Religious freedom after death
For years, posthumous proxy baptism, or baptism for the deceased, has been a regular practice in the Church of Latter Day Saints. Originally, the practice was intended to soothe converts to the Mormon faith. They feared that their ancestors, who had died before the church was founded, would not be saved. Church founder Joseph Smith told his followers they could posthumously baptize those ancestors, for the opportunity to move to higher positions in the afterlife.
Any member of the Church of Latter Day Saints can perform a posthumous baptism, so as to spare past ancestors — including Holocaust victims.
Anne Frank has been posthumously baptized as a Mormon nine times. The Mormon establishment claims to have only discovered this practice in 1991, when they formally ordered members of the church to stop baptizing Holocaust victims. After another complaint in 1995, the Church removed hundreds of people from the lists of those posthumously baptized, and asked again that members refrain from the practice. They did not. Another complaint was issued in 2010 and ignored.
Last week, the issue came to a head. Mormons have posthumously baptized the parents of Holocaust survivor and activist Simon Wiesenthal at temples in Utah and Arizona. They have also added still-living Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel to their list of those to be baptized — when he dies. Wiesel himself has been a vocal critic of the practice for many years and has asked Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney to speak out against it. Romney has been silent on Wiesel’s current request, but when asked in a 2007 interview with Newsweek if he had ever participated in posthumous baptism, Romney said that he had, but not recently.
Although Romney is a prominent Mormon figure, it is doubtful anyone would listen even if he did honor Wiesel’s request. The Church of Latter Day Saints has asked its members multiple times to stop baptizing anyone who is not an ancestor. If Mormons will not listen to the LDS establishment, why would they listen to Mitt Romney?
Many claim that the Church of Latter Day Saints has not done enough to educate Mormons about posthumous baptism, though it is surprising that someone would have to explain that it is disrespectful to claim deceased members of another religion as your own. Mormons may believe that they are helping to ensure a better position in the afterlife for those individuals, but the nature or existence of an afterlife is not known by anyone. We are entitled to our own beliefs in life, and those beliefs should be honored in our death as well.
To attempt to retroactively change the religion of Anne Frank is particularly nauseating. Members of other faiths have been targeted as well, though the Catholic Church believes that the posthumous baptisms have no authority and they probably have a point as far as the afterlife goes. In this life, it is still an insult to the legacy of those who lived according to their chosen faiths.
Religious freedom has been interpreted lately as the freedom to force one’s beliefs onto others, but the true spirit of the religious freedom is to practice your faith as you wish, while allowing others to do the same. Religious freedom is a two-way street. Members of the Mormon faith are entitled to their own beliefs about salvation and the afterlife, but they should respect others’ choice of faith in life and death.
Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]