When religious freedom and nondiscrimination interests collide, we should seek “effective ways to resolve differences without anger or contention and with mutual understanding and accommodation.” That was Elder Dallin H. Oaks’s encouragement tonight at Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies, where he was named one of the center’s honorary fellows.
Elder Oaks, who is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke on the importance of religious freedom and why he is optimistic about freedom of speech and expression as they apply to religious motives, religious speech and religious organizations.
Many in the United States — from everyday people to religious leaders to law scholars — are increasingly recognizing the importance of religious freedom, Elder Oaks said. He pointed to a 2011 study that showed that one-fourth of all Americans consider religion to be the most threatened of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment freedoms.
He also mentioned how various religious denominations have locked arms of late to defend their freedoms (see more about the Church’s interfaith efforts). And he noted the positive development in the academic world to find ways to “avoid an all-or-nothing approach to resolving” religious freedom conflicts. Specifically, Elder Oaks quoted Martha Minow of the Harvard Law School, who said “Accommodation and negotiation can identify practical solutions where abstract principles sometimes cannot” — an approach that “is highly relevant to sustaining and replenishing both American pluralism and constitutional protections for minority groups.”
Elder Oaks also noted that the pressure being placed on religious freedom has the potential to strengthen it rather than destroy it. Quoting the late Pitirim Sorokin of Harvard University, Elder Oaks said, “The principal steps in the progress of mankind toward a spiritual religion and a noble code of ethics have been taken primarily under the impact of great catastrophes.”
Elder Oaks also spoke of the need to return to what one author described as “broadly shared ideas of biblical love, artfully refashioned into a guiding public principle” that was essential in the founding of the United States. And Elder Oaks added that although law and its enforcement are important, it’s this biblical love, combined with voluntary adherence to the unenforceable, that makes for a civil society.
“We all have a vital interest in religion because religious belief in right and wrong is fundamental to producing the needed voluntary compliance by a large number of our citizens,” he said. He added that “in the public sector and in our personal lives, the important decisions will not be in our courts but in our hearts. I refer to the hearts and behavior of a great number of individual men and women — Americans in every walk of life.”