Religious Freedom

On October 13, 2009, Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke on Religious Freedom at BYU-Idaho.

The inherent conflict between the precious religious freedom of the people and the legitimate regulatory responsibilities of the government is the central issue of religious freedom.

For reference, the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We tend to just hear about the first clause – “no law respecting an establishment of religion” – and ignore the “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There is obviously a balance between the two clauses, but neither can be protected at the expense of the other.

Religious belief is obviously protected against government action. The practice of that belief must have some limits, as I suggested earlier. 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? Surely the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion was intended to grant more freedom to religious action than to other kinds of action. Treating actions based on religious belief the same as actions based on other systems of belief should not be enough to satisfy the special place of religion in the United States Constitution. (Emphasis in original.)

Elder Oaks concludes with five points of council how Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves to enhance religious freedom in this period of turmoil and challenge:

  1. We must speak with love, always showing patience, understanding and compassion toward our adversaries.
  2. We must not be deterred or coerced into silence by … intimidation.
  3. We must insist on our freedom to preach the doctrines of our faith.
  4. We must nevertheless be wise in our political participation.
  5. We must be careful never to support or act upon the idea that a person must subscribe to some particular set of religious beliefs in order to qualify for a public office. Wise religious leaders and members will never advocate religious tests for public office.

In that fifth point, it totally sounds like he’s talking about Mitt Romney. He continues:

If a candidate is seen to be rejected at the ballot box primarily because of religious belief or affiliation, the precious free exercise of religion is weakened at its foundation, especially when this reason for rejection has been advocated by other religionists. Such advocacy suggests that if religionists prevail in electing their preferred candidate this will lead to the use of government power in support of their religious beliefs and practices. The religion of a candidate should not be an issue in a political campaign.

Religious Freedom” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks
BYU-Idaho Devotional, October 13, 2009


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