Understanding and civility are indispensable ingredients to bring an end to the culture wars that trouble our pluralistic nation. So said Elder Dallin H. Oaks Friday, March 25, 2016, at the Claremont Graduate School’s conference, “Religious Freedom in the 21st Century.”
In a speech titled “Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Society” (see full transcript), Elder Oaks, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, encouraged religious freedom’s defenders and detractors to “understand the other side’s point of view” and “avoid leading out with nonnegotiables or extreme positions.”
Elder Oaks reminded believers that both divine and civil laws exist, and they should seek to harmonize conflicts between the two whenever possible. “When the two prove to be truly irreconcilable,” he said, “we should join with others of like mind in striving to change the civil law to accommodate the divine.” He added that “in all events, we must be very measured … [and remember that some beliefs] must sometimes be limited by the government’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of all.”
He then asked those who emphasize nondiscrimination over religious freedom considerations to “please respect the laws that provide unique protections for believers and religious institutions. Most notable is the uniquely positioned First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which singles out the ‘free exercise’ of religion for special protection, along with free speech, free press, and freedom of assembly.”
To illustrate the importance of religious conscience in public life, Elder Oaks posed the following question: “How would the great movements toward social justice in the United States, such as the abolition of slavery or the furthering of civil rights, have been advocated and pressed toward adoption if their religious proponents had been banned from participating on the issue by the assertion that private religious or moral positions were not an acceptable basis for public discourse or lawmaking?”
As a way to resolve differences and balance interests, Elder Oaks encouraged both sides to generally pursue the legislative path of policy making rather than the judicial because “courts are limited to resolving the specific cases before them. They are ill suited to the overall, complex and comprehensive rule-making that is required in a circumstance like this contest between two great forces.”
He also encouraged both sides to remember that our shared humanity is greater than our disagreements. “[Our] differences must not be allowed to obscure the undeniable reality that we are fellow citizens who need each other and who can resolve our differences through mutual respect, mutual understanding, and, where necessary by compromise or by the rule of law.”
Elder Oaks’s address also touched on the decline of organized religion and the consequent weakening of religious freedom protections in the United States.
He concluded with a call to “pursue our goals with the civility that serves our citizenship and is obedient to our faiths.”
Sister Kristen Oaks Speaks on ‘Women for All Seasons’
The next morning, Saturday, March 26, 2016, Elder Oaks’ wife Kristen addressed the topic of “Women for All Seasons.” Her remarks were sponsored by Claremont Graduate University’s Mormon Women’s Oral History Project.
Speaking of the importance of civility in our relationships, Kristen reminded the audience that “we don’t have to be alike, but we’re all moving toward the same thing—we want peace, we want friendship, we want understanding, we want communication. And we’re capable of that.” She added that “it has filled my soul to be [at this conference], to see people interact on a level of such great civility.”
Quoting Latter-day Saint apostle Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, she concluded by telling the women present that “God expects all of you to have enough faith, determination and trust in Him to keep moving, keep living, keep rejoicing. He expects us not to simply face the future, he expects us to embrace and shape the future—to love it, rejoice in it and delight in our opportunities.”
Watch her full remarks, including a Q&A: