The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a new topics page on religious freedom Tuesday to “help people of conscience everywhere understand the importance of protecting religious freedom.”

The site’s resources are, on the whole, engaging and comprehensive. In one video, Quentin L. Cook, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles governing body, says to an audience at Brigham Young University, “My challenge today is that you join with people of all faiths who feel accountable to God in defending religious freedom so that it can be a beacon for morality.”

Whether or not Cook deliberately excluded people of no faith from his call to action is unclear and perhaps unimportant. His omission does however highlight the campaign’s failure to adequately emphasize the role nonbelievers play in religious liberty debates.

I’m not saying the church totally ignores atheists, agnostics and anyone unaffiliated with an organized religion — text on the site clearly states, “Religious freedom protects the rights of all groups and individuals, including the most vulnerable, whether religious or not.” I’m just not convinced that the official Mormon message to “nones,” a key interest group on this issue, is going to be well received.

One video describes religious freedom as a “God-given right.” After years of conservative Christian groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Religious Freedom Coalition speaking in these terms, partly to score political points, the phrase “God-given” probably won’t jive well with the average American nonbeliever.

Many “nones” respect religious liberty as an important human right — not a right sanctioned by God, but by society and law. When nonbelievers and proponents of secularization are among your biggest adversaries on a critical issue like religious freedom, every word counts.

Another point that drew my attention about the church’s new campaign is its great emphasis on civility.

In an introductory video, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles says, “We must show mutual respect for others and treat all civilly. No one should be belittled for following their moral conscience.”

A narrator in another video says, “As we engage in public discourse, we should remember the repeated encouragement by church leaders to act with civility, tolerance and respect.” He later adds, “No one should be mocked, mistreated or silenced for following their moral conscience. That goes for religious institutions as well.”

Should religious institutions be free from criticism? Resolution 16/18, adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011, emphasized that people should not be discriminated against based on their beliefs but stopped short of extending that same protection to belief systems. The ability to criticize religious institutions, or indeed to mock them as a means of criticism, is often considered an important part of religious freedom and freedom of expression.

I should note that, despite these caveats and asides, the church’s new resources do provide an important overview of religious freedom and are well worth a skim. Two of my favorite quotes:

“Religious freedom allows us to worship how we choose and gives all people the right to think what they want, say freely and publicly what they think, and to openly live their lives and their beliefs while allowing others to do the same.”

“If you want your religious beliefs to be protected, you need to defend the beliefs of your neighbor, even if they don’t mesh with your own.

Let’s end with some debate on the point of civility.

Does religious freedom require civility? Or does a requirement of civility hamper religious freedom? Leave your comments below.

26 Comments

  1. The jump between “No one should be mocked, mistreated or silenced . . . [t]hat goes for religious institutions as well” and “religious institutions [ ] free from criticism” is a jump I’m not sure we need to make. Civility should not and does not require some grant of immunity to religious institutions on the part of those who would critique–or lampoon–them, though in the pursuit of common respect one might elect to self-moderate and not, say, mock belief *itself* directly. One can be perfectly civil while still vociferously criticizing an institution.

    The quote’s protest against the ‘silencing’ of religious institutions is more interesting to me. I note that when the United States’ Bill of Rights was initially authored and ratified, seven of the thirteen American states had constitutional provisions disqualifying religious ministers from holding elected office–provisions that were perfectly constitutional even after ratification of the First Amendment, which applied only to the federal government until incorporated with the states in 1868. The Framers, whose opinions are so often deified in modern American political rhetoric, clearly thought free practice and ministerial disqualification (certainly a form of “silence”) could coexist comfortably in a free society. Religious freedom is valuable. Unfettered influence in civil affairs is not.

    Civil discourse and religious freedom should not become bastions immunizing religious institutions from being called down the carpet, or shields worn while said institutions brandish swords of political influence on their own. I worry that intent is the intent not so subtly being transmitted by the LDS, among other major American Christian sects, today.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      Well, wait. “Free from criticism” was a phrase used by the author of the article, and it not a quotation from the subject of the article. You say, “Civil discourse and religious freedom should not become bastions immunizing religious institutions from being called down the carpet, or shields worn while said institutions brandish swords of political influence on their own.” This gets more to the point, and “not so subtly” hints at views which are opposed to religious freedom.

      If a religious institution takes a moral stand in public political discourse, it is very common to be attacked for trying to “shove your views down our throats.” (That exact phrase or closely similar ones involving the same throat metaphor, is used over and over.) But no other person or institution (that is, persons or institutions which are not explicitly religious) is ever attacked on that ground. No one ever says to an abortion-rights advocate, “you’re brandishing a political sword.” It is just assumed that such persons have the same rights as anyone else to advocate for a point of view. No one ever says to a gun-control advocate, “You’re trying to shove your views down our throats.” It is just assumed that such persons have the same rights as everyone else to advocate a point of view.

      But there absolutely is a sense among some – maybe even including you – that a religious institution deserves to be marginalized in politics on the ground that it is religious. That is discrimination on the basis of religion. The Mormon church is very well justified in calling attention to that fact.

      • Try–

        You’re right; “Free from criticism” was used by the author, and I was criticizing the author’s use of that line. I don’t think civility requires us to be free from criticism.

        As to your second point, you are right–I don’t think the Mormon church (which I do, for the record, count as Christian) should be largely excluded from civil politics, along with all other churches. This is consistent with the ministerial disqualification statutes in place at the Framing, with the anti-establishment clause, and the religious test clauses of the Constitution, all of which have existed comfortably with the First Amendment since its ratification.

        I understand your argument and respect your position, but do disagree with it. (Civility–we’ve come full circle!)

      • trytoseeitmyway

        Bzzzt!

        Sorry but you can’t deny the Christianity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (I even spelled it right for you, there, Reb) while still claiming to grant all due respect. It’s one or the other.

        I know that a great many want to cover their own doctrines with the label “Christian,” which they’re perfectly at liberty to do, while then denying the same right to those adhering to a different understanding. But aside from definitions adopted specifically to serve an exclusionary purpose (see 1 Cor. 3:4) the term “Christian” is generally understood to refer to believers in Christ. (See 1 John 4:2.) Mormons believe in, and accept, the divinity, resurrection, redemption and lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Mormons accept the literal truth of every single word prophesied about Christ in the Old Testament and written about Him in the New. There are many so-called Christians who don’t quite accept the truthfulness of the Bible and all of its references to the Savior, Jesus Christ, but Mormons are not among them.

  2. I have not read the article and thus cannot say if the writers defined “civility” however it seems that your definition of civility means giving a pass to religions and others; this seems to have missed the point a little. From reading your article I inferred civility to be more focused on the way things are approached and talked about rather than the content. I think all content is on the table; if you don’t like something a group had done, or you disagree, be willing to say so, but do so with consideration and thoughtfulness and focus on your own perspectives. You can disagree and highlight things you dislike without espousing hate.

  3. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865586176/LDS-Church-creates-new-web-materials-in-support-of-religious-freedom.html

    So I went to this press release fom the mormon church about religious freedom. I watched many videos and heard how our religious freedoms are being eroded. They need to be protected and preserved. Everyone needs the right to practice their religious convictions publicly and freely. The world over people have this right.

    I kept listening but didn’t hear anything solid or specific. And it seems that if god gave everyone religious freedoms the world over, well, we wouldn’t need this conversation and North Korea would be a very different place.

    Then the 3rd video finally showed what they are after. What if a wedding photographer shows up to the wedding and it is a gay wedding? Or what if a wedding hall is reserved and then a gay wedding takes place? Don’t the photographer and the wedding hall owner have the right to not allow this based on their religious beliefs?

    So the Mormons are being anti-gay rights but trying to not come right out and say so. They hate gays and want the legal right to discriminate against gays. Listen carefully my friends. It is a lesson of love and acceptance UNLESS YOU’RE GAY!!!!!!

    • I would encourage all to see the video for themselves and make up their own mind. What I saw is Hannah Smith, Senior Council of the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty giving 3 or 4 examples of how religious liberty is being threatened. The examples were Christian clubs being kicked off of college campuses, pharmacists being forced to distribute abortion drugs against their beliefs, and a photographer being fined for not taking pictures at a gay wedding that violated her religious beliefs. It did not seem to me that the agenda was focused on teaching discrimination against gays but in not forcing others to perform actions that were contrary to their beliefs.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      So, obviously, the issue is not limited to photography at gay weddings. But it does have to do in part with conscience and freedom.

      Imagine an African-American proprietor of a catering business. The proprietor receives a request to cater a social event … which turns out to be a meeting of a conservative political group that the proprietor believes (perhaps wrongly) is opposed to civil rights laws. The proprietor decides to decline the business opportunity. Should not he or she have the right to do so? EVEN THOUGH the political group has every right to organize and hold meetings?

      I assume you’ll say yes, because you would be sympathetic to the proprietor’s discomfort or ideological objection. But if a religious organization does not want to pay for abortions through employee health insurance, you have a different view – because you AREN’T in that case sympathetic to its discomfort of ideological objection. And it turns out that the only grounds on which you deny your own obvious inconsistency (we often say “hypocrisy,” even though that’s a bit of a misnomer) is that the religious organization is religious. That is, you think that explicitly religious values are less worthy than “progressive” values such as freedom of abortion, non-discrimination, and so forth.

      But that attitude is itself discriminatory and you need to come to grips with it.

    • They are so anti-gay that they devoted a whole website to this issue: Mormonsandgays.org “Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction”

      There is a significant difference between defending doctrine and religious convictions that have been embraced by Judeo-Christian faiths from the dawn of time than that of having nothing better to do than hate our brothers and sisters who are gay.

      A glaring testament that this gay hate is simply a fabrication by the gay rights community is the fact that Salt Lake City is one of the highest gay populated cities in the US, despite being the worldwide headquarters of the LDS Church and heavily populated with active believers. Obviously on the whole, the two groups are doing a good job getting along considering the polarity. If it were not so, wouldn’t there be constant headlines like from the southern United States like during the Civil Rights movement?

      But you spin-doctor this simple truth; the LDS people just want to worship according to their belief system and want that right protected. But what the gay rghts community would have everyone believe is that the LDS belief system is an elaborate ruse to the rights to hate gays – despite the fact the doctrine of eternal marriage between a man an a women has been a mainstay since its establishment nearly 200 years ago.

      I’m sorry, the hating gays rhetoric just isn’t adding up.

    • The LDS Church testified at a hearing of the Salt Lake city Council in FAVOR of a new ordinance banning discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual oritentation. The Church happens to own several apartment and condominum buildings in downtown Salt Lake (it has owned the land since its people founded the city in 1847, and is holding the land in reserve for future expansion of its headquarters facilities), so it will be renting and selling to gay people.

      The chairman of the Democratic Party in Utah is an openly gay man who regularly meets with Mormon Church representatives and has received their endorsement in his campaign to invite Mormons to support the Democratic Party. The Mormon Church specifically does NOT want Mormons to think that being Republican is in any way required by the Church.

      The Mormons did NOT campaign against the enactment in California of domestic partner legislation that provided legal rights equivalent to marriage to gay couples. They did join with the Catholics and many black churches in supporting a constitutional amendment to reverse the the state supreme court decision that rejected the will of the California voters against calling gay relationships “marriage”. And despite the fact that opponents to Proposition 8 spent more money on advertising than its supporters, it was carried by a majority, including some 70% of black voters who had turned out in large numbers to help elect the first black president in US history. Mormons only amount to 2% of California voters, and did not determine the outcome of the referendum, either by their votes or by individual contributions to pay for advertising. Do black churches hate gay people? Yet there is more evidence of that than for the accusation that Mormons hate gays.

      I know this does not fit with the horns and pitchfork that many people in the LGBT community want to paint on all posters of Mormons, but there it is.

  4. I’m a big believer in civility in every debate. When people shout/mock/hate others different from themselves, they don’t listen and learn from each other. Everyone has something to learn from everyone else. Truly. Besides, how can someone make an informed opinion on any topic without considering multiple points of view? As for freedom of religion, the people I know personally of many faiths and even atheists all believe in being good to their neighbors. If we all practice what we preach, then arguments dissolve and conversation begins.

    Yes, I’m well aware that there are extremists in many religions who use faith as a weapon to divide instead of unite, but that does not mean the religion itself is the problem. Just people.

    Thanks for listening!

  5. trytoseeitmyway

    Forgive me, but it seems a bit odd that the Religious Freedom Editor explicitly questions the use of the phrase, “God-given right.” I can just imagine …

    Mister Thomas Jefferson, Esquire
    Charlottesville, Virgina

    Dear Sir,

    I have the Honor, sir, to be the Religious Freedom Editor of Ye Religious News Service. We here are very much in Support of the Declaration of Independence you have Written. Yet, it is with the deepest of Respect, sir, that we must Quarrel with the Phrase, “Endowed by the Creator with Certain Inalienable Rights” within your Declaration. This Phrase may not be accepted by the Nones, who deny the Existence of our Creator. I fully understand that “Endowed by the King” might seem a Strange Phrase to use in a Declaration of Independence from said King, but perhaps “Endowed by Our Society” would be more Expeditious and Felicitous. It is Fundamental to Religious Liberty that no Nones should ever be Offended by any Public Document.

    In the Interests of Religious Liberty, I have the Honor to be etc., etc.,

    Hon. Brian Pellot
    RNS

  6. There are only two choices a person has. We like to think there are many religions, so there are many choices. Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. All who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Those who reject Christ will go to their destruction. With all of the religions of the world, there is a common theme: not accepting or teaching the truth. Mormonism teaches a gospel that is different from the gospel that Paul preached, and Paul said those who teach a different gospel will be eternally condemned. Roman Catholicism teaches a gospel of works, a different gospel. Islam teaches no one can pay for another man’s sin (though Jesus did so). Buddhism, Confusionism, New Age, etc., teach salvation through enlightenment. But they all teach a different gospel. Those who teach these things are enemies of the cross of Christ. They themselves will be condemned if they don’t repent, and they are leading others to their condemnation.

    So on this planet, they have the right to choose life or death. But God will not accept those who reject His Son.

    • trytoseeitmyway

      Obviously this gets off the point of religious freedom and civility in discourse. But I can’t help noting the disconnect between “[a]ll who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved” (a perfectly Christian thing to say) and the idea that one is cursed (hence, not saved) unless one’s beliefs align perfectly with … downtown Dave’s.

      See, there is a very long history of good faith disagreements about Christian theology. Downtown Dave wants to say that he, personally, has it all figured out that that he, personally, knows what “the gospel” is and what it isn’t. Of course he doesn’t think he’s alone in his definitive knowledge, although when you dig deeper you find disagreements even among the very thin slice of Christianity that is generally classified as evangelical or fundamentalist. These disagreements revolve around things such as Calvinism vs. Arminianism, infant baptism vs. baptism by immersion after age of accountability, the immutability of salvation vs. the idea that the state of grace can be lost, and so forth. It is only at some point that these folks think that disagreements over doctrine rise to the level of “a different gospel,” but I would think that it would be difficult even for them to say where that line gets drawn. And when they include the Catholics as well as the Mormons in the “cursed” category, you know that they are themselves verging into the territory previously occupied by the Pharisees.

      The “gospel” to which Paul referred (Gal. 1:8) is simply the revelations of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:12.) We are assured that “[e]very spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” (1 John 4:2.) This applies to the Catholics, the Mormons and essentially every other Christian denomination or sect. I don’t mean to say that there are not important differences or that it is not important for Christians to seek God’s revealed wisdom and directions, even to the point of resolving for ourselves some of the great theological issues. But I do mean to say that Jesus is the Savior, not the Damn-er, and that it is simply wrong, and un-Biblical, to claim that salvation from death and Hell depends on the “correct” understanding of theology. Christ’s mission was to “the world … that the world, though him, might be saved” (John 3:17), and not just the folks whose soteriology lines up with Dave’s.

  7. The religion of freedom has only one commandment: Thou shalt not coerce your fellow man.

    Coercion is when you either use force or fraud to get people to do what you want.

    I”m a big fan of civility, but it is not a primary virtue in a free society. To be able to live your life free from coercion and to be true to the faith of not coercing others is the primary virtue.

    If we could just get everybody to convert to freedom, most other issues would take care of themselves.

    Imagine a world:
    Where nobody coerces you into worshiping their god.
    Where nobody tries to prevent you from worshiping your god.
    Where nobody uses the mafia or government to force you to do business with them.
    Where you are not forced to join anybody else’s welfare state or commune.
    Where you get to freely choose your political leaders and they are perfectly honest with you.

    • That sounds like the perfect environment for breeding a new race of a-holes to rule over everyone else.

      I prefer to imagine a world without a-holes. But I don’t hold out any hope of achieving it.

      • trytoseeitmyway

        So you’re complaint about freedom is that bad people (I’ll say that, rather than the obscenity) might rule over everyone else. There are two responses to that. One, it’s not a reasonable fear because the mechanisms for such rule would be taken away – that’s the whole point. Two, you’re fear is that the circumstances we have now would reassert themselves. That’s no argument for the status quo, dear.

  8. It will be interesting to see when politics, a very close ally to many religions for some time (since there has not been separation of church and state in those cases), will turn upon religion and refuse “religious freedom.” It is already evident that things are turning this way in the political field, but it was also prophecied in the Bible that this would take place in the last days of an era in which we are living.

  9. LDS Christian

    I am a Latter-Day Christian. I believe in Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross for my sins, rose the third day, and ascended to Heaven and, as the dying Stephen witnessed, sits on the right hand our Father in Heaven. It is your God given right to believe what you wish to believe, up to and including whether I am, or am not, a Christian- according to your personal definition of what one is. However, you need to understand that the scriptures, as they say of themselves, are of no private interpretation. As such, you do not have a corner, the authority or the last word on who is, or is not a Christian. Only God knows who is his true disciples are. Furthermore, in my opinion, too many people hang their hat on Paul’s remarks in Ephesians on grace, and ignore his other sober admonitions to refrain from sinful acts, which he clearly says will keep the sinner from inheriting Eternal life. James also taught that grace without works is dead. Without Christ’s blood shed for those who accept him, we would all be eternally damned. No matter what good works we may do in this life, we would always fall short; we are all sinners. Christ was the only perfect person. However, once we accept the Savior, are baptized in the name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Ghost, we need to become knew creatures and walk in righteousness. When we stumble, we can ask his forgiveness, and The Savior’s blood will cleanse us. When we do this in faith, we can be saved. But as The Savior said, “strait is the gate and narrow is the way” to salvation. We must continue to press forward, having faith Christ, enduring to the end.

  10. Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was very emphatic in believing in the religious freedom of all people, including those who disagreed with him. He often invted visiting ministers of other faiths to take the podium where the Mormons gathered on Sundays and preach their own sermons. In 1842, in answer to a request form a newspaper editor, he wrote a summary of some of the beliefs of Mormons, and included as #11 the following:

    “11.We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

    Clearly, Smith did not believe any person should be forced to engage in a religious exercise against his will. That principle clearly applies to an agnostic or atheist. Brigham Young exrpessed it as the principle of “Mind your own business” and don’t interfere in mine.

    No atheist is going to be coerced to speak or act like a Mormon, and Mormons hope that no Mormon will be compelled by an atheist (who doesn’t believe in the existence of God) to be compelled to act as if God does not exist, and the standards of morality can be dictated by society without reference to what each person believes are the rules laid down by deity.

  11. When it comes to same sex marriages, there are certain roles in them and their accompanying celebrations which imply that those performing those roles are in support of the specific marriage, and of the principle of same sex marriage generally. If someone’s deeply held religious beliefs are contrary to making such an endorsement, then it burdens their conscience to coerce them into such participation.

    Simply selling someone wine at a supermarket is not that kind of conscience-threatening participation. No one is asked why they are buying wine, and refusing a sale to a gay couple would be irrational discrimination.

    On the other hand, participation in, say, designing and making custom wedding dresses or tuxedos for the couple would require deep involvement. It is a level of involvement where the personal enthusiasm of the provider of the service or goods is an important determinant of the quality of the product. No gay couple would want someone assigned an important role in that event who is not going to apply their best efforts and skills and creativity to the job. Coercing someone into a creative role that they don’t want is to invite a lower quality product. The gay couple is better off hiring someone who is willing to invest their best into the occasion, rather than hiring someone who does not want to be there, and does not want to be identified with the event.

    In the US armed forces, we have established the right of persons to object to, and resign from, military service, if they have a deep and abiding conviction, whether based on religious beliefs or otherwise, that their prior decision to enlist was wrong, and that they should not participate in combat. While that places a real burden on their fellow citizens, we honor those conscientious objectors because we believe people should be allowed to follow the better angels of their nature.

    In the case of gay couples, the harm to them if someone declines a significant role in their wedding is minimal, a five minute delay while they search on the internet to find someone who does not have those objections. It does not prevent the marriage, nor does it prevent it from being everything that the couple wants it to be. It is a minor irritant, like imperfect weather on the day of the ceremony. It is wildly disporportionate to punish the CO with fines of thousands of dollars, and the ruination of their business, for such a trivial offense. Such punishment invites gay people to hate, and to inflict pain on people who do not sufficiently love gay couples.

    The use of government’s coercive power to say “Love us or else” says that same sex marriage is about unleashing a gay couple’s hate just as much as it is about implementing their love. It is certainly going to persuade many people to have second thoughts about adopting same sex marriage as the law in their own states.

    Advocates of same sex marriage have argued “It does not harm anyone, it does not involve you or harm you.” But if it is used as a basis to punish those who disagree, those statements are turned into lies. If you have religious objections to participating in a same sex wedding, the same sex marriage wedding limo is going to run you over.

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