Five years ago much of the East Valley was in a dither over whether to celebrate the Fourth of July on the fifth of July. Fueled by patriotism and religion, the uproar got downright ugly.
That won’t happen again this year.
It won’t happen because the Sertoma Club, which organizes Mesa’s fireworks show, has decided — some of its members with great reluctance — to stage the show on Sunday night even though many Mesans consider Sunday a holy day.
It was out of deference to the sabbath that the club decided in 1999 to postpone its show to Monday. Because many of the club’s members are Mormon, the move evoked a flood of anti-Mormon venom unlike any in recent East Valley memory.
Mormons defended themselves by saying they’re just as patriotic as anyone else, but faith comes before fireworks. They saw no harm in moving the celebration to July 5, which was (as is the case this year) the legal Independence Day holiday. In truth, the move hurt nobody and broke not a single law.
Others, however, were not swayed.
“I think the Mormons should go and do something else,” one letter to the Tribune said at the time. “They’re not the majority here. I don’t care what they think about their church. They can go take a hike.”
The uproar provided an interesting case study in church-state relations and the role of faith in an officially secular society. While the private Sertoma Club stages the fireworks show, the city of Mesa — and therefore its widely diverse, largely non-Mormon taxpayers — actually foots much of the bill. So, should the religious wishes of a minority (or even of a majority, for that matter) dictate the timing of publicly funded, secular civic events?
Then there’s the question of individual priorities, individual choices, as they relate to living in a society that doesn’t always run according to our individual clocks. We can’t always have our cake and eat it, too. If one’s faith means anything, its requirements may on occasion impose some sort of sacrifice. If you love football but the Super Bowl falls on the same evening as an important church meeting, you can’t very well ask the NFL to move the game to next Saturday. That’s just how life is sometimes.
Individual Mormons will deal with this year’s conflict according to the dictates of their conscience. Some may opt to see the fireworks on Sunday. Others will seek a Saturday or a Monday performance. Nobody is forcing either choice.
That’s called freedom. Isn’t that what this is supposed to be all about?