The government body that enforces political campaign, lobbying, and conflict of interest laws in the state of California will be conducting an investigation of the Mormon church and its role in the campaign to ban gay marriage in the state.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission said this past week that it would investigate whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accurately described its role in the campaign to pass Proposition 8 in response to a complaint by a gay rights group.
Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, accuses the religious body of failing to report the value of work it did to support Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment passed earlier this month by California voters that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
"We are very pleased that the FPPC has agreed to launch an investigation based on our complaint," expressed Karger, who filed a four-page complaint on Nov. 13, in a statement. "We're hopeful the Mormon Church will fully cooperate with the investigation, and that we will find out the full extent of their involvement in the Yes on 8 campaign."
Since the passage of Prop. 8 by a 52-to-48 percent vote, the Mormon church has been among the largest targets of outraged activists who want same-sex unions to be recognized as marriages.
"The Mormons played a vital role in the Prop 8 battle, and traditional marriage would have lost had it not been for their support," explained Donald E. Wildmon, founder and chairman of the American Family Association, in an e-mail alert to supporters last Wednesday.
"While other churches were also involved in the battle to protect marriage – including Catholics and evangelicals – the homosexuals have singled out the Mormons as their target of anger," he added.
In the months leading up to the Nov. 4 elections, the Mormon church had encouraged its members to work to pass California's Prop. 8 by volunteering their time and money for the campaign. Thousands of Mormons worked as grassroots volunteers and gave tens of millions of dollars to the campaign.
Following the passing of Prop. 8, protests erupted outside Mormon temples, Facebook groups formed telling people to boycott Mormon-affiliated companies, and Web sites such as mormonsstoleourrights.com began popping up, calling for an end to the religious group's tax-exempt status.
Letters containing white powder - found later by the FBI to be nontoxic - were sent to the Salt Lake City headquarters of the religious group and to a temple in Los Angeles.
Utah's growing tourism industry and the star-studded Sundance Film Festival have also been targeted for a boycott by bloggers, gay rights activists and others seeking to punish the Mormon church for its aggressive promotion of California's ban on gay marriage.
"People of faith have been intimidated for simply exercising their democratic rights," Mormon church president Thomas S. Monson said in a statement.
"Attacks on churches and intimidation of people of faith have no place in civil discourse over controversial issues," he added. "People of faith have a democratic right to express their views in the public square without fear of reprisal. Efforts to force citizens out of public discussion should be deplored by people of goodwill everywhere."
Though Mormons and Christians often clash over theology, believers have been rallying together in support of the Mormon church, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has offered "prayerful support and steadfast solidarity" to the Mormon church for its efforts on behalf of Prop. 8.
An online petition is circulating on the worldwide web to thank the Mormon church for its efforts and to "express ... outrage at the vile and indecent attacks directed specifically and uniquely at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members because of [their] courage in standing up for marriage."
"It is deeply unfair, and contrary to the best American traditions, that any faith community, much less a minority one, should be singled out and attacked in this way by powerful, well-funded political forces determined to 'make them pay' for participating in the normal political processes of democracy," reads the statement signed by over 4,600 individuals, including prominent evangelicals Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"We, the undersigned, utterly condemn and reject the ongoing unprecedented efforts to incite religious hatred and bigotry towards members of the LDS Church because, as American citizens, you have courageously exercised your core civil rights to speak, to vote, and to donate to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman," the statement added.
In the past, the Mormon church was regarded by evangelicals as a Christian cult over diverging beliefs and is still regarded as such among some circles. Many, however, have come to view Mormons as members of another religious group, similar to Judaism or Islam. Mormonism was formally listed under "cults and sects" by the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant body in America, but has since been categorized among "newly developed religions" on the North American Mission Board apologetics page.