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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Church, politics don?t mix

By By Zack Oakey

Religion and politics are subjects that most people see as difficult issues to coordinate, let alone understand and talk about. This is particularly true for the U, where a large percentage of students are members of one church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One leader from the LDS Church, Dallin Oaks, an apostle, ought to know this, but in a talk given Oct. 13, he acted as though church members agree with his political opinion. This has placed him and his audience, who assume his divine commission is valid, in a difficult position.

Oaks said the Proposition 8 battle was more about “what religious rights protect,” asserting that popular vote ought to be the final arbiter of legal rights, especially if those voting are exercising their “religious rights.” Thus, majorities composed of similarly informed religious people have a special right that other non-religious people ought not to enjoy. Would any Mormon agree to this in isolation, without the thoughts of a divinely inspired leader? The response we ought to have is to ask LDS leadership to not dabble in opinion-making of this kind publicly.

George Orwell famously said, “In our age, there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.'”

The LDS Church as an organization has walked this thin, dispassionate line for years, defining political neutrality as never endorsing one candidate or one party. It has recently become obvious that neutrality in supporting certain state laws is a different matter. In part, Oaks’ purpose was to make it clear that this is the case and that leadership is unapologetic.

It’s perfectly logical to assume that the tenets of the church would require certain political behavior. And what’s more, it makes sense to ask a congregant, as a leader, to apply
his or her teachings as a general rule. Doing otherwise would interrupt the purpose of philosophy, religion and ideas.

But Oaks didn’t do only this in this address. He made some political and legal claims that any former Utah Supreme Court justice such as himself ought to think twice about.

He said, “When churches…act or speak out on public issues, win or lose, they have a right to expect freedom from retaliation.” No, they do not. The freedom or “right” to exercise one’s religion never assumes protection against bystander rudeness, negligence,
loudness or antipathy.

The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, which said, “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise,” of religion, is silent on the consequences.

So long as other neutral laws such as those protecting private property and personal health are not violated, opponents to LDS political behavior can respond however they please, including lying, yelling, protesting and causing discomfort.

Oaks left this distinction vague while giving examples of illegal retaliations that have taken place, thus leaving the imagination of his flock free to conjure whatever evils of their enemies they desired. I’m sure he could have sacrificed 20 words of his 4,500-word speech for this purpose. But he did not, and the omission was given greater latitude than it deserved.

Furthermore, Oaks used and reused the Free Exercise Clause to say, “The First Amendment guarantee…was intended to grant more freedom to religious action than to other kinds of action.”

In this, he sides with what politically conservative people would call “activist judges” who usually assign to themselves the ability to write laws while in judicial robes by assuming they have the ability to prestate what “more freedoms” certain religious people will have. This line of thinking would allow American Indians to smoke peyote, Wiccan priests and priestesses to bring ceremonial athame knives to school, and Seventh-day Adventists to collect unemployment for refusing to work on Saturday.

Many members of the LDS Church would disagree with this kind of jurisprudence in isolation, believing that it’s wrong to allow exceptions to certain laws for religious reasons. The implications of Oaks’ suggestion make their support nearly mandatory, as they come from the same mouth that gives divine direction.

Oaks’ previous scholarship on the exclusionary rule and other legal trinkets is invaluable. He is an articulate man situated in a place that requires such caution as to create unimaginable stress. My advice: Lighten the load by not forcing members of the congregation to swallow narrow legal interpretations and confuse self-generated political opinions. It would do good for a man with such a high extra-religious reputation.

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