A group of 19 scholars of Mormon history filed a brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over President Donald Trump’s blocked travel ban, pointing out similarities between the treatment of Mormon immigrants in the 19th century and Muslim immigrants today.
“I was very concerned about the administration’s targeting of Muslims,” Nate Oman, a professor of law at the College of William & Mary and main author of the brief told CNN. Government targeting of Mormons in the 19th century was the closest historical parallel, he said, and “I thought it would be useful to look at that story and bring it to the court’s attention.
Mob violence drove early Mormons from their homes in Missouri and Illinois in the 1830s and 1840s, and for decades after, the federal government attempted to restrict Mormon voting rights and halt foreign Mormon converts from immigrating to the US.
“The Mormon experience illustrates the harms that result from the government targeting a particular religion,” the brief reads. “The federal government’s actions against Mormons occurred at a time when First Amendment jurisprudence was in its infancy and the law blessed government actions that today would be blatantly unconstitutional.”
Oman believes attempts to restrict Muslims from entering the country are based in fear, a similarity to Mormonism. “I think most of it is fear as a result of 9/11 and terrorist attacks,” he said. “People assume Muslims are dangerous.”
The brief, filed last week, calls for the court to “prevent harms of the kind committed against the Mormon community in the past.”
Trump has attempted twice to pass travel bans by executive order, and both have been blocked by federal courts. His second, a revised ban that singled out six countries in the Middle East and Africa with Muslim-majority populations, was blocked hours before it was supposed to go into effect last month.
US District Court Judge Derrick Watson, who blocked the revised ban, said the intent was to stop Muslims from entering the country, citing Trump’s campaign promise for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Trump called the block “unprecedented judicial overreach.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed a quote to W. Paul Reeve.