Former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt tells UVU conference now is the time for discussion on religious liberty

Published: Wednesday, April 10 2013 10:45 p.m. MDT

“I think there is a misconception by many evangelicals that they are a minority, and they play on this sense of victimization,” he said. Even so, he continued, “I think religion does belong in the arena of public discourse. … There is nothing wrong with passing laws that reflect religious values, as long as we remember that one of the great principles is respect for the rights of minorities. We are not a majoritarian culture.”

Besides, said Mark L. Rienzi of Catholic University of America, “we’re far better off when we acknowledge that people have religious differences.”

“It’s OK if we have religious differences,” he said. “Let them have those differences and get on with their lives.”

As an example he cited the recent controversy involving the Jim Henson Company’s decision to discontinue its business relationship with Chick-fil-A as a result of Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s statements in opposition to gay marriage.

“I just don’t think anybody’s rights were violated here,” Rienzi said. “Dan had every right to state his beliefs, and the Muppet company had every right to say, 'We just can’t do business with that.' I think that’s pretty much how we ought to be living in a pluralistic society.”

Leavitt seemed to echo that sentiment during his conference keynote address when he expressed his “firm belief that the free expression of religion and other interests can — and, indeed, must — co-exist.”

As an example he referred to the 15 states that have now legalized gay marriage or civil unions.

“While I remain a supporter of traditional marriage, I also understand that this is an issue that will play out in our democracy — and ultimately the majority may not side with me,” Leavitt said. “While none of us knows exactly how it will unfold, this we do know: Today religious freedom is caught in the crossfire of this debate and it need not be. If through democratic processes our nation recognizes gay marriage and protects sexual orientation as a civil right, it need not and must not do so at the expense of religious freedom. Gay marriage and religious freedom should co-exist.”

Regardless of the outcome of the gay marriage debate, “our religious beliefs can help us create a path toward the better future that awaits,” Leavitt said.

“We will make the case for the good that people of faith, exercising their freedom, are called to do,” he said. “We live in uncertain times. Our debt is too high, our opportunities too few. Families are struggling and Americans are looking for answers to the great challenges we face. In this, the religious community can help show the way — for our faith extends not only to a higher power, but also to a better tomorrow. We believe in ‘one nation under God’ and in the promise it holds.”

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