A leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told a gathering of several hundred lawyers, judges and religious leaders in California Tuesday that secularists and religionists with opposing views should seek balance and accommodation with each other rather than total victory for one side only.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made the comment during an address to the second annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, California.
“There should be no belligerence between religion and government,” Elder Oaks said. “Governments and their laws can provide the essential protections for believers and religious organizations and their activities. Believers and religious organizations should recognize this and refrain from labeling governments and laws and officials as if they were inevitable enemies.”
Although not mentioning Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis by name, in a clear reference to her refusal on religious grounds to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Elder Oaks said public officials who take an oath have a responsibility to support the constitution and their local laws.
“Office holders remain free to draw upon their personal beliefs and motivations and advocate their positions in the public square. But when acting as public officials they are not free to apply personal convictions — religious or other — in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices,” he said. “A county clerk’s recent invoking of religious reasons to justify refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples violates this principle.”
Kim Davis of Rowan County stopped issuing marriage licenses after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June legalized same-sex marriage. She spent five days in jail for refusing to obey a federal judge’s ruling ordering her to issue the licenses.
“We all want to live together in happiness, harmony, and peace,” Elder Oaks said. “I have viewed the boundary between church and state from both sides. … For me, questions about the relationship between government and religion are not academic.”
“Parties with different views on the relationship between church and state should advocate and act with civility. … We all lose when an atmosphere of anger or hostility or contention prevails,” he said. “We all lose when we cannot debate public policies without resorting to boycotts, firings, and intimidation of our adversaries.”
Elder Oaks cited the example of the 2015 Utah Legislature, which, “in a head-on conflict over individual free exercise and enforced nondiscrimination in housing and employment,” crafted a compromise position under the banner of “fairness for all.”
“It gave neither position all that it sought but granted both positions benefits that probably could not have been obtained without the kind of balancing that is possible in the law-making branch but not in the judiciary.”
Elder Oaks warned against “extreme voices that are heard from contending positions.”
“Extreme voices polarize and create resentment and fear by emphasizing what is nonnegotiable and by suggesting that the desired outcome is to disable the adversary and achieve absolute victory. Such outcomes are rarely attainable and never preferable to living together in mutual understanding and peace.”