Pioneer Day

On July 24, Utah state and local government agencies close up shop in celebration of "Pioneer Day"--when LDS Church President Brigham Young rose from his sickbed in a covered wagon, looked over the Salt Lake Valley and declared, "this is the place." The Mormons had fled violent mobs who assassinated their prophet, burned their homes and stolen their possessions in order to find refuge in the unsettled Utah Territory where they could practice their religious beliefs without interference.

Why did so many unite to force immigration of the Mormon people? Two main reasons seemed to motivate those who feared and hated them: One was the daunting bloc of Mormon votes, who usually cast their ballots in the direction endorsed by their religious leaders. The second was the practice of plural marriage known as polygamy.

After the Mormons arrived in Utah, polygamy flourished along with the population and the land, which, as Young prophesied, "blossom[ed] as a rose." But pressure from the federal government in the form of laws passed to eradicate polygamy and arrests of polygamous patriarchs in the Church eventually resulted in a Manifesto being passed in 1890, a revelation which forbade the LDS people from practicing plural marriage. In 1896, as a condition of statehood, the Utah State Constitution declared the polygamy would never be legal in Utah.

From these events emerged a group of fundamentalists who believed that LDS leaders had betrayed "the law of God" by adhering to "the law of man." Such thinking creates loopholes for lawless behavior and lawless men. Hence, Warren Jeffs, Ervil LeBaron, and others. But not all fundamentalists intend to be criminals. Some of them earnestly and diligently practice their religious beliefs without breaking any other laws, echoing the intention of their forefathers. This discovery won the hearts of the American public after the raid launched against the fundamentalist community of Short Creek, Arizona during a "Days of Forty-Seven" celebration, two days after Pioneer Day, in 1953.

Now, 161 years after the first Pioneer Day, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, oversees the Senate Judiciary Hearings into criminal behavior among fundamentalists. Reid said, "We do honor to our pioneer ancestors by condemning those who have wrongfully cloaked themselves in the trapping of religion to obscure their true criminal purposes."

As Huck Finn said, "It's too many for me." Can anyone out there resolve this paradox?

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