Thursday, October 15, 2009

Religious and other freedoms...

This is not necessarily a well-thought out opinion paper that could be presented or published, but it is my reaction toward the now-infamous talk by Elder Oaks about religious freedom. I’ll just jump right in…

I didn’t find anything to disagree with at the beginning of the talk. In fact, I was thinking, “how is any of this controversial?” The Constitution, religious freedom, protecting the rights of “all flesh”, democracy, and popular sovereignty are all good things that should be protected. It seemed like the thesis of his talk was this: “This principle of sovereignty in the people explains the meaning of God’s revelation that He established the Constitution of the United States “that every man may act . . . according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:78).” But from there, it seemed like most of what he said refuted this idea rather than supported it.

Elder Oaks seems to believe that religious freedom trumps the rest of the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech. He states that “during my lifetime I have seen a significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion in our public life, and I believe that the vitality of religious freedom is in danger of being weakened accordingly” and bases the rest of his talk on this belief. He doesn’t really give any examples of how it is being weakened, though, other than the Proposition 8 debacle. In fact, he states that “religious freedom has always been at risk.” Could it be that it is no more at risk now than it has been in the past?

I sensed something going wrong when he mentioned “newly alleged” civil rights. This was my “uh-oh, where is this going?” moment. As I read on, it seemed like by “newly alleged” he meant silly, wrong, or false. When he talked about the newly alleged “civil right” of same-sex couples to get married, with the quotation marks in the written copy of the talk, I felt sad and let down. Elder Oaks had spent the first part of his talk outlining the greatness of the Constitution and how it was the first document to guarantee the rights of religion, free speech, etc. (in other words, “newly alleged” civil rights at the time of its writing), and was now moving toward pitting one minority group against another. He totally lost me when he said “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.” In other words, not only can the other side not express an opinion, they should be barred from having the opinion in the first place (or retaliated against if they do have an opinion?) It is this, and the condescending tone of the entire second half of the talk, that upset me rather than the silly comparison between what the church is going through now and what African-Americans experienced during the pre-civil rights era.

To support the wrongness of those that are anti-religion and pro-gay marriage (for him, the two viewpoints are one and the same), he concludes by talking about “Christian principles of human worth and dignity” and quotes that “It was Jesus who first stated that all men are created equal [and] that every person . . . is valued and loved by God.” Funny, I would use the same arguments, along with “love one another” and Elder Oaks’ previous statements about our God-given right of popular sovereignty and free agency, to support giving two people that love each other the right to marry regardless of gender. Is there something I’m missing?


Sean said...

It is sad that the leaders of the church just can't get it. Some of this is a generational thing I think. It is even more unfortunate when they support freedoms and liberty so long as it is in the church's best interest and not that of "the people." I find it truly frightening that Mormonism is following the irrationality of other literalist and fundamentalist religions.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing silly about African-Americans.

Good to be Free said...

Thanks for your comments. I have to generally agree with Elder Oaks that religious freedom is one of the foundational aspects of the Bill of Rights and should be accorded a distinct place of importance.

My question then becomes, why do we recognize the right of belief and practice of one religionist over another. This is to say why does the marriage performed by the Mormon church carry as much weight as the one performed by the Unitarian church or another denomination that is willing to marry same-sex couples.

When the performance of such religious practices does not interfere with the rights of others, the government should give no preference to one practice over another.

The constitution must err on the side of religious freedom of thought and practice. If there is no tangible, provable, impact on the the rights of others then the government should have no say in the belief or practice of any religion.

Just a few thoughts. Thanks again for yours.


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