Mormon Church's Efforts to Save Utah Amnesty Bill Could Pose Problems for Romney and Huntsman

By Ronald W. Mortensen on June 9, 2011

As the Mormon Church sinks deeper and deeper into the battle over amnesty for illegal aliens in Utah, it risks raising questions about the influence that the Mormon Church will attempt to exercise over Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman should one of them eventually be elected President of the United States.

Questions have already been raised about the influence the Mormon Church has exercised over Utah's elected officials when it comes to illegal immigration. In 2005, at the behest of the Mormon Church, former U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett snuck an amendment into an agriculture appropriation bill that allows the Mormon Church to use the services of illegal aliens. Then in 2011, Utah's Republican legislators set aside their promise to uphold the Republican Party platform on illegal immigration when, encouraged by the Mormon Church, they passed HB116, that would grant a Utah-specific amnesty to illegal aliens and their employers.

When a group of Republican delegates pressured Utah's governor to veto HB116, a senior Church official stood next to the governor as he signed it. When Republican delegates introduced resolutions to repeal HB116 at county Republican Conventions, the Mormon Church issued an "Immigration Response" that set out its support for HB116 and specifically for provisions "that will allow those who are now here illegally to work legally."

Almost immediately after the Church issued its response, a repeal resolution was defeated at the Davis County Convention when a former county party Chair took the podium and attacked the resolution because it went against what the Mormon Church wanted.

However, at subsequent county conventions in Utah and Washington Counties, delegates voted to repeal HB116. Passage of the resolution in Utah County, which is arguably the most conservative of all counties in Utah, came as a shock to political and Church leaders. It was an especially devastating blow since the godfather of HB116, Sen. Curt Bramble, the governor who signed it, and the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, who pushed it through late on a Friday night without allowing legislators or the public time to read the final version of the bill, all come from Utah County.

Now, political and Church leaders face the very real possibility that elected delegates to the state Republican Party convention will support a resolution on June 18 calling for the repeal of HB116. According to reliable sources, the Mormon Church is now considering issuing yet another statement that will effectively instruct Mormon delegates to kill the resolution. However, if it does and if the delegates do indeed defeat the resolution, questions will arise about the control that the Mormon Church exercises over people sworn to represent those who elect them.

When John F. Kennedy ran for president of the United States he had to assure American Protestants that he would not be controlled by the Catholic Church. In a 2007 speech at the George Bush Presidential Library, Romney gave notice of his independence from the Mormon Church when he said, "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

If the Mormon Church chooses to instruct delegates on how to vote on the resolution to repeal HB116 in a further effort to save Utah's illegal alien amnesty bill, Romney may have to once again assert his independence from Church leaders and Huntsman may be forced to directly address this issue for the first time.

Both would undoubtedly prefer that the Mormon Church stay out of the current fray and leave the delegates of the state's major political party to make their own decisions on the political merits of HB116 rather than making it a test of religious faith.