Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Championing the First Freedom

Hawaii state capitol building

Right now, the Hawaii State Legislature is in a special session to consider the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions.

Of great concern to many religious people here is whether the religious exemptions in the bill adequately preserve religious freedom. Religious freedom has been aptly termed the first freedom because of its early mention in the Bill of Rights, and as such, it deserves vigorous protection.

At present Senate Bill 1 (SB1) does protect clergy and religious organizations on a limited scale, but those protections do not, as far as I know, extend to church-affiliated schools like Brigham Young University-Hawaii (Mormon) or Chaminade (Catholic), to small business like florists or photographers, to parents whose religious views might conflict with public school instruction on the matter of same-sex marriage and relationships, or to employees of the state who might for religious reasons object to performing a same-sex wedding.

Sadly, the senate committee just recommended that SB1 be referred to the House without any amendments, that is, without any additional religious freedom protections put in place.

If you're wondering why this issue of protecting religious freedom is so important, a good place to start is with the thoughtful commentary by a number of articulate religious leaders of different faiths.


Elder Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, gave a speech in 2009 addressing religious freedom, a second on the fundamentals of the US Constitution in 2010, a third on truth and tolerance in 2011, a fourth on preserving religious freedom in 2011, and a fifth on strengthening the free exercise of religion in 2013.

Elder Holland, former president of the flagship campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, spoke at the annual J. Reuben Clark Law Society Conference in Washington D.C., in February, 2013, on faith, family, and religious freedom.

Elder Cook, a former lawyer, reminded Mormons in their October 2010 semiannual general conference that "it is essential that values based on religious belief be a part of public discourse." He also spoke at Brigham Young University-Idaho on the restoration of morality and religious freedom in December, 2011.

Catholic Cardinal Francis E. George spoke in a 2010 BYU forum on the partnership of Catholics and Latter-day Saints in the defense of religious freedom.

And finally, though undoubtedly more could be listed, just this month, again at BYU, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke on what he sees as a "clear and present danger" with respect to religious liberty, marriage, and the family in the late modern age.

It's important to note that the three denominations represented here, Mormon, Catholic, and Evangelical Christian, do not agree with each other on many important theological points. But when it comes to the preservation of religious freedom, they stand shoulder to shoulder.

Their careful analysis and wise counsel is worthy of careful study by all interested persons, regardless of which side of the line we fall with respect to same-sex marriage.


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