Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke on the rising threat to religious freedom at BYU-Idaho on Tuesday. We are all guaranteed religious freedom under the U.S Constitution but his condemnation of the recent attacks on that freedom—including gay activists painting swastikas on churches— apparently earned him a spot on Keith Olbermann’s “worst person in the world” list.
??!?? Yes. It’s true. What’s all the bruhaha? Read for yourself what Olbermann’s antics confirm.
Dallin H. Oaks on Religious Freedom at Risk:
“Religious freedom has always been at risk. It was repression of religious belief and practice that drove the Pilgrim fathers and other dissenters to the shores of this continent. Even today, leaders in all too many nations use state power to repress religious believers.
The greatest infringements of religious freedom occur when the exercise of religion collides with other powerful forces in society. Among the most threatening collisions in the United States today are (1) the rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates, and (2) perceived conflicts between religious freedom and the popular appeal of newly alleged civil rights.
Silencing Religious Voices in the Public Square
A writer for The Christian Science Monitor predicts that the coming century will be “very secular and religiously antagonistic,” with intolerance of Christianity “ris[ing] to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes.”[vi] Other wise observers have noted the ever-growing, relentless attack on the Christian religion by forces who reject the existence or authority of God.[vii] The extent and nature of religious devotion in this nation is changing. The tide of public opinion in favor of religion is receding, and this probably portends public pressures for laws that will impinge on religious freedom.
Atheism has always been hostile to religion, such as in its arguments that freedom of or for religion should include freedom from religion. Atheism’s threat rises as its proponents grow in numbers and aggressiveness. “By some counts,” a recent article in The Economist declares, “there are at least 500 [million] declared non-believers in the world — enough to make atheism the fourth-biggest religion.”[viii] And atheism’s spokesmen are aggressive, as recent publications show.[ix] As noted by John A. Howard of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, these voices “have developed great skills in demonizing those who disagree with them, turning their opponents into objects of fear, hatred and scorn.”[x]
Such forces — atheists and others — would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation. Noted author and legal commentator Hugh Hewitt described the current circumstance this way:
“There is a growing anti-religious bigotry in the United States. . . .
“For three decades people of faith have watched a systematic and very effective effort waged in the courts and the media to drive them from the public square and to delegitimize their participation in politics as somehow threatening.”[xi]
For example, a prominent gay-rights spokesman gave this explanation for his objection to our Church’s position on California’s Proposition 8:
“I’m not intending it to harm the religion. I think they do wonderful things. Nicest people. . . . My single goal is to get them out of the same-sex marriage business and back to helping hurricane victims.”[xii]
Aside from the obvious fact that this objection would deny free speech as well as religious freedom to members of our Church and its coalition partners, there are other reasons why the public square must be open to religious ideas and religious persons. As Richard John Neuhaus said many years ago, “In a democracy that is free and robust, an opinion is no more disqualified for being ‘religious’ than for being atheistic, or psychoanalytic, or Marxist, or just plain dumb.”[xiii]
Religious Freedom Diluted by Other “Civil Rights”
A second threat to religious freedom 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.
We have endured a wave of media-reported charges that the Mormons are trying to “deny” people or “strip” people of their “rights.” After a significant majority of California voters (seven million — over 52 percent) approved Proposition 8’s limiting marriage to a man and a woman, some opponents characterized the vote as denying people their civil rights. In fact, the Proposition 8 battle was not about civil rights, but about what equal rights demand and what religious rights protect. 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.
The marriage union of a man and a woman has been the teaching of the Judeo-Christian scriptures and the core legal definition and practice of marriage in Western culture for thousands of years. Those who seek to change the foundation of marriage should not be allowed to pretend that those who defend the ancient order are trampling on civil rights. 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.
Religious freedom needs defending against the claims of newly asserted human rights. The so-called “Yogyakarta Principles,” published by an international human rights group, call for governments to assure that all persons have the right to practice their religious beliefs regardless of sexual orientation or identity.[xiv] This apparently proposes that governments require church practices and their doctrines to ignore gender differences. Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines or practices should be resisted by all believers. At the same time, all who conduct such resistance should frame their advocacy and their personal relations so that they are never seen as being doctrinaire opponents of the very real civil rights (such as free speech) of their adversaries or any other disadvantaged group.”
“It was the Christian principles of human worth and dignity that made possible the formation of the United States Constitution over 200 years ago, and only those principles in the hearts of a majority of our diverse population can sustain that constitution today. Our constitution’s revolutionary concepts of sovereignty in the people and significant guarantees of personal rights were, as John A. Howard has written,
“generated by a people for whom Christianity had been for a century and a half the compelling feature of their lives. It was Jesus who first stated that all men are created equal [and] that every person . . . is valued and loved by God.”[xviii]
Professor Dinesh D’Souza reminds us:
“The attempt to ground respect for equality on a purely secular basis ignores the vital contribution by Christianity to its spread. It is folly to believe that it could survive without the continuing aid of religious belief.”[xix]
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. 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.”
Transcript of Elder Dallin H. Oaks speech given at BYU-Idaho on 13 October 2009.
See entire transcript in the LDS Newsroom.