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The U.S. government once attacked Mormons for their faith, blocked LDS immigrants from entering the country or jailed them at the border. It even tried to coerce some of them into converting to Protestantism.
It should not make the same mistake with Muslims, Mormon legal scholars and historians argue in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Thursday against President Donald Trump's executive order banning immigrants from six mostly Muslim nations.
"The Mormon experience provides a striking example of the harms of treating a particular religious minority as dangerous and foreign," the brief states. "If the executive order does target Muslims for disfavored treatment, then the history of the federal government's mistreatment of Mormons suggests it could take decades if not longer to undo the damage that such official action would do to the body politic and to the place of Muslims in American society."
The brief was drafted by Nathan B. Oman, an LDS law professor at William & Mary, and its 19 signers make up a who's who of Mormon historians and academics all urging the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take a "hard look" at the language in Trump's order.
"A Muslim ban under whatever name should alarm those who value freedom of conscience, America's 'first freedom,' " Kathleen Flake, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, said in a news release. " ... We should learn from earlier Mormon bans that such discrimination has a long, unhappy cultural life."
Richard Bushman, an emeritus professor at Columbia University who penned an acclaimed biography of Mormon found Joseph Smith, also shared a historical perspective.
"Most Americans have a story about ancestors who came as immigrants to the United States, many under pressure," he said. "Mormons were among the most reviled when they came. We have to take a stand with those who flee to America as a refuge."
Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich pointed to her own family as an example.
"Whenever I hear people stereotyped for their religion, I think of my Grandfather Thatcher, who was denied the right to vote when in Idaho in the 1880s, not because he had violated any law, but simply because he was a Mormon," Ulrich said in the release. "People should be judged on their behavior, not on their identity."