Monday, January 30, 2017

Defending Religious Freedom

We have this beautiful Constitution, designed to help us “form a more perfect union,” with limited specific roles. Included are the Bill of Rights, and the first right mentioned is freedom of religion.

To be specific, the first amendment refers to government at the national level, and does two things:

·         Prevents the federal government from establishing a religion.
·         Prevents the federal government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
In subsequent years, states (some of which started with state religions) have followed suit, and now there is an assumption that a state cannot infringe on this natural, God-given right. While technically the US Constitution doesn't settle state law, the Bill of Rights is there to remind us that these are God-given rights, not government-granted rights.

And yet, governments—both state and federal, plus sometimes local—have interfered with the free exercise of religion.

We’ve recounted these before. Among the disagreements between many religious people and governments are issues of sex, gender, marriage definition, life, and abortion.

We know what is necessary for civilization to flourish: a righteous people who honor God, life, family, truth, and property. The disagreements put government against the side of civilization. That means that the moral compass of these governments—which actually means the moral compass of those holding positions of power in governments, because governments don’t have feelings or morals in and of themselves—their moral compass is wrong.

But they don’t know it. They very smugly go forward, assuming their rightness, and their righteousness, as they trample the rights of those who believe differently.

It will never be true that gender is just a social construct subject to the choices an individual feels inclined to make. When we get past the current confusion, we will look back at this as sheer foolishness.

It will never be true that a relationship between two people of the same sex is equivalently valuable (in the general sense, to society—not each individual relationship) to permanently committed man and wife who procreate and raise their own children to adulthood. When we look back, we will see which is more likely to both produce children and provide children the best outcomes.

Eventually it will become clear that unborn human life is still human life and not some clump of cells, like a tumor, interfering with a woman’s life plans. And elderly life, or life with disability, is still valuable and worth protecting. Killing some humans one deems as less valuable or less fully human is an evil we call murder.

Forcing people to go against their conscience, just because government disagrees with their conscience, is tyranny.

And tyranny is always bad. So it is important to everyone in a free society that we stop government—and anyone with power over others—from infringing on religious freedom rights.

Figuring out how to stand up and protect these rights is a challenge we have to face. On January 21, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and former Utah State Supreme Court Justice (and President of Brigham Young University while I was there), spoke at a religious freedom conference in Arizona. This was mainly to Latter-day Saints, but the principles work for everyone who wants to stand for religious freedom. He said,
Elder Dallin H. Oaks
photo from Deseret News

Whatever our differences, most of us want to live together in happiness and harmony, with goodwill toward all…. We want effective ways to resolve differences without anger or contention and with mutual understanding and accommodation. We all lose in an atmosphere of hostility or contention. We should encourage all to refrain from the common practice of labeling adversaries with such epithets as “godless” or “bigot.” We all lose when debates on ideas and policies turn into personal attacks, boycotts, firings and other intimidation of adversaries.
He used a metaphor of a two-sided coin:

Love of others and tolerance for their opinions and behavior is only one side of a two-sided coin. The other side is always what is true or right. One of these sides cannot govern without consciousness of the other. Those who question why the Church does something they consider contrary to love overlook the companion requirement of truth.
So the question follows, how do we do it? How do we stand for truth while being accused of hating, even when we’re not hating?

The LDS Church has a new website to help: Again, this is designed for Latter-day Saints, but is useful to anyone trying to stand for truth. Among the helpful features are several lists. One is "10 Ways to Protect Religious Freedom":

1.       Study up on the issues.
2.       Speak up with courage and civility.
3.       Get involved in the political process.
4.       Get to know people of other faiths.
5.       Volunteer for a charity—help solve problems in the community.
6.       Get involved in education.
7.       Be part of a club, business group, or professional association.
8.       Extend the reach of your faith—cooperate with other faiths.
9.       Make it a family matter and a matter of prayer.
10.   Enlarge your voice through social media.
I’m feeling fairly good that, in my small circle, I’m doing these things. It’s how I live my life now.
Some of those suggestions might benefit from this additional list, "7 Keys to Successful Conversations":

1.       First seek to understand, not judge.
2.       Remember that the people you’re talking with are children of God—give them respect and love.
3.       Express your beliefs calmly and sincerely, from your personal perspective.
4.       Stay true to your beliefs.
5.       Rely on the Holy Ghost—trust that God will inspire you with what to say.
6.       Be kind, listen, and love—this, even when others are not kind toward you.
7.       Know when to end the conversation—when others are unwilling to offer respect, and listening, it is unproductive to continue.
There are additional articles, links to documents, videos, and various resources. For example, if you’re dealing with religion and schools, there’s “7 Religious Things You Can Still Do,” along with a video example, and links to additional guides in PDF form: “What US Parents Should Know” and “What US Teachers Should Know.”

This website is the best resource I’ve found on defending religious freedom since Ryan T. Anderson’s book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom came out in 2015, shortly after the errant Supreme Court ruling redefining marriage.  In that book he suggests being clear that the ruling has nothing to do with the Constitution. And he believes in bringing in new, recent research, so that science is on our side. He also believes in being kind, and listening—even when only intolerance is returned.

We shouldn’t give in to the defensive position of proving we’re not bigoted while we are being assaulted by religious intolerance. We just need to be the reasonable ones in the conversation, and trust that truth will persuade among reasonable people.

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