Invitation to Cheney Sparks Debate
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — An invitation
by Brigham Young University to the vice president of the United
States to be the commencement speaker next month has triggered discussion
and some controversy over the issue of political neutrality.
Whatever the personal views of individual
students or other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, the invitation is seen by the university’s board of
trustees as one extended to someone holding the high office of vice
president of the United States rather than to a partisan political
The Salt Lake Tribune ran
two articles in its edition this morning (29 March) related to the
pending visit of the vice president.
One, a prominently displayed personal
opinion piece by a political reporter, criticizes the Church, in
intemperate and disrespectful language, for inviting Vice President
Dick Cheney to be the commencement speaker.
The reporter’s central point
seems to be that inviting the vice president — presumably
this particular vice president — is inconsistent with the
Church’s often-stated political neutrality.
The other article — in the same newspaper — is an editorial
that urges that the vice president be allowed to speak because “this
is democracy at work” and that an audience of college graduates
is capable of assessing what he says.
The newspaper further says that the
decision was for the BYU board of trustees to make, “just
as it is the right of anyone who disagrees with the choice to say
Let’s take a look at what the
Church’s political neutrality policy is.
First, the Church prohibits any Church
leader from endorsing a candidate in the name of the Church. In
the American political process, endorsement means officially putting
the weight of an institution or individual behind a political candidate
— publicly giving unequivocal support to the candidate’s
policies and platform.
Second, the Church bans the use of
its chapels for party political purposes and also refuses to allow
the distribution of Church membership rolls to anyone, including
politicians and candidates.
It also carefully avoids telling its members for whom they should
vote. Neither does it tell elected Latter-day Saint officials how
they should vote.
Such a policy makes sense in a Church
that operates in more than 160 countries and with a global membership
that embraces many different political persuasions and views. But
the policy is also a reflection of what Church leaders see as the
organization’s central mission — to preach the gospel
of Jesus Christ. To engage in partisan politics or to take up every
social cause would be to divert the Church from that mission.
There is also another side to the neutrality
policy, apart from prohibitions. The Church “encourages its
members to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities,
including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections.”
Further, the Church “expects
its members to engage in the political process in an informed and
civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come
from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences
of opinion in partisan political matters.”
The invitation to the vice president
of the United States is not a violation of that policy, any more
than inviting the majority leader of the Senate would be. In fact,
Senator Harry Reid — a Democrat from the opposite political
pole to the vice president — has already accepted such an
invitation for this fall. That invitation has been in process for
many months — long before the announcement of the vice president’s
Is it appropriate for a university
— even one that espouses a policy of political neutrality
— to have as featured speakers the holders of some of the
highest offices in the land? Of course it is. And whoever the visitor
— the vice president, the majority leader of the Senate or
the chief justice of the Supreme Court (another scheduled fall speaker)
— the university and the student body will listen, evaluate
and react to them as intelligent citizens capable of making up their
own minds about their messages.
© 2007 Meridian
Magazine. All Rights Reserved.