The Straight Line

Perverting religious freedom

Last year the LDS Church gained a good deal of positive press when it officially endorsed Salt Lake City’s anti-discrimination ordinances. By many this was seen as a step toward a greater level of compassion and understanding from an organization commonly viewed as antagonistic on matters of LGBTQ equality.

While it is certainly important to give the LDS Church credit where due, it is equally important to call them out for bigoted and demeaning positions and statements. This too came to a head last year, when Elder Boyd K. Packer was criticized for his ridiculous and bigoted statements. That event left many wondering where the LDS Church actually stands on matters of equality and civil liberties, given the apparent conflict between the Church’s official position and the statements of at least one of its leaders. On Feb, 4, 2011, in a speech at the Chapman University School of Law, LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks further demonstrated just how bigoted the LDS leadership is with respect to LGBTQ issues.

The official topic of Oaks’ speech was “Preserving Religious Freedom,” but it really should have been entitled “Perverting Religious Freedom,” as the entire speech was nothing but an attempt to demonstrate how religions, like his, are under attack in America because gays and lesbians want equal rights. That’s right folks, his freedom to believe how he will and to preach that belief is under assault because people want (and are demanding) equal treatment under the law.

Oaks argues that the freedom of religion clause contained in the First Amendment provides special protection to religious organizations because of its “pre-eminent place” as the first statement in the First Amendment. Given that, he says, religion becomes a more important protection than speech, assembly, the right to bear arms, due process, or any of the proceeding protections provided in the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments.

What I find even more interesting about his ridiculous assertions is the simple fact that “in the interest of time I will say no more about the establishment of religion, but only concentrate on the First Amendment’s direction that the United States shall have ‘no law [prohibiting] the free exercise [of religion].’” Why is it that these bigots always choose to ignore selected parts of writings or law, especially when those inconvenient parts interfere with their “logic?” What the establishment of religion clause means, Dallin old boy, is that the laws of this land are to be held apart from religious proscription. That Church and State are to be separate entities and that no Church (or group of churches) will have the authority to impose their views onto the rest of society. That “insignificant” clause undermines every argument he attempts to make. Even funnier that it has, by his own logic, an even more important place, coming before the clause about the free exercise of religion.

Oaks provided a couple of examples in which religious liberty was “under fire.” His first such example involved a case in New Jersey in which the United Methodist Church was penalized under state anti-discrimination laws for refusing to allow a same-sex wedding ceremony on their property. What Oaks failed to point out is the simple fact that the church in question was a participant in the New Jersey “Green Acres” program, which provides property tax breaks to participants and requires, in exchange, that the property be open to all, and that New Jersey’s anti-discrimination ordinances are followed.

This wasn’t a case of “gay rights” trumping those of a church. This was a case of a church participating in a program, reaping the financial rewards of doing so, and then attempting to violate the basic conditions of that program. Nobody said the United Methodist Church had to participate in Green Acres, but when they chose to do so, and they took the associated tax benefits, they became contractually obligated to honor those anti-discrimination policies. They made a choice, and that choice had consequences.

Oaks also referenced the case of professors at state universities in Illinois and Wisconsin that were fired or disciplined for speaking out about the “sinful” nature of homosexual conduct. Why is this considered an attack on religion? These are state employees, which means they need to adhere to state guidelines regarding conduct. They didn’t do so. I am expected by my employer to adhere to certain standards, such as not drinking on the job (or even on company-sponsored travel) and maintaining certain standards of communication and dress in the office. Most of these policies I find to be overbearing and believe them to be driven by the religious beliefs of my employer. However, I choose to continue my employment, and as such, assume a responsibility to follow those policies. Professors at state universities assume the same such responsibility.

What Oaks, and other bigots of his ilk, are trying to do is to stir their religious followers into a frenzy such that they will follow along and oppose legislation designed to protect our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community. It is the same mentality that precipitated such atrocities as the Salem Witch Trials, the Inquisition, and the Crusades.

Nobody is attacking Oaks’ religion. Nobody. What Oaks, Packer, and the rest of the LDS leadership need to understand is that we all have rights, not just them. And in no way, shape or form, do their rights take precedence over anyone else’s. I don’t care if Oaks wants to stand on a street corner like Fred Phelps and shout anti-gay nonsense at the top of his lungs. He has that right. Packer has that right. The LDS Church has that right. Guess what? I also have the right to say, paraphrasing George Takei, “you sir, are a douchebag.” At least Phelps is being a bigot in the open, these clowns are hiding their ignorance and hatred behind the skirt of religious freedom.

The problem Oaks, Packer and others are running into is the nature of our lovely technological universe. They make some idiotic statement, and the next thing you know people around the world know just how backward and ignorant they are. Folks, they’ve been saying this stuff for years, it’s only now that people are starting to call them out on it. And they don’t like it.

Yes, Dallin H. Oaks, you have the right to your beliefs, you have the right to express those beliefs in any way that doesn’t infringe upon the rights of any others. But when you attempt to legislate your beliefs and impose them on the rest of us, you’ve crossed the line. There are those of us that will call you on that, using our freedom of speech to do so. We’re all out here, and we’re paying attention. When you use your pulpit to marginalize teens and push them to (and beyond) the brink of suicide, we will call you out. We can’t hold you legally responsible, but we can hold you morally and ethically responsible, and we will do so.

Bob Henline is a straight man. Don’t hold that against him — he was born that way. He is also a professional author and editor. His blog can be read at, and he can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. People have the right to a religion and to there beliefs but I have the right to be free from religious prosecution no mater what anyone says.

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