There has been much media interest in yesterday’s press conference by the Church on the issue of the balance between religious freedom and the rights of those seeking to enshrine LGBT rights in law. The main points made in the press conference were:
- The Church will support legislation where it is being sought to provide protections in housing, employment and some other areas where LGBT people do not have protections, while ensuring that religious freedom is not compromised.
- The Church believes that a “fairness for all” approach, which strives to balance reasonable safeguards for LGBT people while protecting key religious rights, is the best way to overcome the sharp divisions and present cultural divide in our nation.
- The Church is alarmed at the erosion of religious freedom. When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser. This is just as wrong as persecution or retaliation against LGBT people.
- This appeal for a balanced approach between religious and gay rights does not represent a change or shift in doctrine for the Church. It does represent a desire to bring people together, to encourage mutually respectful dialogue in what has become a highly polarized national debate.
- In this approach, neither side may get all that they want. We must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values.
While the press conference was specifically about these issues in the context of US society we see similar tensions in the UK. Many people of faith find that to express in public their religious beliefs is to lay themselves open to charges of bigotry, homophobia and intolerance. The Church’s stance of ‘fairness for all’ tries to steer a course that grants rights and protection to all citizens of whatever sexual orientation while also preserving the right to religious freedom. As a people, we have a history of being persecuted, misunderstood, discriminated against, demonised and mistreated by civil authorities (Governor Boggs ‘extermination’ order is only one example). We would not want any groups to be discriminated against or deprived of their legal rights; however we also believe that there is a higher authority than the state and we cherish the right to worship freely.
Elder John K Carmack wrote: ‘Government needs power, but that power should be carefully limited so that people are left free to believe what they want to believe, to speak about those beliefs, and above all to practice their religion and share it with others in peaceful ways. Any society that does not safeguard this principle is intolerant on its face. Infringements of religious freedom still exist, and some “enlightened” governments are eroding this basic concept. Without constant vigilance, prayer, and persuasion this principle will fade and die.’
Our society is much more secular, much less ‘religious’ than US society and even with ‘vigilance, prayer, and persuasion’ it may be too late to halt the erosion of religious freedom.