Q. A Mormon leader recently made a speech, in which he claimed religious freedom in America is under assault from secularization and a growing gay rights movement.
In his speech, Elder Dallin H. Oaks warned of “an alarming trajectory of events pointing toward constraining the freedom of religious speech by forcing it to give way to the ‘rights’ of those offended by such speech.” Oaks said he believes that freedom of faith is under attack not by legal means, but cultural changes and the “ascendency of moral relativism.” He stressed that these infringements affect all religions, not just Mormonism: “Christians, Jews and Muslims … should unite more effectively to preserve and strengthen the freedom to advocate and practice our religious beliefs, whatever they are.”
One critic responded to Oaks’ speech by saying, “What a certain stripe of religious adherents are asking for is actually an exemption … from laws that apply generally to everyone else — for example, nondiscrimination protections.” The critic also asked whether Elder Oaks’ words were merely “sour grapes” over criticism of the Mormon Church’s involvement in getting Proposition 8 approved in California.
Do you believe Elder Oaks is correct in saying that the faithful are “under assault?” And is secularization a real danger in a country where about 85% of the population regards itself as religious?
There are undoubtedly some Americans who truly dislike religion and are engaged in activities that could be viewed as an “assault” against people of faith. However, their numbers are so few and insignificant that they can hardly be considered a serious threat to basic religious freedom. In the same vein, while a strong trend toward secularism could theoretically endanger this country’s religious foundations, this is simply not the case in reality. Most Americans either consider themselves religious or respect religion and understand the importance of spirituality in both personal and communal life.
Frankly, I feel that the real threat to religion in this country today is apathy. So many of our youth simply don’t know enough about their respective religious traditions to care about participating. When asked about their beliefs, young people may indicate that they are religious, but that is usually where it ends. Many lack any real knowledge regarding the historical, ethical or moral teachings of their religious affiliations. This lack of engagement is not only sad, but can be seriously detrimental to our country’s core foundations.
Of course there will be disagreements between religious and non-religious groups regarding various issues. But as Americans, there is certainly more that we agree upon than we disagree about; there is a lot of common ground that we share. For the well-being of the next generation, and as a bulwark against indifference, it behooves us to stand strong and be vocal regarding the basic principles we all believe in. We need to ensure that our dialogue on all public issues remains respectful, even when we hold very different viewpoints. In a land that proudly embraces diversity and tolerance, there should be no room for denigration of any kind when we engage in discussion.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center
I have never understood why there is freedom of speech, and yet we cannot pray in schools ortalk about God. I can’t be the only one wrestling with this. Yes, religious freedom in America is under assault from secularization and even such groups as the gay rights movement.
As Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated, “an alarming trajectory of events pointing toward constraining the freedom of religious speech by forcing it to give way to the ‘rights’ of those offended by such speech” certainly does not seem to be including the freedom of our faith. I do agree that those of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths should come together for the common purpose of successfully protecting the freedom to advocate and practice our religious beliefs, whatever they are. And I say this even though my particular faith is Christian.
What has happened in America that others have the right to push their beliefs on mainstream society, yet faith is discriminated against to the point where we cannot speak out while others can? These thoughts have been present with me — representing an issue I have struggled with for a very long time.
Kimberlie Zakarian, LMFT
La Vie Counseling Center
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins by stating: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”