SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church issued a strong statement on religious freedom and pluralism Tuesday as debate raged in American presidential politics about Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
The church's statement did not refer to the presidential candidate, but it drew on two statements by church founder Joseph Smith to reaffirm its longstanding position of support for religious pluralism.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in regard to party politics and election campaigns," the statement said. "However, it is not neutral in relation to religious freedom."
It said the two statements by Joseph Smith are consistent with the church's position.
In 1843, Smith said: "If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,' I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race."
In February 1841, the residents of Nauvoo, Illinois — then the headquarters of the LDS Church — elected a city council that included Joseph Smith. A month later, the council passed an ordinance on religious freedom.
"Be it ordained by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo, that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, Mohammedans [Muslims] and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration, and equal privileges in this city "
Trump called Monday for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. The suggestion, which came less than a week after a Muslim couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, and a day after a new poll showed him losing the lead in Iowa, immediately drew strong opposition.
On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, called Trump a "xenophobic, race-baiting, religious bigot."
Trump defended his position on Tuesday, saying the United States is at war with radical Islam and citing World War II internment camps as a precedent, the New York Times reported. He acknowledged that the analogy is imperfect, because he would not call for internment camps such as those created for U.S. citizens of Japanese, German and Italian descent by executive order of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942.
The United States formally apologized in 1988 and paid $20,000 to surviving victims of the interment camps.
Moderate Muslim leaders regularly condemn violence committed by radicalized Islamic groups, which Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out in a religious freedom address this year in Argentina. Muslim leaders again have condemned such violence again after San Bernardino.
Mormons and Muslims regularly work together to support marriage, family and religious freedom issues. Several LDS apostles joined Muslim leaders and spoke at U.S. and international interfaith gatherings this year. The LDS Church also is a long-time partner with Muslim charitable organizations like International Islamic Relief Organization.
In October, a Jordanian Muslim leader visited LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in Utah and met with senior Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City. During his visit, the grand mufti of the Jordanian Armed Forces promoted the pluralistic Amman Message, a landmark document that promotes moderate Islam and seeks to counter the roots of terrorism and encourage interfaith relations.