A worldwide debate has emerged over religion and freedom of speech. And who, by example, has become America’s best advocate for free speech? The surprising answer may be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Over the years and around the globe, cartoons of the prophet Muhammad have sparked protests among Muslims who believe such depictions insult their religious beliefs. The most extreme reaction came with the massacre of cartoonists at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, an attack that killed 12 people. More recently, in Garland, Texas, two men were shot and killed before they could attack an event featuring drawings of Muhammad.
In the United States, the most notable example of a work of free expression poking fun at another religion is the successful Broadway play The Book of Mormon, created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
The play features two fictional Mormon missionaries who go to Uganda and boisterously sing, “God loves Mormons and he wants some more!” While learning a new religion is far from the minds of people in a village combatting AIDS, poverty and a local warlord, they listen to stories, distorted by a loopy young missionary, about Brigham Young, Joseph Smith and the founding of the Mormon Church.
And what was the reaction of the hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to mining their religion for laughs? Did they condemn the play? Did they seek to pressure venues or cities not to allow it to be performed? Did Mormons threaten violence against anyone? No, Mormons did not do any of those things.
In fact, the church placed amusing advertisements in the playbills. One such ad tells audience members: “You Saw the Play, Now Read the Book (The Book is Always Better).”
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