Mormonism and Quetzalcoatl in Court

While we’re on the topic of court decisions about the church, it’s always fun to mention the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Alvarado v. City of San Jose, 94 F. 3d 1223 (1996). The plaintiffs in that case sought to enjoin the installation (and later, force the removal) of a Quetzalcoatl statue, on the grounds that, inter alia, it violated the California Constitution because it promoted Mormon beliefs. The court dismissed the claim, noting:

While Mormons are clearly a recognized religious group, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs does not support a First Amendment argument. The writings suggest that, according to certain Mormons, ancient worshippers of Quetzalcoatl were in fact worshipping Christ. Historically, Mormon missionaries taught that Christ had revealed himself to native Mesoamericans in the form of Quetzalcoatl or the Plumed Serpent long before he appeared to man in the human form known to Christians. This attribution of Christian or Christ-like qualities to ancient religious symbols and practices does not, however, create an inference that Mormons themselves worship Quetzalcoatl or the Plumed Serpent.

Hmm, I guess I’ll have to re-work that Priesthood lesson for next week about how best to worship the Plumed Serpent . . .

9 comments for “Mormonism and Quetzalcoatl in Court

  1. Awesome. I had not seen this case…

    It is not clear to me why worship is the touchstone for the First Amendment inquiry. One can think of lots of religious imagry that doesn’t show objects of worship that might nevertheless violate the establishment clause. The ten commandments comes to mind…

  2. I don’t know, Nate — the melodramatic displays around Roy’s Rock sure gave the impression that many people were worshipping that particular graven image of the ten commandments.

  3. Hmm, I guess I’ll have to re-work that Priesthood lesson for next week about how best to worship the Plumed Serpent …


    I hear the Aztec Aaronic priesthood holders were having an especially difficult time pronouncing the sacrament prayers correctly.

  4. “how best to worship the Plumed Serpent … ”

    Historically, many took the injunction to sacrifice a broken heart a bit too literally.

  5. Kaimi, fascinating stuff. I’m sure you know that the first thing 95 percent of the people think of when they think of “quetzalcoatl” is ancient Mesoamerican and Aztec legends. The quetzal bird is the national bird of Guatemala and the currency was named after it. It’s a pretty big stretch to start seeing quetzalcoatl as a primarily Mormon symbol.

    That said, acting in the “every member a missionary” capacity, I have discussed the quetzalcoatl legend with people aware of it and pointed out the similarities with the story of 3 Nephi. People interested in this should read the fascinating “He Walked the Americas,” which, written by a non-Mormon, details literally dozens of separate ancient Indian legends having to do with a white-skinned savior who appeared in the Americas about the time the BoM says he did.

  6. This thread reminds me of a particularly bad Institute lesson where the instructor pointed to the Friberg painting of wicked King Noah and his court. Friberg, aware of the Mesoamerican reverence for quetzal birds and their iridescent feathers, added some of that plumage to Noah’s crown. This instructor asserted, in a sort of reverse logic, that the inclusion of quetzal feathers in the print was one piece of evidence that the Mesoamerian civilizations were descended from the Book of Mormon people. (This was just one of the many reasons why I dropped out of Institute during college.)

  7. Hmm. So the main contention was that the statue promoted Mormon religious beliefs, but the promoting of aboriginal Aztec religious beliefs is hunky-dory?

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