Strange New Respect for Mormon Faith When It Comes to Amnesty for Illegals, Tweaking Romney

Suddenly it's not courageous to disagree with the leaders of your religion: "Romney's Tough Immigration View Is at Odds With His Church." Religion reporter Laurie Goodstein even showed respect for Mormon theology: " identifies with the immigrant experience, having fled persecution before settling in Utah; and it places a strong premium on keeping families intact, in this life and the next."

After warning for years of the dangers posed by the Religious Right in politics, the New York Times is suddenly interested in injecting Mormon (and Catholic) religion into politics, at least when it comes to pet issues like amnesty for illegal immigrants. The top of Friday's National section featured religion reporter Laurie Goodstein's 'Romney's Tough Immigration View Is at Odds With His Church.'

There was no 'I Wouldn't Buy the Underwear Just Yet' mockery of Mormons this time. And while the paper aimed a harsh front-page spotlight on the Mormon church for its involvement in passing California's Proposition 8, which preserved the state ban on gay marriage, Goodstein has no criticism of its involvement in the Democratic-friendly cause of amnesty.

While Mitt Romney is taking a hard line on immigration even as the Republican primaries head toward the heavily Hispanic states of Nevada, Colorado and Arizona, the Mormon Church to which he belongs has become a decisive player in promoting policies that are decidedly more friendly toward immigrants.

The church was instrumental last year in passing controversial legislation in Utah that would provide 'guest worker' permits to allow illegal immigrants with jobs to remain in the United States. The church also threw its weight behind the Utah Compact, a declaration calling for humane treatment of immigrants and condemning deportation policies that separate families, which has been adopted by several other states.

(Strangely, the Times wasn't much interested in the church's 'instrumental' support for the Utah Compact in 2011, mentioning it only once before in a news story before Friday.)

The church's endorsement helped shift the debate on immigration in a Republican state where more than 80 percent of legislators are Mormons. It was the church's most overt involvement in politics since 2008, when it joined other conservative churches in the campaign to pass Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.

Goodstein even criticized Republican candidate Newt Gingrich for disagreeing with the Catholic Church on the Dream Act, which would grant amnesty to some college students.

Mr. Romney's chief rival for the nomination, Newt Gingrich, has struck a softer tone on immigration, but he too is not entirely in step with his own Roman Catholic Church. Catholic bishops support the Dream Act and advocate broad immigration reform, including citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants; Mr. Gingrich said he supports only 'half' the Dream Act - the part about military service.

The Utah Compact was conceived as a counterpunch to the stringent immigration law passed in Arizona in 2010, which gave the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. The compact's principles call for federal solutions to immigration reform, policies that support families and individual freedom, acknowledgment of the contribution of immigrants in the economy, and local law enforcement focus on crime, not immigration laws.

The paper showed strange new respect for the theology of the Mormon Church.

The Mormon Church has a variety of motives for its immigration stand: it is eager to be perceived positively by Hispanics in the United States, and in Mexico and Latin America, where it is making new converts; it identifies with the immigrant experience, having fled persecution before settling in Utah; and it places a strong premium on keeping families intact, in this life and the next.

Paul Edwards, editor of The Deseret News, a church-affiliated newspaper in Utah, said, 'Latter-day Saints, because of their history of persecution and forcefully being dispossessed of their livelihoods and properties, do have compassion and understanding' for immigrants.