors away from Utah by using a web address that incorporates the words "mormon-boycott-utah."
  • A call to boycott businesses, including Macy's and Nordstrom, which plan to open stores at a shopping mall owned by the Mormon church: "The Mormon Church came after our rights, and if we don't stop them, they will be back again and again."
  • A call to boycott businesses which have Mormons in senior positions: "Universely [sic], we need to avoid putting any more money into the Church's coffers by boycotting all companies where a Mormon church member holds an officer's position or a large majority interest."
  • Efforts to create and distribute lists of businesses "either owned by the Church, owned by Mormons, having a Mormon in a high executive position, or generally benefiting Mormons," including on Facebook and elsewhere.
  • The boycott of Mormon business has been likened to a war: "There is a war cry being sounded in gay communities all across America - Boycott Mormon owned businesses. This is a war cry that should be heeded."
The singling out of Mormons, and the hateful nature of the boycott, is not coincidental. Prop. 8 is being used as an excuse to vent pent-up anger at the Mormon Church, and the traditional lifestyle of Mormons. With each passing day, it seems that the web is filled with more and more hate speech directed at Mormons. As others have noted, the attacks on Mormons would not be tolerated if directed at other religious or ethnic groups.

What is most disturbing is that there has been complete silence from groups that normally defend religious freedom. The Anti-Defamation League has not stepped forward to defend Mormons against the current boycotts, even though the ADL has spoken out against anti-Mormon hate crimes in the past.

The silence of the ADL and other Jewish groups is unconscionable. Economic boycotts of goods and academics have been condemned as veiled anti-semitism by ... the ADL.

In the end, the supporters of gay marriage who engage in anti-Mormon hate speech will realize that they have damaged their own cause. Lashing out at others and engaging in religious bigotry does not constitute an argument in favor of gay marriage.

Regardless of one's position on gay marriage, it is time to speak out against the "Mormon boycott."  There simply is no one else who will, if we don't.

William A. Jacobson is Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, NY, and author of the Legal Insurrection Blog.  The views expressed here are his own, and not on behalf of the university.
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