What is Religious Freedom? LDS Chimes in… ugh.

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Alright, let’s get back to the roots of ZackFord Blogs. Religion has way too much power, control, and privilege in our society and that is the primary reason that LGBT and atheist folks are discriminated against. (Go watch this brutal beating of a gay man in NYC if you still think everything’s peachy.)

Nothing upsets me more than when people get uppity about their religion. Religious beliefs have no intellectual foundation, and for people to get defensive just because those ideas are challenged is absurd and we should not tolerate such supreme cowardice.

But, here we go again

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke Tuesday of religious discrimination members of his faith experienced following the passage of California’s Proposition 8. He compared it to voter discrimination African Americans suffered in the 1960s.

This is offensive on so many levels. Let’s parse out just exactly what he is implying, just from a single paragraph of newsprint:

» The Mormon Church did nothing wrong. – WRONG.
» The Mormon Church is the victim. – WRONG
» Mormons are subjected to Jim Crow laws, requiring they use “separate but equal” facilities and amenities. – WRONG

If you wish do debate those conclusions, then why are you reading this blog? Proposition 8 was blatantly discriminatory, and Mormons didn’t have any of their rights voted away. Oh, and aside from mockery for how delusional Joseph Smith was and how delusional his followers must be to follow his teachings, let’s make it clear that Mormons are not subject to any flagrant discrimination, harassment, prejudice, or oppression in our society.

But, now that we know everything we need to know about where this speech is going, let’s dive right into the text of the speech.

The greatest infringements of religious freedom occur when the exercise of religion collides with other powerful forces in society. Among the most threatening collisions in the United States today are (1) the rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates, and (2) perceived conflicts between religious freedom and the popular appeal of newly alleged civil rights.

At this point in the speech, he’s going to use these two points as the foundation of everything else he says, but his initial assumptions are already wrong. As an outspoken atheist, I am compelled to clarify. There is no one seeking to silence any person’s voice. We are seeking to challenge the legitimacy of religious beliefs in public debates. Religious voices should still feel free to speak out, but to simply say it’s good enough that their point of view is their belief is, in fact, not good enough. Further, we can already suspect by his use of “alleged” that he intends to object to the legitimacy of civil rights, but again, this is based on his beliefs and not based on our scientific understanding of identities, let alone the real experiences of people, like those I marched with this past weekend. Who gets to decide what a civil right is? Well, it has to be more than just what scripture says.

A writer for The Christian Science Monitor predicts that the coming century will be “very secular and religiously antagonistic,” with intolerance of Christianity “ris[ing] to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes.” Other wise observers have noted the ever-growing, relentless attack on the Christian religion by forces who reject the existence or authority of God. The extent and nature of religious devotion in this nation is changing. The tide of public opinion in favor of religion is receding, and this probably portends public pressures for laws that will impinge on religious freedom.

Atheism has always been hostile to religion, such as in its arguments that freedom of or for religion should include freedom from religion. Atheism’s threat rises as its proponents grow in numbers and aggressiveness…

Again, let us clarify. What is an “attack on religion” or “hostility” to religion? This language rallies sympathy for religion, but it is not due. “Attacking” religion, as I have often been accused of, actually means “challenging the legitimacy.” Religion thrives because of the privileged immunity it has from rational debate. When people like Dawkins or Hitchens (or me) point out that there are huge flaws in beliefs and that believers use their beliefs to ignore (or hide from) quite contrary evidence, we are not “attacking” religion; we are debunking it. We are not hostile, but simply defending our right to debate and govern rationally from those who would use their beliefs to dictate otherwise.

Such forces — atheists and others — would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation. Noted author and legal commentator Hugh Hewitt described the current circumstance this way:

“There is a growing anti-religious bigotry in the United States. . . .

“For three decades people of faith have watched a systematic and very effective effort waged in the courts and the media to drive them from the public square and to delegitimize their participation in politics as somehow threatening.”

Again, Elder Oaks uses language to paint clear sidelines. Atheists “intimidate,” there is “anti-religious bigotry,” and we “deligitimize.” Well, actually, I can agree with that last one. Just to hammer the point home for the readers out there who are still following this post, there is absolutely no such intimidation or bigotry. Outspoken atheists tend to be more nerdy than anything. The only thing threatening or intimidating about us is the validity of the points we make!

In the next part of the speech, he goes into the same old nonsense about defending the Judeo-Christian institution of marriage. Moving along…

Religious freedom needs defending against the claims of newly asserted human rights. The so-called “Yogyakarta Principles,” published by an international human rights group, call for governments to assure that all persons have the right to practice their religious beliefs regardless of sexual orientation or identity. This apparently proposes that governments require church practices and their doctrines to ignore gender differences. Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines or practices should be resisted by all believers. At the same time, all who conduct such resistance should frame their advocacy and their personal relations so that they are never seen as being doctrinaire opponents of the very real civil rights (such as free speech) of their adversaries or any other disadvantaged group.

Did you catch the sneaky thing he did there? See, what the Yogyakarta Principles actually stipulate is that “the expression, practice and promotion of different opinions, convictions and beliefs with regard to issues of sexual orientation or gender identity is not undertaken in a manner incompatible with human rights.” (Other such human rights the principles include the right to “equality and nondiscrimination” and “the right to found a family.”) What it actually means is that religious belief that discriminates against the LGBT community are allowed, but should not be imposed on others who do not share the beliefs. Elder Oaks jumps to government invasion of religion, which is not the case at all. The only thing the Yogyakarta Principles suggest is that the government draw a line preventing such “incompatible” beliefs from interfering with citizens’ rights.

Even as we seek to speak with love, we must not be surprised when our positions are ridiculed and we are persecuted and reviled. As the Savior said, “so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:12). And modern revelation commands us not to revile against revilers (Doctrine and Covenants 19:30).

I appreciate that he speaks of love, but there is no way to speak with love and speak against queer equality with congruence. Also, it would be very unlikely that he could demonstrate that Mormons are persecuted for their beliefs. I haven’t read many reports lately of anti-Mormon hate crimes. Someone fill me in if I’m missing chunks of statistical data about this phenomenon.

We must insist on our constitutional right and duty to exercise our religion, to vote our consciences on public issues and to participate in elections and debates in the public square and the halls of justice. These are the rights of all citizens and they are also the rights of religious leaders.

Sure. I can totally agree with that. Even though I think the indoctrination of religious beliefs compromises individuals’ ability to exercise the full potential of their consciences and even though I absolutely despise when religious leaders preach on political issues, directing their blind followers on how to vote without encouraging them to think or debate the issue beyond what is preached, I cannot inherently disagree with the above statement.

We must also insist on this companion condition of democratic government: when churches and their members or any other group act or speak out on public issues, win or lose, they have a right to expect freedom from retaliation.

Whoa. See, that I have to totally disagree with. The Constitution, I’m sorry to say Elder Oaks, does not protect you from retaliation. If you contribute your opinion to the discourse, you are just as open and deserving of criticism as anybody else. In other words, religion does not offer you any specific protections from how people feel about your words or actions. It’s not enough that they are your beliefs, people can disagree and people can dislike, and it’s necessary that they be free to retaliate. If you had a so-called “freedom from retaliation,” then there really wouldn’t be freedom. There’d be religion and that’d be it. You are totally, utterly wrong with the statement and the fact that you assume it to be true is not only delusional but offensive.

I don’t think vandalism or harassment is appropriate, but boycotts and retaliation against donors is totally fair. I’m sorry, but if you are going to blatantly support the revoking of my rights, I am going to make sure you know how I feel about it.

It is important to note that while this aggressive intimidation in connection with the Proposition 8 election was primarily directed at religious persons and symbols, it was not anti-religious as such. These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of “violence and intimidation” are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation.

That I’m aware of, there was no “violence and intimidation.” Vandalism is unfortunate, but it’s not violent. I didn’t see Mormons getting beat or hosed or lynched. In fact, LDS’s biggest problem after Prop 8 passes was PR. I struggle to see any valid comparison to the voter-intimidation of blacks in the South. By the way, when did LDS get the supposed revelation that racist practices were wrong? Oh yeah, it wasn’t until 1978, a good decade after the civil-rights movement.

As Latter-day Saints, we should never be reticent to declare and act upon the sure foundations of our faith. The call of conscience — whether religious or otherwise — requires no secular justification. At the same time, religious persons will often be most persuasive in political discourse by framing arguments and positions in ways that are respectful of those who do not share their religious beliefs and that contribute to the reasoned discussion and compromise that is essential in a pluralistic society.

Wrong again, Elder. To assume your conscience needs no justification beyond religious belief in mainstream society is foolhardy, or at least it should be. As long as our society continues to privilege religion, what you say might still be true, but hopefully less and less so. If people could blindly follow their faith without consideration for the development of human knowledge and experience, we’d have another Dark Ages!

I find the quote he uses in the conclusion to this speech so ironic.

Professor Dinesh D’Souza reminds us:

“The attempt to ground respect for equality on a purely secular basis ignores the vital contribution by Christianity to its spread. It is folly to believe that it could survive without the continuing aid of religious belief.

To paraphrase: Equality exists only because of Christianity, so Christianity should always be respected for supporting it, even when it openly opposes it.

It is this kind of rhetoric that I openly despise and that motivates me to continue writing this blog. It is the privilege of religion that inherently maintains the inequality of LGBT people in this nation. There is no other way to paint the picture of our movement. I applaud Affirmation‘s work to make change from within the Mormon Church; however, I am sure that the queer community is not alone in experiencing oppression at the hands of religion and its privilege, which is why must deconstruct this respect religious belief supposedly deserves.

I deplore Elder Oaks’ words as well as the actions of the Mormon Church in its opposition to queer equality.  Until we call this all what it is—offensive, disrespectful discrimination—and refuse to abide by it, we will continue to be subject to it.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke Tuesday of religious discrimination members of his faith experienced following the passage of California’s Proposition 8. He compared it to voter discrimination African Americans suffered in the 1960s.Respect for religion in American life is deteriorating was what Elder Oaks told BYU-Idaho students. He said people of faith must insist on their constitutional rights to practice their religion and vote their consciences.
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