Remember this from back in 1997?

Chicago Bulls basketball star Dennis Rodman has received the largest fine in the history of the National Basketball Association for his disparaging comments about followers of the Mormon religion. Rodman’s remarks, and the subsequent fine, came in June as the Bulls played the Utah Jazz in the NBA championship finals.

Following a road loss by the Bulls to the Salt Lake City-based Jazz, Rodman said, “It’s difficult to get in sync because of all the (expletive deleted) Mormons out here. And you can quote me on that.” He said his remarks were brought on by Jazz fans who were making obscene gestures at him. According to an Evangelical Press report, the controversial basketball player had made lewd comments about Mormons on two other occasions.

Rodman later apologized, claiming, “If I knew it was like a religious-type deal, I would have never said it. I’m sorry about that.” Bulls coach Phil Jackson also tried to rationalize Rodman’s remarks by stating, “To Dennis, a Mormon may just be a nickname for people from Utah. He may not even know it’s a religious cult or sect or whatever.”

Rodman was probably too stupid to be intentionally insulting people’s religious beliefs, but Phil Jackson is another story. Jackson was dismissive of the legitimacy of Mormonism as a religion. And this gets us to the latest Rasmussen survey that shows that 43% of Americans would never even consider voting for a Mormon, while a mere 38% would consider it. Inevitably this will lead to a bunch of articles about religious intolerance, bigotry, and even ignorance, in the American electorate. Some may choose to focus on the evangelical community, where 53% would not consider a Mormon, but the numbers show a much more widespread skepticism about the religion.

This leads to the question: How many Americans would consider voting for a member of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. I know I wouldn’t. And where do you draw the line between a ridiculous cult and a legitimate religion?

Our country is founded on the principle of religious freedom. The government (with some limitations) does not get to decide what is and is not a legitimate form of worship. At the same time, the electorate does not suffer from the same limitations. If they do not trust or want to be led by a Moonie, that is their (in my view) educated choice.

Mormons will chafe at comparisons between their religion and the Rev. Moon’s. But it is not at all clear what distinguishes the one from the other, or that makes one legitimate and one cause for an intervention and deprogramming.

The Church of the Latter Day Saints is a comparatively new religion. But age does not confer legitimacy. Christianity, Islam, and Protestantism were all seen as illegitimate innovations in their time. And LDS is growing at roughly the same pace that Christianity did in its first two hundred years. At some point enough citizens become adherents of a faith that the faith comes to be seen as a religion and not a cult. Mormonism is further along that path than Moonieism. The Mormons have a state, while all the Moonies have is the Washington Times.

Mormons serve, and have served, with distinction in our nation’s affairs. Moonies do not (at least openly).

Looking at the poll results, however, I am led to the conclusion that a sizable percentage of the American electorate sees Mormonism, like Phil Jackson, as a cult. Calling them bigots is arbitrary.

The spirit of our nation calls us not to impose any religious test for candidates when we enter the ballot box. But it doesn’t call us to recognize adherents of nutty theology as sane people worthy of public trust. Some religious beliefs should be disqualifying (not in the legal sense, but in the discretion sense).

Is Mitt Romney fit for public office? Yes. He served adequately as the Governor of Massachusetts and has the qualifications to be President. Is anyone that refuses to consider him for the presidency because of his religious beliefs a bigot? That is a much tougher call.

I don’t think it is necessarily bigotry. If you think adherence to Mormonism signifies a disturbing lack of judgment then your decision to exclude Mormons for support is based on your concerns about their decision making. And, yet, you could make the same argument about any other religion, sect, or cult.

I think the best way to go is to look at a person’s record of public service, not where they choose to worship. If their specific brand of faith is part of their political platform, then you should lend great weight to their choice of faith. But if their political platform is devoid of any religious agenda, then you should not prejudge someone for their private beliefs.

I would consider a Mormon, like Romney. I will look at his record, his platform, his campaign. But I wouldn’t even give a Moonie a chance. But I’ll be damned if I can defend that distinction.

Take the poll.

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