ORANGE, Calif. — Religious groups should unite to protect the religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a speech Friday at Chapman University law school.
He called religious freedom one of the Constitution's supremely important founding principles.
"We must never see the day when the public square is not open to religious ideas and religious persons," Elder Oaks said. "The religious community must united to be sure we are not coerced or deterred into silence by the kinds of intimidation or threatening rhetoric that are being experienced.
"Whether or not such actions are anti-religious, they are surely anti-democratic and should be condemned by all who are interested in democratic government. There should be room for all good-faith views in the public square, be they secular, religious or a mixture of the two."
In his speech, Elder Oaks cited a number of religiously diverse examples and leaders in highlighting his four points on preserving religious freedom:
Religious teachings and religious organizations are valuable and important to a free society, thus "deserving of their special legal protection."
Religious freedom "undergirds the origin and existence of this country and is the dominating civil liberty."
The constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion "is weakening in its effects and in public esteem."
Such a weakening can be attributed "to the ascendancy of moral relativism."
Religious individuals should insist on their constitutional right and duty to exercise their religion, to vote their consciences on public issues and to participate in elections and debates, Elder Oaks said.
He called for a unified, broad coalition defending religious freedoms — a proposal that doesn't require common doctrinal ground between faiths but a shared belief that the rights and wrongs of human behavior have been established by a Supreme Being.
"All who believe in that fundamental should unite more effectively to preserve and strengthen the freedom to advocate and practice our religious beliefs, whatever they are," he said. "We must walk together for a ways on the same path in order to secure our freedom to pursue our separate ways when that is necessary according to our own beliefs."
Elder Oaks added he is not proposing "a resurrection of the so-called 'moral majority,' " — which was identified with a particular religious group and political party — nor an alliance or identification with any current political movement.
"I speak for a broader principle, nonpartisan and, in its own focused objective, ecumenical," he said.
Of his four points, Elder Oaks spent most of his time on the third, offering a number of trends "eroding" both the protections provided by the free exercise clause and its historical public esteem.
He quoted Cardinal Francis George, the then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who referred in a 2010 BYU speech to "threats to religious freedom in America that are new to our history and to our tradition" — including threats to current religious-based exemptions from participating in abortions and the development of gay rights and the call for same-sex marriage.
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