Law.com is reporting that the LDS Church has taken the unprecedented step of hiring a federally registered lobbyist to help its efforts in obtaining a new legal status in Italy. The LDS Church has formed a coalition with several other denominations in an effort to lobby the Italian parliament for an intesa, or “understanding.” Like many countries, Italy has different status levels for religious denominations. According to John Zackrison, former in-house counsel for the Mormon Church and now outside counsel working at Kirton & McConkie, the intesa the Church seeks would provide benefits such as a streamlined process to license Mormon ecclesiastical leaders to perform civil marriages and easier missionary visa renewals. There are also significant tax benefits, such as easier property tax exemptions and some charitable contribution deductions for individual Mormons. The intesa sought by the LDS Church would actually entitle the Church to public funds, but Zackrison says the proposed draft agreement promises that the Mormon Church would never accept such funds.
These sorts of agreements take years to achieve, particularly in countries such as Italy where the government is not known for its efficiency. Additionally, the strong presence of the Roman Catholic Church impedes acceptance of new religions, causing tradition-oriented politicians to oppose such official recognition. But now that the Mormon Church has plans for a temple in Rome, the favorable conditions of an intesa are even more important.
This is not the first time representatives of the LDS Church have lobbied government officials for various causes or issues. The Church even maintains a Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and has public relations and legal representatives in many countries. However, this marks the first time that the Church has hired an outside firm to help it’s lobbying efforts. Law.com reports Zackrison as saying: “The advice we’ve received is, if the U.S. government were to weigh in favor of the [agreements] in some way, that — with the current Italian government — could be helpful in the process . . . .” State Department spokesperson Darby Holliday says that the U.S. government hasn’t spoken with the Italian government on the issue, but the apparent goal of the new lobbying arrangement is to change that.
Should Judge Jay Bybee be the fall guy for the CIA’s rough interrogation tactics of terror suspects? Yesterday, Time Magazine wrote an article describing Bybee as a “top Justice Department official who approved an array of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” against alleged al-Qaeda members that many observers call torture.” The article continues; “though Bybee wasn’t the only person responsible for crafting the Bush administration’s interrogation policy, unlike his erstwhile colleagues he continues to hold public office, sitting on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He now faces calls for impeachment from Sen. Patrick Leahy, former Obama aide John Podesta and the New York Times editorial board, among other corners. The Justice Department has distanced itself from much of Bybee’s work and is reportedly preparing a scathing internal report that could call for him and others to be reprimanded or even disbarred.”
DISBARRED? DISBARRED!? All these talking heads keep saying that Bybee has broken both International and U.S. laws but SHOW ME what laws he has broken. I’ve looked and I can’t find a single law of the United States that he broke. Each of the U.S. laws that I’ve read only proscribe penalties to the person who actually did the “torturing”. Let’s be honest the Bush administration was going to interrogate terror suspects anyway they wanted, regardless of what their lawyers told them. Additionally, are we really going to “reprimand” or “disbar” a United States Circuit Judge over the “standards” of an international treaty? Give me a break! Our country signs a treaty a day that we don’t abide by. Why start now? And with a Federal Judge?
The fact of the matter is, politics are more important to some of our leaders then keeping this country safe.
Bybee received his B.A., from Brigham Young University in 1977, graduating magna cum laude. He went on to receive his Juris Doctorate from BYU’s J. Reuben Clark School of Law three years later. He served his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile from 1973- 1975.
John F. of the popular Mormon blog By Common Consentwrote earlier this week on the German government’s treatment of certain religious denominations as dangerous or extremist groups. The main target currently seems to be Scientologists, which corresponds with similar hostility in the U.S. and other countries. John F. quotes statements by German officials calling Scientology a “dangerous” and “antidemocratic organisation” that pursues “totalitarian goals.”
Like John F., I get a little nervous when groups like Scientology come under fire. It is all to easy to imagine the same rhetoric and tactics turned on other minority religions. (I realize there are good arguments that Scientology doesn’t constitute a religion, but for the purposes of the First Amendment it does.) Last year when the group “Anonymous” began its campaign against Scientologists worldwide, I couldn’t help cringing. Most of the criticisms aimed at Scientology could also apply to Jehova’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, and any other minority religion. And because Scientologists weren’t popular with the press or mainstream Christians, this campaign of intimidation, cyber-crime, and copyright infringement was tacitly condoned by most people.
Jeff F. points out that the only reason Mormons in Germany haven’t been subject to the same treatment as Scientolgists and Jehova’s Witnesses is because they are marginally less unpopular. I think the same could be said of campaigns like Anonymous — they haven’t targeted Mormons only because other groups are less popular. And in the wake of Proposition 8, I see the fortunes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints growing worse rather than better in the near future.
I should note that the Anonymous campaign is significantly different from the actions of the German government, in that it is private action rather than state action. The First Amendment is designed to protect religious groups and their beliefs, even unpopular ones, from governmental interference. But religious groups are supposed to enjoy similar protections in Germany under the German Constitution and Article 10 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Other countries such as Canada have also treated religious and political minorities unequally despite constitutional and governmental laws to the contrary. The protections afforded to religious groups in America have been on the decline ever since the 1990 Supreme Court Case Employment Division v. Smith. It isn’t hard to imagine the U.S. government engaging in similar discrimination under the guise of national security or equality.