Mitt Romney has gone to great lengths to convince the public that his Mormon church would not drive public policy if he should become president. Lots of people, however, have not been persuaded, and perhaps for good reason. The Salt Lake Tribune late last month ran a story that once again illustrates just how involved the church can be in politics. The story isn’t about Romney but another Mormon in public life, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.
Before joining the Bush administration, Leavitt served three terms as governor of Utah. Recently, the state posted thousands of pages of documents from his tenure online. Buried in the archives were several hundred pages of transcripts of “Early Morning Seminary” meetings Leavitt held in 1996 at the Governor’s Mansion with his top advisers, including the U.S. Attorney at the time, a high-ranking Mormon church official, and a former professor from Brigham Young University. Leavitt convened the meetings to study the Book of Mormon to figure out how to best incorporate “holy and just” principles of Mormonism into state policy. Leavitt singled out several themes from the religious studies, including a focus on marriage, which later translated into a campaign to ban unmarried couples from adopting children.
Like the good Mormon he is, Leavitt recorded all the meetings (Mormons seem to write everything down), and the transcripts ended up in state archives after he left office. After the Tribune started asking questions about the meetings, Leavitt asked the state to take the transcripts off-line, arguing that they were not official meetings and might even be “sacred.” Naturally the state complied, so you can’t read them in full, but the Tribune posted some with its story, and they provide an interesting insight in to how deeply involved the LDS church is in Utah politics. Of course, just because a cabinet secretary based his public policy on the Book of Mormon doesn’t mean Romney would as president, but it’s stories like these that leave people deeply suspicious that he could simply check his faith at the door if he were elected.