Religious Freedom

Reading: “Religious Freedom,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks at a BYU-Idaho Devotional

The opinion of religion today is plummeting in the minds of much of the American people, and as more and more people look down on religion as silly or unfounded, our religious freedoms are jeopardized.  In this talk, Elder Oaks encourages us all to be more vigilant of our religious freedoms and to not be shaken by the increasing unpopularity of our positions.

Part of our religious freedom is the freedom to vote according to our religious beliefs.  It is very popular now to call religious beliefs “delusional,” “illogical,” “silly,” and “nonsensical.”  Part of the justification for this derision of religious belief is the incorrect belief that science has proven that God cannot exist, which any of the thousands of educated and actively religious scientists, engineers, doctors, and professors in this country could tell you is completely not true.  When your opinion no longer has a right to be heard, just because the other people in the country think your opinion is wrong, then you lose your freedom to participate in our democratic government.  Elder Oaks quoted Richard John Neuhaus as saying:

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.

Increasingly those who vote according to their religious beliefs are facing retaliation for simply voting according to their beliefs.  This was particularly seen as people angry about the success of proposition 8 who went after individuals who supported the campaign. This was what Elder Oaks was talking about when he compared current religious persecution to that faced by civil rights leaders in the 60s:  part of freedom is being able to say and vote according to your conscience without being afraid of what other people will do to you.  Going after those you disagree with personally and/or violently was wrong in the 1960s and it still wrong now. Our democracy can only survive when we respect everyone’s right to share his or her opinion.

I think it is important to note that Elder Oaks does not suggest that we have currently lost our religious freedom, but rather he is telling us that if things continue along the current trend than in the future our freedoms are in danger of being lost.  He then gave five ways that we can act to make sure our religous freedoms are not lost. He says:

  1. We must always speak with love, showing patience and understanding towards those we disagree with.
  2. We must not be intimidated into silence, but rather continue to vote and act according to our conscience even when we may face mockery or even violence as a result.
  3. We must insist on the freedom to preach the doctrines of our faith.
  4. We must be wise in our political participation, and show our respect for those we disagree with as we debate with them.
  5. We must be careful never to support a “religious test” for those in office (meaning we must never support a requirement that someone in office must believe or not believe any set of religious beliefs in order to obtain office.)

This is a great talk which everyone should read.  Elder Oaks does a great job of explaining what religious freedoms we have in the constitution and why those freedoms are so important. I also believe he does so in a way that is respectful of those who disagree with us, while still being firm on our rights as religious citizens.  It certainly has motivated me to be more firm in my religious opinions and not be so quick and ready to explain them away when I feel they might be criticized.

What have you noticed about the current trends in the opinion of religion? What do your religious rights mean to you? How can you help preserve our religious freedoms?

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