Wednesday, January 4, 2012

LDS Church Officially Launches A Series Of Commentaries On Religious Freedom

With the escalating attacks on the rights of conservative Christians to articulate their points of view in the public square, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with very little public fanfare, has launched the first in a series of commentaries on religious freedom. The first commentary is entitled "An Introduction to Religious Freedom", and it defines religious freedom, discusses the relationship between religious freedom and society, cites the historical commitment the early Saints made to religious freedom, and spells out the mounting challenges to religious freedom today. Because it is published in the LDS Newsroom section, it can be considered an official opinion of the LDS Church.

Two of the paragraphs warrant closer attention and analysis. First, the LDS Church presents its definition of religious freedom; here's the pertinent part:

Contrary to what some may assume, religious freedom is not simply the freedom to worship or to believe the way one chooses, though these are essential parts of it. Neither is it just for religious people. Religious freedom is actually deeper, broader and more important than most realize.

At the most fundamental level, religious freedom is the human right to think, act upon and express what one deeply believes, according to the dictates of his or her moral conscience. In fact, religious freedom has always been understood in conjunction with “freedom of conscience” — the liberty to develop and hold moral convictions and to act accordingly. So while religious freedom encompasses the liberty of religious belief and devotion, it also extends well beyond that, incorporating the freedom to act — to speak freely in public, to live according to one’s moral principles and to advocate one’s own moral vision for society. The breadth of religious freedom and its relationship with freedom of conscience helps explain why religious freedom is important for everyone, not just for people of faith.

Socially conservative Mormons and other Christians have come under growing pressure from atheists, progressives, some ex-Mormons, and even some revisionists from within our ranks to keep our views about gay rights and gay marriage to ourselves, characterizing us as "bigots". They suggest that there is no place for "bigotry" in the public square. Yet they themselves are bigoted -- against us. Why we should allow those who are bigoted against us to define our values and standards and impose their morality upon us is a question they conveniently and disingenuously evade. The LDS Church suggests that the right to speak freely in public, to live according to one’s moral principles, and to advocate one’s own moral vision for society is absolutely non-negotiable; nowhere do they imply that we must remain silent for fear of offending someone.

The second paragraph of import discusses the mounting challenges to religious freedom. Although the LDS Church correctly notes that people of faith and conscience in the United States do not generally face the physical oppression experienced in other nations, they point out that shifts in social and legal thinking are infringing upon this liberty in unprecedented ways. Here's the pertinent part of the paragraph:

Challenges to religious freedom are emerging from many sources. Emerging advocacy for gay rights threatens to abridge religious freedom in a number of ways. Changes in health care threaten the rights of those who hold certain moral convictions about human life. These and other developments are producing conflict and beginning to impose on religious organizations and people of conscience. They are threatening, for instance, to restrict how religious organizations can manage their employment and their property. They are bringing about the coercion of religiously-affiliated universities, schools and social-service entities. They are also resulting in reprimands to individuals who act in line with their principles — from health practitioners and other professionals to parents. In these and in many other circumstances, we see how religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being subtly but steadily eroded. And of equal concern, the legal provisions emerging to safeguard these freedoms are often shallow — protecting these liberties only in the narrowest sense. In many aspects of public life, religious freedom and freedom of conscience are being drawn into conflicts that may suppress them.

Gay nondiscrimination ordinances force employers and landlords to engage in custom with gays regardless of the dictates of their consciences. Medical providers who oppose elective abortion are coming under increasing pressure to either provide abortions or quit their jobs. Religious-affiliated private sector social services are being leveraged to accept gay clients in areas like abortion and adoption; some Catholic charities end up closing down rather than provide adoption services to gays. The litmus test seems to be public funding; if an agency accepts public funds, it is not considered to have the right to discriminate.

But the term "public funding" can be ambiguous. Some jurisdictions have held that Boy Scout troops cannot use public facilities, or else get charged for usage at commercial rather than charitable rates, because they're considered "homophobic"; the definition of public funding has been stretched to include access to public facilities which all people, including social conservatives, have paid for with tax dollars.

It's true that the LDS Church did take a public stand in favor of Salt Lake City's gay nondiscrimination ordinance when Michael Otterson appeared at City Council chambers to testify that the Church wasn't opposed to it. But the ordinance involved fundamental issues such as housing and employment, and does not force religious institutions to violate their consciences. But are these gay ordinances also a Trojan horse to bring about the day when the LDS Church and other similar denominations will be officially persecuted or sanctioned by the state for opposing gay marriage?

The LDS Church sums up their commentary by urging all Americans -- particularly Latter-day Saints -- to become reacquainted and recommitted to religious freedom. We must remain civil with one another but vigilant in protecting the freedoms of each other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Further, the LDS Church has a series of PR blitzes rolling out in cities in 2012 to improve their image.