Comment: An open letter to Baroness Warsi on the Mormon advertising campaign

Richard Heller: 'The promotion of religious faith is no longer in itself a charitable object'
Richard Heller: 'The promotion of religious faith is no longer in itself a charitable object'

By Richard Heller

Rt Hon Baroness Warsi
Minister for Faith and Communities
London

As you must have seen, the Church of the Latter Day Saints have capitalised on the attention given to their sect by the musical The Book Of Mormon (which I recommend to you) by mounting a major advertising campaign in search of converts. This activity benefits from the charitable status accorded to that Church and contributions towards it are eligible for gift aid. In effect, they are being subsidised by non-Mormon taxpayers. I shall be asking you shortly to give your views on this situation on behalf of the government, but I would first like to put some general questions about your ministerial role.

Why do you and the government believe it necessary or desirable to create a ministry specifically to represent people who hold religious views? Why should they be paid special attention in the framing of public policy? How does this fit with the concept of equality of representation, which is at the heart of our modern democracy? The evidence of history and of many contemporary states suggests that religious politics are a scourge: why does the government want to encourage them in our country? Why does the government assume that any religious faith represents a coherent interest group and that all its members have a common view on any political, social or ethical topic?


When you meet a religious delegation, even one composed of the hierarchy of the faith concerned, how do you know that its members represent anyone but themselves? When you do meet such a delegation, almost by definition it excludes the many members of the faith concerned who do not believe that it should take part in politics and who do not wish themselves to be identified by their faith on any political or social question. For that reason, such meetings are almost automatically biased towards the more fundamentalist members of any faith community. But they also encourage those who are even more fundamentalist to accuse them of selling out to the government.

In order to spare me the trouble of submitting a Freedom of Information request, or badgering one of my friends to put down a parliamentary question, I would be grateful if you could publish a list of all the religious organisations you have met since you became minister for faith, and the subjects discussed. Have you met the National Secular Society, the British Humanist Association or other pro-secular groups?

As to the present Mormon campaign, I realise that you are not directly responsible for the scope and operation of charity law. However, in spite of recent changes in that law, this remains an area where faith groups receive special preference, and your views, or those of your officials, would be of great interest.

I have had extensive and helpful correspondence with the Charity Commission on this matter. I think that the following is a fair summary of its main conclusions. The promotion of religious faith is no longer in itself a charitable object, for there is now also a requirement that the faith concerned is of benefit to society as a whole. The commission has rejected several applications from religious groups because their beliefs do not constitute a 'religion' and it has rejected others because the benefits of their activities are too confined to members of their own faith. It has not yet rejected any religious group because it regards its views or practices as harmful to society.

Since the government of the day, rather than the commission, has responsibility for the current state of the law and public policy, I would be interested to know your views on the benefit to society of proselytising activities by any religion. Why is our society better off if it contains more Mormons, or for that matter more Christians of any kind, or more members of any faith group which seeks or accepts members by conversion? Since the government is neutral between religious groups, it cannot believe that there is any net gain to society if the Mormons convert a Roman Catholic or vice versa. That has the irresistible implication that there is a gain to society if the Mormons convert an atheist, like myself, and a loss to society if (as I hope) any Mormons are converted to atheism.

I would be grateful to know why the government takes that view.

As to the Mormons, I made a considerable study of that faith last year due to the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. I did not like what I found, so much so that I wrote the enclosed pamphlet Hi! My Name’s Richard And I Am NOT A Mormon. It sets out reasons why I believe that faith to be harmful to all its members and to society in general. These may be summarised as follows.

  • It compels its members, including children, to study the Book of Mormon and other “scriptures” which are a fraudulent farrago, purveying as history  events which are totally fictitious and often preposterous, and with numerous passages based on racism or sexism. It has suppressed criticisms of its narratives, and encourages members to obey the authority of its 'prophets' and ignore normal standards of reasoning and evidence.
  • It extorts from members, rich or poor, a tenth of their gross income, as a condition of full participation in their church and of entry into the highest grade of heaven in the next life. (I believe that such conditions should be outlawed, in any faith).  Members are not allowed to devote their tithe to any other good cause. Almost all tithe money is spent within the Mormon faith. It also requires members to contribute free labour.
  • While professing admiration for family life, its activities eat into family time. It disparages certain kinds of family which do not conform to its model of family life, particularly those with two working parents and those raised by choice by single parents. It still promotes sexism and regards gay people as sinful or afflicted (who should not raise children).
  • The Mormon faith induces its members to store large quantities of foodstuffs, which, if practised on a larger scale, would cause harm to our economy and to global society. It makes intrusive demands on the personal life of its adherents. It requires them to wear strange undergarments and to forego many normal and lawful pleasures.

I invite you and the government to consider the above points, and the pamphlet itself, because they have a bearing on public policy towards all faith groups.

Do you and the government think that my pamphlet is inaccurate and unfair to the Mormon faith? If you do form this judgment, may I ask you first to consult some of the many ex-Mormons in our country, and the United States, as well as the Church's hierarchy?

If you think that my pamphlet is accurate, do you and the government think that other aspects of the Mormon faith are valuable to society and outweigh the harm it might cause? If you form that view, perhaps you could enumerate those other aspects.

I suspect that the government believes that any religion whatever is good for society so long as its views and practices are not actually unlawful. If so, it would still be useful to have this stated publicly, and to hear some reasons for it.

Richard Heller was formerly political adviser to Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman. He has been a professional speechwriter for over thirty years and is the author of standard manual High Impact Speeches (published by Prentice Hall Business).

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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