”There is a battle over the meaning of that freedom,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve. “The contest is of eternal importance, and it is your generation that must understand the issues and make the efforts to prevail.”
The former University of Chicago law professor, Brigham Young University president and Utah Supreme Court justice acknowledged during his devotional talk Tuesday, Oct. 13, afternoon at BYU-Idaho’s Hart Auditorium that, thanks to the Internet age, his message would be received by an even wider, more diverse audience.
Christian principles of human worth and dignity made possible the Constitution’s formation more than 200 years ago, and only those principles in the hearts of a majority of a diverse American population can sustain the Constitution today, he said.
“Religious values and political realities are so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of Christianity in the public square without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms,” he said.
“I maintain that this is a political fact, well qualified for argument in the public square by religious people whose freedom to believe and act must always be protected by what is properly called our ‘First Freedom,’ the free exercise of religion.”
The Constitution’s fundamental principle of popular sovereignty, which implies popular responsibility, allows individuals to act according to their moral agency and to be held accountable for those actions.
The Constitution contains a prohibition against “an establishment of religion,” intended to prohibit a government-established church and avoid the types of national churches still found in Europe. The free “exercise” of religion, he added, involves rights to choose religious beliefs and affiliations and to practice those beliefs.
“The inherent conflict between the precious religious freedom of the people and the legitimate regulatory responsibilities of the government is the central issue of religious freedom,” Elder Oaks said.
Elder Oaks described several threats to be faced and confronted in the future, one being the threat of denying of free speech and religious freedom.
He underscored recent changes in religious devotion nationally, including a rising intolerance of Christianity, the rejection of God’s existence or authority, the growing hostility of atheism and the intimidation of those with religious-based views from influencing or making state or federal laws.
“A second threat to religious freedom,” he said, “is from those who perceive it to be in conflict with the newly alleged ‘civil right’ of same-gender couples to enjoy the privileges of marriage.”
Elder Oaks referred to the aftermath of the majority-approved Proposition 8 state constitutional amendment in California’s 2008 election, defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Opponents criticized the LDS Church and its members, saying they were “denying” or “stripping” other of the “rights.”
“In fact, the Proposition 8 battle was not about civil rights, but about what equal rights demand and what religious rights protect,” he said. “At no time did anyone question or jeopardize the civil right of Proposition 8 opponents to vote or speak their views.
“The real issue in the Proposition 8 debate — an issue that will not go away in years to come and for whose resolution it is critical that we protect everyone’s freedom of speech and the equally important freedom to stand for religious beliefs — is whether the
opponents of Proposition 8 should be allowed to change the vital institution of marriage itself.”
With traditional marriage the teaching of Judeo-Christian scriptures and the Western cultures’ core legal definition and practice for thousands of years, those seeking to change the foundation of marriage should not be allowed to pretend that those defending it are trampling on civil rights, Elder Oaks said.
“The supporters of Proposition 8 were exercising their constitutional right to defend the institution of marriage — an institution of transcendent importance that they, along with countless others of many persuasions, feel conscientiously obliged to protect,” he said.
“Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines or practices should be resisted by all believers.”
Points of counsel
Elder Dallin H. Oaks offered five points of counsel to LDS members on how their conduct can enhance religious freedom in times of turmoil and challenge.
1. Speak with love, always showing patience, understanding and compassion toward adversaries.
2. Don’t be deterred or coerced into silence by intimidation, but instead insist on the constitutional right and duty to exercise one’s religion, to vote one’s conscience on public issues, and to participate in elections and debates.
And that should be accompanied by “a right to expect freedom from retaliation,” Elder Oaks said, listing the post-Proposition 8 reactions of vandalism, retaliation and harassments — including firings and boycotts — against LDS Church members and supporters from other faiths.
Noting that while such aggressive intimidation from the outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position was directed at religious individuals and symbols, the incidents of violence and intimidation “are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic,” he added.
3. Insist on the freedom to preach the doctrines of the LDS faith.
4. Be wise in one’s political participation, including the framing of arguments and positions in respectful ways.
5. Be careful never to support or act upon the idea that a person must subscribe to some particular set of religious beliefs in order to qualify for a public office.
I wish to make a few concluding remarks about the above article.