In a significant, classic, and timely address today to Chapman University law students and faculty, an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Dallin H. Oaks, addressed what has been noted by many of all faiths, namely, that religious freedom is being threatened by pundits, Constitutional-revisionists, and others denying such natural rights to expression guaranteed by the United States Constitution. (See the full text of the speech in the LDS Newsroom or in the Deseret News.) In an apostle’s words, such religious freedom is not only key to free society, it “deserves legal protection” (Oaks transcript).
Calling for a more broad coalition standing in defense of religious freedom, Elder Oaks addressed the need for finding alternate paths to preserving what is in fact a universal God-given right. Elder Oaks calls upon each of us not to be intimidated by those who oppose speakers with religious points of view from having a voice in the public square. To that point, Dallin H. Oaks made the following remarks in this Chapman address:
In our nation‘s founding and in our constitutional order, religious freedom and its associated First Amendment freedoms of speech and press are the motivating and dominating civil liberties and civil rights. [This freedom is founded upon] religious principles of human worth and dignity [safeguarding individual conscience].
Previously and on the same subject, Elder Oaks commented:
An 1833 revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Lord established the United States Constitution by wise men whom he raised up for that very purpose (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80). The Lord also declared that this constitution “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77; emphasis added).
In a previous and parallel talk addressed to Mormon/LDS BYU-Idaho students, Mormon apostle, Elder Oaks said, “This apparently proposes that governments require church practices to ignore gender differences. Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines should be resisted by all believers.”
To Idaho students, while acknowledging a broader future Internet audience he was not then specifically addressing, he noted, as well:
The problems are not simple, and over the years the United States Supreme Court, which has the ultimate responsibility of interpreting the meaning of the lofty and general provisions of the Constitution, has struggled to identify principles that can guide its decisions when government action is claimed to violate someone’s free exercise of religion. As would be expected, most of the battles over the extent of religious freedom have involved government efforts to impose upon the practices of small groups like Mormons. Not surprisingly, government officials sometimes seem more tolerant toward the religious practices of large groups of voters.
Unpopular minority religions are especially dependent upon a constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion. We are fortunate to have such a guarantee in the United States, but many nations do not. The importance of that guarantee in the United States should make us ever diligent to defend it. And it is in need of being defended. 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.
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.
At Chapman, Elder Oaks drew on the words of those of diverse faiths and cited an agnostic, reinforcing the point that this was not only a “Mormon” discussion, stance, or perspective:
I believe you will find no unique Mormon doctrine in what I say. My sources are law and secular history. I will quote the words of Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and Jewish leaders, among others. I am convinced that on this issue what all believers have in common is far more important than their differences. We must unite to strengthen our freedom to teach and exercise what we have in common, as well as our very real differences in religious doctrine.
Addressing the decline of favor religion has had in the public square, Elder Oaks defended the need for its viable, thriving presence, citing ways in which moral advances historically have been made from the pulpit and through it into the fabric of society. He also mentioned the significance of giving religious freedom its unique place so that other decisions that repress religious freedom being made with a claim to state neutrality on these issues, do not override this principle and its implications.
The tightening of the very definition of the “expression of religious freedom” to “religious worship” or to other minimizing semantic phrases, are reflections and symptoms of what Elder Oaks described to Chapman law students and faculty today–namely, the lessening of value placed on religious themes in the public square and the tantamount important of natural fundamental rights to the expression and choices between right and a-moral or immoral in and out of the law itself.
Dallin H. Oaks
By way of biographical information for those of you unfamiliar with Dallin H. Oaks, On January 1, 1981, Elder Oaks was sworn into the Utah Supreme Court in early 1981, and he continued to serve in meaningful federal jobs. In May of 1984, Elder Dallin H. Oaks was announced as a new member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Mormons believe in living prophets in our day, and in apostles, just as in the Savior’s ministry. When Elder Oaks (Mormon apostle) received this calling from the Lord’s direct revelation the Lord through His modern-day prophet, he resigned from the Utah Supreme Court, so that he would be able to focus all of his attention on serving in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a special witness of the Savior and His re-established Church. That he has done relentlessly since.
That this call as an apostle of the Lord takes precedence in Dallin H. Oaks’ life, is evidenced in this MormonWiki statement:
Just after his calling was announced, the Washington Post’s Supreme Court reporter called Elder Oaks, because he was a likely candidate for the United States Supreme Court. The reporter wanted to know if Elder Oaks’ new calling would mean that he would no longer be available for the position in the Supreme Court. Elder Oaks answered that he was no longer available. He further explained that even an appointment in the Supreme Court did not take precedence over the service he had just been called to give.
This strong desire to serve and his compelling voice on matters of spiritual significance–including religious freedom, Constitutional rights, and their immediate connection to and place in the gospel of Jesus Christ–has never wavered.
Additional Resources:Read More