Elder Oaks and Dr. John C. Eastman

I was perusing the blogosphere reading about Elder Oaks’ talk at Chapman University, the talk where he said religious freedom is under attack by secularists and gays. (Roll eyes here.)

The talk didn’t surprise me. But a photo on the Church News website of Elder Oaks walking next to a man named Dr. John C. Eastman did surprise me.


Taking a page from Ezra Taft Benson’s playbook, Elder Oaks appears to be on good terms with a man on the far-far Right.

I know who Dr. Eastman is because lately he’s been almost a regular in Arizona. He’s a lawyer who is pals with Arizona’s own divisive Mormon, Senate President and unofficial Governor, Russell Pearce.

Dr. Eastman is the director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, an ultra-conservative public interest law firm. He has been in Arizona twice in the past few weeks to champion Senate Bill 1308 (otherwise known as the “anchor baby” bill) an un-American, immoral, unconstitutional, illegal effort to undermine the citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Brother Russell Pearce is one of the sponsors of the bill.

Back in 2000 Dr. Eastman echoed a quote that should be familiar to Mormons: that slavery and polygamy were “twin relics of barbarism.” Then he said that the two new indications of barbarism in the 20th century are abortion and homosexuality. In 2010 he spoke to a group of Republicans in California saying that if gays and lesbians are ever allowed to marry in California, the citizens have a right to react to “insufferable” government policies by “rising up and abolishing those governments.”

I was taught in Young Mens to choose my friends wisely because I would be judged by the people I was associated with. I understand why the racist and homophobic Brother Russell Pearce has invited Dr. Eastman to speak in Arizona. But I wondered, “Is Dr. Eastman the kind of guy that an Apostle (and by extension, the Church) want to be connected with?”

In the long run Oaks’ talk and association with people like Dr. Eastman will only alienate the more moderate, progressive Mormons who don’t agree with Oaks’ politics and find themselves grappling with a lot of new questions. To those Mormons I say, “Welcome to Main Street Plaza.”

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31 Responses

  1. Cognitive Dissenter says:

    I think you’re right, Seth. Oaks’s paranoid claim that gays are attacking religious freedom is a very alienating, demonstrably false, and thus a singularly stupid thing to say. Aligning the interests of LDS Inc. with the likes of Easton will only make them look more extreme and alienate more people.

    Like I used to say back in the day when my Foxy felt torn between me and LDS Inc., I didn’t have to say or do a thing, just love her and give her the space she needed to figure things out for herself … because the LDS culture and many of the people would drive her out. And verily, verily, it came to pass that her eyes were opened by the crazies.

    Go Dallin!

  2. Josh says:

    Interesting parallels between Oaks snuggly relationship with the radical right (Eastman) and Benson’s relationship with the right wing John Birch society (who felt the Black Civil Rights movement was being fomented by Communists in order to overthrow the government).

    I disagree with Oaks opinion (which I’m chalking this up to), especially when he points the finger at “secular” and “postmodernist” nonreligious types as being responsible for an erosion of religious freedom and popularity. I would be the first person to stand up in defense of people’s freedom of religion, guaranteed in the First Amendment of our secular Constitution, since it defends my own religious freedom (as a non-believer), as well as every other religious minority out there.

    The REAL problem starts when religions try to create laws that reinforce their own theology (Oaks is again defending Prop 8 here). Laws based on religious theology actually do contradict the First Amendment, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Oaks briefly mentions the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, before moving on to the Free Exercise Clause. His side-stepping of the first part of the First Amendment is surprising, given that he was a Utah Supreme Court Justice.

  3. truthlover says:

    I’m going to disagree about the fourteenth amendment. I don’t know of any of the US’s allies that have any provisions that those born in the country are automatically citizens. Does anyone else know of other countries that mandate this? I also don’t understand how it’s “un-American.” I don’t know the details of the Arizona bill, but changing the Constitution so that only people born to US citizens or something, are citizens, doesn’t sound un-American to me. I don’t understand how it’s immoral, etc. If so, then lots of “liberal” countries are immoral like this… France comes to mind since it’s the country besides the US that I know best.

    Does anyone know what the most “liberal” countries do about this issue? I don’t see it as the same sort of issue as abortion or homosexuality. Not even close.

  4. @truthlover

    Our rights are based on principles of fairness and equal treatment, not on who your parents are or what they did or whether todays politicians approve of them. Over 100 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that under the Constitution, a person born in America IS a U.S. citizen even if his or her parents could not become citizens. That has been the law of the land ever since. Historically, African-Americans following the Civil War, Chinese-Americans in the late 19th century, and Japanese-Americans have been targeted for exclusion. That is Un-American and I stand firmly against any exclusion of any person, especially innocent babies who have done nothing wrong.

    On Monday, February 7, Dr Eastman was brought in to the judiciary hearing in Phoenix as a “legal scholar” and failed to answer questions posed to him by Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema (a former Mormon) and Republican Senator Adam Driggs.

    Both Senators grilled him and asked questions like: “What about children born to women with U-Visas?” and “How would people with dual citizenship be affected by this new law?”

    At the end of Dr. Eastman’s testimony, the primary sponsor, Republican Ron Gould, held the bill because his own Republican-dominated committee was not going to grant them a do-pass recommendation. The bill will be heard again either this week or next and Dr. Eastman is scheduled to be back.

  5. truthlover says:

    Why is it in-American to change the law? Stating citizenship requirements is not by itself racist. I don’t know about the Arizona bill. It may have holes. Bit other countries have laws like this. It could be done. I really do not understand. Citizens are treated differently by all sorts of laws than others. Work laws are one big thing. I do not understand how it is un-American to treat citizens differently than others. That is all over.

    About your parents, the President must be natural born. That is the only example I know where some citizens are treated differently (excepting criminals).

  6. chanson says:

    Our rights are based on principles of fairness and equal treatment, not on who your parents are

    Well, sort of. After all, my kids were born in France, but they’re US citizens because of who their parents are. But, frankly, my experience in Europe has made me appreciate all the more the wisdom of granting full citizenship to those born in the country. It’s a very powerful way to see them invest themselves in the country rather than growing up with an indifferent or antagonistic stance.

  7. DJ says:

    I think what many on the left don’t seem to want to face is the fact that there IS precedence for government intruding on a private institution and essentially forcing them to accept ‘the ways of the world’.

    I don’t CARE if gay people get married. Maybe I support it, maybe I’m apathetic to it. I dunno. Judge for yourself, I suppose.

    However, I think what religious people and religions are afraid of is being told who they have to allow to marry in their churches, temples, and other places of worship. Pro-gay marriage supporters often scoff at this, they bristle as though it’s not the next logical step. It is, and there is precedence for it. Often we hear that civil rights for black people is like gay marriage and other rights for homosexuals. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. I really don’t know (or, care…honestly).

    My point is that perhaps a little paranoia on the far right is at least somewhat understandable with a precedent such as Bob Jones University.

    My father was gay and came out to me when I was 12, probably a little too young to hear it, but to be truthful, he really was outed and didn’t so much ‘come out’ until basically forced to.

    I’m often apathetic, but deep down, I really am supportive of gay marriage. I apply the ‘How does this affect me?’ rule…and gay marriage doesn’t…at least, not until my religious beliefs are being contorted and dictated by government.

    I honestly doubt that gay people want to be married in LDS Temples. I do doubt that. I’m not even really LDS, anymore; but, that doesn’t mean that I don’t ‘get’ why religious institutions feel under attack by secular groups.

    Why can’t Mormons believe all they want to, and be allowed to be exclusive? They are…for now. But, I honestly believe that they feel like gay marriage is one step toward being told whom to allow marriage to under their doctrines and is what they’re ultimately scared of.

    I’m sure I’m wrong about some of this, and I’m willing to learn. So, before straight out attacking me and what I’ve said, please make an honest attempt at civil response.


  8. Alan says:

    Truthlover @5:

    Why is it un-American to change the law? Stating citizenship requirements is not by itself racist.

    Here’s a short primer on immigration that might help you think more critically about the current situation.

    After black slavery, America still wanted cheap labor. The late nineteenth century saw an influx of Asian immigrants to perform this labor. But then all these non-white faces made white people scared of miscegenation (as they were already scared of white/black pairs) and, eventually, job security. The 1920s saw a clamp down on Asian immigration specifically, though whites would have gotten rid of blacks, too, if they could. This stayed in place until the 1960s, which was after two world wars that had propelled the US into a superpower economic status. The earlier immigration quota laws were lifted — but now there’s a lengthy bureaucratic process and wait periods in terms of acquiring citizenship. Meanwhile, the US/Mexico border has historically been porous also for the purposes of cheap labor. But as the economy gets rough, people’s racist tendencies flare. What do I mean by “racist?”

    If you look at the current immigration conundrum (which is generally focused on the US/Mexico border), the problem of the right (such as the Tea Party) is that they consider the bad economic situation to be greatly the result of a “welfare state” where “illegal immigrants” are draining the system. They advocate for free market capitalism, small government and closed borders. But, in reality, the economic ills of today are a result of free market capitalism that took precarious risks and placed responsibility for those risks on the taxpayer. The cheap labor that keeps many US companies very wealthy continues to be buttressed by immigrant and overseas labor. So basically, immigrants are being scapegoated for today’s ills when they (along with foreign nationals) are a big part of economic backbone of America.

    This scapegoating often comes down to quick racial assessments like a white person glaring at Mexican day laborer simply for being there. Or a white mother being annoyed that her child’s teacher has to focus on teaching the Mexican kids in the class English (and wondering if those kids’ parents are “citizens”). On a day-to-day basis, it comes down to simple, ignorant feelings of whether a person should be where they are, as opposed to having an understanding of why a person is where they are.

    At some point, one might think, “There are enough people in America. Let’s close the borders.” Now, assuming that you get labor practices in America under control (that is, by giving citizenship to everyone here, thereby applying wage requirements that come with citizenship), that would still not solve the problem of overseas companies that use cheap labor that maintains a global inequality of wealth which leads to a desire — often necessity — for people to emigrate.

    The question of race in this discussion has to do with understanding the current economic situation as an after-effect of colonial practices like slavery (where the goal is still not equal universal employment and equal labor practices, but rather profit). But it also has to do with the fact that Mexicans are darker than white people.

  9. kuri says:


    Most countries in the Americas provide full citizenship for anyone born there. Few countries outside the Americas do.

    The reason many people consider restricting birthright citizenship to be “un-American” is that the principle has operated in this country since before it was a country. “If you’re born here, you’re a citizen” dates back to colonial times through English Common Law. There have been bumps along the way, but this had been settled law since 1898.

    As for “racist,” well, I won’t try to read any minds, but ask yourself this: who is this law really aimed at?

  10. kuri says:


    The church in the United States is in no danger of being forced to perform or even recognize same-sex marriages. What it may have to do someday is choose between performing gay marriages in its holy temples or losing its holy exemption from federal taxes.

    Maybe. That’s the worst-case scenario. But it would still be up to the church to decide which is more important: keeping out the gays or not paying taxes.

  11. Chino Blanco says:

    Immediately after he delivered that address, Oaks did a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt.

    Listening to Dallin and Hugh banter, it’s pretty clear that Oaks has been hangin’ out with the fringe for quite a while now. Check out some of the names that get dropped during the interview:

    HH: … I want to first of all pass along a hello from my friend Alan Sears, the president of the Alliance Defense Fund, who says he goes back with you for a couple of decades. And I told him you would be speaking on religious liberty today.

    DO: Good, and I sent him a copy of the talk.

    HH: Already?

    DO: Already.

    Here’s the funny thing about the Alliance Defense Fund: they won’t hire Jews or Mormons. Totally explicit “Christians only” hiring policy. It’s the reason the Yes on 8 campaign lost the support of David Benkof:

    As a conservative Republican, I believe in free enterprise, traditional family values and people’s basic liberties as guaranteed by the text of the Constitution. But sometimes my fellow conservatives and Republicans say and do things that I find so objectionable that I wonder if I’m on the wrong side. For example:

    Discrimination. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, so I supported the man-woman marriage Proposition 8 in California – until I discovered the Proposition 8 campaign tolerates discrimination against Jews. ProtectMarriage.com’s legal counsel, the Alliance Defense Fund, has in effect a “No Jews Need Apply” policy for legal and even secretarial positions. They say they’re not a law firm, they’re a “ministry” and thus have a right to discriminate against Jews and other non-Christians. But even if that’s true, Proposition 8 had hundreds of law firms to choose from. The fact they chose one that refuses to hire a Jew like me is very disturbing. Interestingly, Jesus himself was a Jew, so when a group has a policy that would lead them to refuse to hire their own Messiah, you know something’s seriously wrong.

    A couple other names that jumped out: Allan Carlson and Gary Lawrence. Allan helps run the World Congress of Families, which is where folks like Paul Mero, Sheri Dew and Russell Nelson get together and coordinate their international and UN anti-gay initiatives. Until recently, LDS Philanthropies was listed as an official WCF sponsor. If you’ve heard of Scott Lively and Uganda’s “Kill Gays” bill, that’s the kind of thing LDS money has been supporting and the kind of crowd Dallin Oaks has been pallin’ around with.

  12. Alan says:

    Interesting quotes from the interview:

    Hewitt: In terms of their motivation, why do [atheists], as opposed to simply saying live and let live … feel the need to strike [religion] down, or to damage, or to cause it eclipse?

    Oaks: I dont know. Its possible that they are academics that need a publicity fix. I dont know.

    Hewitt: Were you surprised by the hostility [after Prop 8]? …

    Oaks: I was astonished by it. We live in a democratic society … I was very surprised at the backlash … members fired from jobs, people blacklisted, graffiti put in the side of our worship houses, and in one case a conspiracy to keep people from getting to an LDS temple by making an artificial traffic jam. It was really surprising that people would take that kind of action. Its un-American.

    Shelly (a caller): …Im wondering if the current climate and the hostility towards the Mormons and everything, if its causing the church to pull back a little bit on [the] Constitution. The church has always been a stalwart defender of the Constitution, and we know its divinely inspired. We know its the Lords Constitution. Yet when I have asked a couple of different wards if I could announce, because we do, Constitutional study groups, they wont allow it. Yet theyll allow secular book clubs being announced, theyll allow kids play dates being announced. But they wont let us talk about, [“]well, we cant do that, thats political.[“] Since when has the Constitution become political?

    Hewitt: Elder?

    Oaks: Well, its a good question. And were still finding our way in the extent to which the formal organization of the church would be involved in political issues. And the Proposition 8 fight, and the backlash in connection with that, has made us cautious. Were still trying to find our way.

  13. Chino Blanco says:

    Sure seems like Oaks is trying awfully hard to provoke an angry response. If he’s following Gary Lawrence’s advice, maybe he’s thinking that no matter what response he provokes, it’ll be better than quietly sliding into irrelevance.

    Well, all you’re getting from me today is a dismissive chuckle in your direction, Dallin. For everyone else, I’m gonna suggest making this your Facebook status.

    Caller: “Since when has the Constitution become political?”

    Dallin H. Oaks: “Good question.”


  14. kuri says:

    I was very surprised at the backlash members fired from jobs, people blacklisted, graffiti put in the side of our worship houses, and in one case a conspiracy to keep people from getting to an LDS temple by making an artificial traffic jam. It was really surprising that people would take that kind of action.

    His church is instrumental in taking away a group of people’s right to marry, and he’s “surprised at the backlash”? There’s a shocking lack of empathy there, a complete inability to imagine that people who are directly affected by his church’s actions would naturally react with rage. There’s something wrong with the man. I actually feel a little embarrassed for him.

  15. truthlover says:

    Many laws you pass will affect one (or more) group(s) of people more than another/(others). I wouldn’t say that many (any?) of the laws in the US are biased, though.

    I don’t really understand the argument from tradition. Isn’t that what people are arguing against when it comes to gay marriage? Tradition is not anything to hang your hat on. It should only make you think twice before changing laws, but never prevent you from doing so. I mean don’t opponents of gay marriage use phrases similar to un-American when talking about their opposition to it?

    About previous discrimination issues, it seems foolish to me to assume that mistakes of the past must be repeated. I’m certain laws could be passed that are not in themselves discriminatory, that is, that they apply to everyone no matter who they are. Yes, some will be affected more than others. But that is just as much by chance as who your parents are – that you’re less likely to make it here to have your kids if you’re from Africa than Mexico is just an accident of nature.

  16. Chino Blanco says:

    By the way, back when Eastman was running for Cali. AG, Eugene Volokh posted an endorsement. Eastman dropped off this comment in the discussion that followed:

    What I told the reporter is that I had no idea whether Obama was born in the United States or not. I dont speak to evidentiary questions without having reviewed the evidence, and I had not. That is a far cry from what you attribute to me, namely, Apparently Eastman does not believe Obama was born in the U.S. I then predicted that the Court would (and should) dismiss the case because the determination of eligibility is something our Constitution assigns to the Congress, and Congress made the determination when it accepted the electoral votes cast for Obama.

    Kinda smacks of the fallacy of careless contrarianism, don’t it? I.e.:

    … a regrettable tendency toward tone-deaf, context-dropping, contrarian provocation based on an unexamined assumption that this is what it means to be bravely rational. It is not. In any case, I think we can all agree that, other things equal, intellectual misdirection is not “something to be admired”.

    Although, as far as Oaks and Eastman are concerned, I’d probably call it “careful” contrarianism and reject the suggestion that there’s anything “unexamined” going on here. Whatever you want to call it, it’s not helping, and I suspect the damage it’s doing to our national discourse is intentional.

  17. Alan says:

    Kuri @ 14:

    shocking lack of empathy there

    I left out part of the quote that I thought was fluff, but Oaks also said:

    We live in a democratic society, and we have a lot of contests that are decided by votes. And there isnt a lot of precedent in this country for the losing side taking punitive action against the winning side in political controversies. … I dont think what happened was what I would call anti-Mormonism. I think it was a backlash against those that prevailed in a political contest, and the Mormons were an easier target.

    I wonder what the difference is between “backlash against Mormons” and “anti-Mormonism.” Any guesses?

    Another interesting part of the interview is where he says he hasn’t read Perry V. Schwarzenegger, but rather “fragments of it,” because his “duties in the church are not to follow all the legal matters that are around. Theyre to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Interesting, given his whole speech had been littered with legal matters and the controversy concerning Prop 8. I would think it would be of paramount importance for the Church to make constructive arguments geared toward the “legal matters around,” rather than veer off into a potentially suspect direction. But instead, Oaks seems to be the only one of the Quorum remotely interested in this realm. The Quorum will “peer review” his speech, but that’s about it.

    I don’t know if any of you have read this 1986 CBS interview with Oaks, but the interviewers really, really push him to clarify LDS policy on homosexuality, especially concerning AIDS, marriage, the double-life of the gay Mormon. They put his logic of “one standard: no sex outside of marriage” into a corner and hound him incessantly on the realities until he says what they want him to say. It’s fascinating. And then the next year, following Oaks, Hinckley goes ahead and says that “marriage is not a therapeutic step to resolve homosexual inclinations.”

    Interviews are very important spaces.

  18. kuri says:

    I wonder what the difference is between backlash against Mormons and anti-Mormonism. Any guesses?

    I’d guess he meant something like the protesters weren’t necessarily opposed to the religion per se, but to a specific act of the church. So they weren’t “anti-Mormon” so much as they were “anti – Mormon support for Prop 8.”

    Again, the way he refers to it simply as “a political conflict” indicates a complete inability to put himself in the other side’s shoes. Not many people whose right to marry has been taken away would view the event so dispassionately. We also glimpsed his bizarre empathy deficiency when he tried to draw a parallel between Mormons targeted for opposing gay rights and blacks targeted in the 1960s for supporting their own civil rights.

  19. Carla says:

    I honestly doubt that gay people want to be married in LDS Temples. I do doubt that.

    Yes they do. There are many LGBT Latter-day Saints who fully believe in the church, who want to remain faithful, who want to be 100% active members. These people want full equality within the church – and that means having equal access to temple sealings for their families.

  20. I dont know of any of the USs allies that have any provisions that those born in the country are automatically citizens. Does anyone else know of other countries that mandate this?

    What is any country that holds to jus soli?

    Let’s continue with “Immigration Law” for $2000, Alex.…

  21. BTW, chanson, I thought children born in France to at least one parent who was also born in France became citizens (a weird kind of double jus soli).

  22. Chino Blanco says:

    @ Carla: At the end of the day, I’m more comfortable allowing churches to decide how they want to treat their own members than I am trying to describe and mandate what equality is supposed to look like inside their chapels and temples.

  23. chanson says:

    Jonathan — I don’t know what the current law is precisely in France because I think it changed recently. My kids are French citizens because they were born in France and one of their parents is French. I think that for people born in France (where neither parent is a citizen of France) they have the right to become French citizens when they turn 18, but they specifically have to claim it.

    BTW, the distinction in the wikipeda article (jus soli vs. jus sanguinis) is what I was talking about in my comment @6. Absorbing/assimilating immigrants is a perpetual source of friction in the developed world. From personal observation (living in the US, France, and Switzerland) I’ve concluded that jus soli is a better system. Immigrants are more motivated to want to be a part of their new country (they’re personally invested in being American or being French) because they’re citizens (instead of being multi-generational foreign guest workers).

  24. Carla says:

    @ Chino – certainly, but for DJ to say there aren’t any gay Mormons who want to be married in the temple is just untrue. That’s all I was getting at. I’m definitely not going to tell a church what to teach or practice. It’s just incorrect to say that LGBT Mormons don’t want to be married in the temple, because it’s kind of saying that there are no believing LGBT Mormons. There are, on both counts.

  25. Chino Blanco says:

    Yeah, you’re right, I didn’t read “gay people” as “LGBT TBMs” — but if you’re talking about the latter, aren’t there also plenty of gay TBMs to be found online arguing against marriage equality, e.g., “Edward” over on this thread?

  26. Matt says:

    Is that why the Native Americans needed exterminating? They are the anchor babies of Lehi’s immigrant family

  27. Ryo says:

    Hi Tat I just found (and subbed to) your blog via the lveloy comment you left for me on Denise Mullign’s Harvest Moon blog. Thank you so much for having a look and the compliments on my Celtic mandalas. Although I’ve only just found you, I’m really enjoying what I’ve read especially your thoughts in this particular post. It’s a brilliant, cathartic and empowering solution and form of meditation to first express and purge your anger, frustration, sadness and then pour love and loving kindness over it to douse the negativity out with positivity and kindness to yourself and for the ones who’ve hurt you..including our own selves sometimes. That’s how I feel when I paint my mandalas the energy I get from them has positive and loving power over anything that is or has upset me.Wonderful and powerful thanks for sharing this with us, Tat. I look forward to more of the love and positivity from you. June

  28. chanson says:

    Note: I have just received a series of comments (such as the above) that seem maybe Mormonism-related, yet not quite relevant to the post they’re posted under. Are they spam? Thoughts?

  1. January 26, 2012

    […] Elder Oaks and Dr. John C. Eastman – J Seth Anderson […]

  2. February 16, 2012

    […] LDS Church Watch: Elder Oaks and Dr. John C. Eastman – J Seth […]

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