Supreme Court Amicus Brief on Trump, Immigration, and Mormon History

I was very honored to be part of an amicus brief field in the Supreme Court today in opposition to Donald Trump’s proposed immigration ban. You can read more about it here, and below is the press release:

August 17, 2017


Earlier today, a group of 21 scholars of Mormon history filed a brief in the United States Supreme Court attacking President Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from six Muslim countries. The brief tells the story of government attacks on Mormon immigration in the 19th century. This history, it urges, shows the need for exacting scrutiny of the order.

During the 19th century government officials repeatedly attacked the Mormons because of their religion. During the 1880s, federal officials explicitly targeted Mormon immigrants. In some cases, Latter-day Saints were refused entry to the country, in others they were jailed by government officials at the border, and at times federal officials pressured Mormon immigrants to abandon their religion and convert to Protestantism.

According to Kathleen Flake, Richard Lyman Bushman Professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia, “While some know that American Mormons were persecuted, few know that Mormon immigrants were refused entry into the US. Remembering this, we have particular reason to challenge the renewal of religious discrimination in our nation’s laws.”

Richard Bushman, an emeritus professor at Columbia University and author of Rough Stone Rolling, the definitive biography of Mormonism’s founder, said earlier, “Most Americans have a story about ancestors who came as immigrants to the United States, many under pressure.  Mormons were among the most reviled when they came. We have to take a stand with those who flee to America as a refuge.”

Some of the scholars gave more personal reasons for joining the brief.  Thomas G. Alexander,  Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. Professor Emeritus of Western American History, Brigham Young University, said:

“As a descendant of Mormons who lost their worldly goods and suffered almost unimaginable persecution because of religious prejudice as vigilantes drove them from their homes in Far West, Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois, I cannot help but deplore a policy that denies one human being the same opportunities as another because of their religion.”

Likewise, Pulitzer prize-winning Harvard historian Laurel said earlier, “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. People should be judged on their behavior, not on their identity.”

The brief was written by Nathan B. Oman, a Mormon law professor at William & Mary, and Anna-Rose Mathieson of the California Appellate Law Group LLP.  The scholars were represented before the U.S. Supreme Court by Ms. Mathieson.  Nineteen of the scholars filed an earlier amicus brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit attacking President Trump’s travel ban.

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