Just a few weeks ago in General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales reminded the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that their very ability to use their God-given agency depended upon religious freedom. He said:
“As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom.”
“My beloved brothers and sisters,” he continued, “don’t walk! Run! Run to receive the blessings of agency by following the Holy Ghost and exercising the freedoms God has given us to do His will.”1
Today in the United States many feel concern about the erosion of religious freedom. Religious Freedom is being attacked on many fronts: public prayer, public religious displays, the removal of religion from public schools, and laws forcing business owners as wells as public servants such as doctors and lawyers to work for things that go against their closely held religious beliefs. This could be anything from forcing a doctor to provide an abortion to forcing a photographer to photograph a gay wedding.
In this article, I am going to focus on the newer infringements on religious freedom due to the legalization of same sex marriage.
When the state of Indiana passed a law reaffirming religious freedom, a fiery opposition 2 protested the law saying that it was a hate law written for the direct purpose of discriminating against the LGBT community. Under pressure, Indiana governor, Mike Pence, rewrote the law to exclude businesses and individuals from conscience-based decisions.3 The “fix” to the law explicitly states that businesses or individuals may not refuse to provide services to any member of the public based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This means that any business from a wedding based business to a fertility doctor to an adoption agency may not refuse to service the LGBT community. In a bill to reaffirm religious freedom, conscientious objections were made illegal.
D&C 134:2 states, “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”
Supporting the free exercise of conscience is a part of LDS religious beliefs.
Now, take an LDS photographer, for example. This photographer may not want to photograph a gay wedding. Because wedding pictures are a celebration of married physical ties, she will be expected to photograph the couple kissing and posing intimately. Because President Thomas S. Monson said, “Many movies and television shows portray behavior which is in direct opposition to the laws of God. Do not subject yourself to the innuendo and outright filth which are so often found there.”4, she turns off shows if she sees two people of the same sex making out on a movie or TV. That is one way she practices her religion outside of Church. By photographing a gay wedding, she feels like she would be “subjecting [herself to] behavior which is in direct opposition to the laws of God” in a similar way that a movie would. Clearly, photographing a gay wedding goes against her conscience, and doing so would be against her religious beliefs. The government forcing her to photograph gay weddings is a blatant denial of her religious freedom.
One thing that many people do not realize is how intimately related the discrimination laws governing business owners and religions really are. It’s quite likely that as freedom for business owners deteriorate, religious institutions will begin to be censored. If the law says that it is discrimination for religious business owners to practice according to their beliefs, then there’s not much legal precedence left to stop the government from saying those beliefs are inherently discriminatory and religions must align their teachings to fit within the discrimination laws.
That may sound extreme, but it’s already beginning. After the fiasco involving the Indiana religious freedom law, author, Frank Bruni wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times 5 suggesting exactly that.
“But in the end,” he said, “the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.
“It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.
“It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.
“…So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.”
In Canada, it has been reported that people cannot express views in opposition to traditional marriage in schools and in churches without risking government interference and possible legal consequences.5 In the United Kingdom, a street preacher was convicted for using verses in the Bible about homosexuality when he was approached privately and asked for his thoughts on the topic.7
Religious Freedom is indeed under serious attack. Elder Hales would not have told Church members in General Conference to protect religious freedom if the attack was going to end with the conscience rights of business owners. What is at stake is the very ability for parents and Church leaders to openly teach the doctrine on the family. Elder Hales listed three ways for members of the Church to protect religious freedom. He said:
“First, we can become informed. Be aware of issues in your community that could have an impact on religious liberty.
Second, in your individual capacity, join with others who share our commitment to religious freedom. Work side by side to protect religious freedom.
Third, live your life to be a good example of what you believe—in word and deed. How we live our religion is far more important than what we may say about our religion.” 1
1 Robert D. Hales, Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom, Apr. 2015, General Conference.
2 Huffington Post, Igor Bobic, Fierce Backlash Mounts Over Indiana’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Law, Mar. 30, 2015.
3 Alliance Defending Freedom, Indiana Abandons Religious Freedom, As Arkansas Moves to Protect It, Apr. 9, 2015.
4 Thomas S. Monson, Priesthood Power, Apr. 2011 General Conference.
5 The New York Times, Frank Bruni, Bigotry, the Bible, and the Lessons of Indiana, Apr. 3, 2015.
6 The Daily Signal, Dawn Stefanowicz, My Father Was Gay. Why I Oppose Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage, Apr. 13, 2015.
7 Life Site News, Thaddeus Baklinski, Judge Convicts UK Evangelist for Quoting Bible Verses Condemning Homosexuality, Apr. 2, 2015.