Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
FILE - In this May 18, 2016 file photo, Libertarian presidential candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson leaves the Utah State Capitol after meeting with with legislators, in Salt Lake City.
Editor's note: The Deseret News has asked the major presidential candidates to share their views with our readers. We've published exclusive op-eds from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. We are pleased to offer this exclusive op-ed from Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.
A few days ago, trying to maneuver through a “scrum” of reporters in Philadelphia, I was asked about my views regarding religious freedom and non-discrimination laws.
Given the divisiveness and pain that have accompanied several state religious freedom laws, I approach attempts at legislating religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws with great sensitivity and care.
Religious beliefs have played a vital role in forming America’s character, as well as my own. I was raised as a Lutheran, and I believe in God and consider my faith and involvement with organized religion to be an important part of who I am.
Yet there have also been times in our history when religion has been invoked to justify serious harm. In years past, opponents of interracial marriage, desegregation and other efforts to protect civil rights too often cited scripture and religion in making their arguments.
To be blunt, certain politicians have twisted religious liberty and used it as a tool to discriminate.
Thus, in response to a question thrown at me while walking down a street (in the rain), I expressed my reservations rather emphatically — and cited the experience of Mormons as a case-in-point where religious persecution resulted in violent episodes right here in America.
My point was that even a respected, peaceful people experienced tragic harm in the name of religion and was, in fact, persecuted by the government itself by politicians who opposed their beliefs and practices.
And on a personal level, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to mind because I had been in Utah the day before, as my campaign is actually based in Salt Lake City. I am well aware of the painful history of government interference with Mormons and the practice of their faith.
In part because of this unique history, I believe Utah has found an appropriate balance in a religious freedom law that serves as an example to the rest of the country that non-discrimination and religious freedom are not opposing forces, but can instead go hand in hand.
I want to be clear. I believe we can, and must, strike a balance between our shared American values of religious liberty and freedom from discrimination. My concerns lie with the possible consequences of politically-driven legislation which claims to promote religious liberty but instead rolls back the legal protections held by LGBT Americans.
This does not in any way diminish my respect for and commitment to the legitimate protection of the right to believe, to practice and to express deeply-held religious beliefs.
When it comes to civil rights and the LGBT community, states are best served when they take an inclusive approach of "fairness to all." Interestingly and commendably, Utah did just that last year with the passage of the so-called Utah Compromise.
At a time when several states, including Indiana under Governor Mike Pence’s leadership, took a divisive approach by introducing religious freedom bills that were clearly aimed at LGBT individuals, Utah took a different path. The goal was fairness for all: Fairness for people of faith seeking to live their religion, and fairness to the rights of gays and lesbians.
This approach was actually led by many leaders of the LDS Church. Having crossed the plains of the United States seeking the freedom to worship as they chose, Mormons have a keen appreciation of how minority groups can suffer under majority rule.
Rather than seek to pass a law with a thinly-veiled intent to discriminate against gays — or to permit everyday businesses to discriminate against gays — this "Utah Compromise" provides an example of how we can strike the balance between religious freedom and civil rights.
The Utah compromise barred discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals in employment and housing. In addition, the Utah law requires the office of every county clerk to be available to solemnize same-sex unions. At the same time, the law provides reasonable protections for the freedoms of speech and association of bona fide religious organizations — and made the religious and LGBT protections inseverable.
It is a Utah solution that appropriately reflects the state’s diverse and strongly held freedoms — and was supported by the LDS Church and the state’s leading LGBT groups.
In a March 2015 article in Time magazine, Jonathan Rauch, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, contrasted this approach with the discord in Indiana:
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"There’s a better path. We saw it taken in Utah just a few weeks ago. The state passed new religious-conscience accommodations, but they were tied to new gay-rights protections. Both sides walked away feeling more free to live according to the lights of their consciences. Both got a win and supported the outcome.”
America is big enough to accommodate differences of opinion and practice on religious and social beliefs. As a nation and as a society, we must reject discrimination, forcefully and without asterisks.
Most importantly, as president I will zealously defend the Constitution of the United States and all of its amendments.
Gov. Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee. His running mate is former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. Learn more at johnsonweld.com.