Monday, October 26, 2009

Defending Religious Freedom

In an address to students at BYU-Idaho, Elder Dallin H. Oaks (a retired lawyer) spoke about religious freedom in our country being under attack, and our responsibility to defend it. Below are some of my favorite points:

Section I: He discusses the divine origin of our written constitution, and the blessing it is to the world. "...[Today] almost every nation in the world has adopted a written constitution, and the United States Constitution profoundly influenced all of them." Others still fall short on religious freedom.

Section III: One of the great fundamentals of our constitution is the belief of 'popular sovereignty' which is that, "people are the source of government power". This power also implies, "... popular responsibility. Instead of blaming their troubles on a king or tyrant, all citizens are responsible to share the burdens of governing..." (Our freedom gives us accountability).

Section IV: "The prohibition against 'an establishment of religion' was intended to separate churches and government, to prevent a national church of the kind still found in Europe."

"The free 'exercise' of religion obviously involves both the right to choose religious beliefs and affiliations and the right to 'exercise' or practice those beliefs. But in a nation with citizens of many different religious beliefs, the right of some to act upon their religious principles must be qualified by the government’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of all."

"But unless the guarantee of free exercise of religion gives a religious actor greater protection against government prohibitions than are already guaranteed to all actors by other provisions of the constitution (like freedom of speech), what is the special value of religious freedom?"

Section V: "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." And then he said, "...I invite your careful attention to what I say on these subjects, because I am describing conditions you will face and challenges you must confront."

Atheism is a growing religion. "John A. Howard of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society [noted] these voices '....have developed great skills in demonizing those who disagree with them, turning their opponents into objects of fear, hatred and scorn.'”

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.” -Richard John Neuhaus

Referenced “Yogyakarta Principles,” published by an international human rights group. "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."

Section VI: He gave five points of counsel for us in defending the freedom of religion:
  • Speak with love and show patience, understanding and compassion to those with differing viewpoints.
  • Do not be deterred or coerced into silence by intimidation from opponents, insisting that churches and their members be able to speak out on issues without retaliation.("As such, these incidents of “violence and intimidation” are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation.
  • Insist on the freedom to preach the doctrines of their faith.
  • Be wise in political participation, remaining respectful of those who do not share their religious beliefs and contributing to reasonable discussion.
  • Be careful to never support or act on the idea that a person must subscribe to a specific set of religious beliefs in order to qualify for public office
Conclusion: "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."


  1. Excellent post. It is easy to see how this is happening and I like that he tells us that we will have to confront these issues. It will be up to us to defend these rights and we are going to have to be more vocal (or at least as vocal) as the opposition.

    On another note, I like the quote by John Howard about how people demonize "those who disagree with them, turning their opponents into objects of fear, hatred and scorn."
    --Does this sound like our president and the leftist party to anyone else???

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I will definitely go back and read it. I feel like the mainstream media (especially in TV programming) is constantly trying to paint people of religion as delusional, dumb, blindly following, etc or plain extremist, lunatic fringe. There is a complete disconnect between belief in God and practice of religion/Christian principles. I find that many still profess belief in God, but think it is absurd to be a part of "organized religion" and don't see any correlation between love of God and keeping His commandments. They give lip service and continue to live their lives according to personal and worldly whims and pleasures. I know this has occurred in history several times before, but it never occurred to me that I would be raising my children during a time where Christians are discredited and demonized. It really is time to stand and be strong and unintimidated as Elder Oaks encouraged.
    p.s. Did you see this piece that Keith Olbermann did on Elder Oaks? I thought he might be struck by lightening right then and there.