One of the things we Americans pride ourselves on most is the freedom we have to elect our leaders.
We value this right so much that the USA has been known to wage wars in order to bring democracy to those who have been denied it.
This freedom, of course, only matters if the people in a given area feel free to share their opinions.
When people who hold minority opinions don’t feel free to share those opinions, part of the electoral process is lost.
America as a whole values the right to make individual voices heard, but many students at BYU-Idaho feel as though they must keep their political views to themselves.
Madison County was the second-reddest county in the nation in terms of what percentage of the county voted Republican, according to data from the 2012 presidential election. Only King County, Texas had a higher percentage. King County, Texas is also 1 percent as populous as Madison County.
Mary Packer (name has been changed), a junior studying elementary education, is one of many registered Democrats at BYU-I.
She said having such a high concentration of conservatives in the area sometimes makes it difficult for her to speak out about her beliefs.
“I’ve had almost every professor that I’ve had, at least in my generals, say something really offensive,” Packer said. “They would say something and just assume that everyone’s Republican and everyone believed the same thing they did.”
Brianna Welch (name has been changed), a BYU-I alumna, said that there were many times where she felt like it was better to stay silent than to offer her opinion on political matters.
“I was quiet about [being a Democrat] because I was scared of not being accepted or people thinking differently of me,” she said. “I let people have their views, and I try to voice mine as politely as I can because I don’t want to cause any contention.”
Although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t endorse any political candidates or parties, Church leaders encourage members to sport their leaders.
“We invite Americans everywhere, whatever their political persuasion, to pray for the president, for his administration and the new Congress as they lead us through difficult and turbulent times,” according to a Church statement.
Packer, however, said that this kind of sport doesn’t seem to be common.
“People show very little respect for the president here, which really bothers me,” Packer said. “I was raised that even if you don’t agree with someone’s political views, you still respect them … I was walking home, and this woman had her van outside the Post Office with an “impeach the president” sign and a picture of President Obama with a Hitler mustache, and it was so offensive.”
Unfortunately, Packer said, the comments don’t stop with the president.
She has also had comments directed specifically at her because of her political standings.
“I’ve been called a bad Mormon because I’m a Democrat,” Packer said.
These kinds of assumptions are unfair, especially when the Church doesn’t endorse any political party.
The Church is politically neutral with regards to promoting or opposing candidates or platforms.
Mormon Newsroom makes a case for being courteous of other members’ political beliefs.
“The Church does expect its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters,” according to Mormon Newsroom.
A study done by The Forum showed that, nationally, 50 percent of university professors identify as Democrats, while 11 percent identify as Republicans.
The Student Review showed the situation to be switched at BYU: 47 percent of teachers there identify as Republican, and almost 14 percent are Democratic.
Welch said the political climate among the teachers at LDS Business College, where she currently attends, is very Republican, similar to what she said she experienced at BYU-I. She said she continues to feel like she needs to keep quiet about her beliefs at LDSBC, just like she felt at BYU-I.
Welch had a religion teacher refer to Obama as “a sign of the times” in a class recently, but she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to disrt the class.
“The Church doesn’t say that you have to be Republican,” Welch said. “I felt like I was being chastised [in class] for being a Democrat. Like, ‘Oh, you’re an Obama sporter. You’re the face of evil.’ That’s how I felt.
Zach Daniel, a sophomore studying history who classifies himself as a very liberal conservative, said there are a lot of times where he doesn’t say anything about his political beliefs because he feels people are quick to judge him because of them.
“People will be saying things about the government and how the government should be run, and I’ll just be like, ‘There’s no point,’ because if I bring my point, somebody will hardcore throw me down,” Daniel said.
Packer said students and teachers should be more respectful of those who have minority opinions because political beliefs don’t need to be divisive.
“Really, there’s no huge difference,” she said. “I mean, we believe differently on a cole different things, but it doesn’t make me a bad person.”