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Religious Freedom: A rebuttal

I encountered this article from the LDS Newsroom on Facebook today.  So, I wanted to post my response to it.  It smacks of paranoia, with the tone of "If you disagree with our religious convictions, then you're infringing on our rights to believe as we choose."  I'll pick a few passages from the article to comment on, and then perhaps give more commentary on the article as a whole.
Contrary to what some may assume, religious freedom is not simply the freedom to worship or to believe the way one chooses, though these are essential parts of it. Neither is it just for religious people.
Okay, you've got my attention.  If religious freedom isn't simply the freedom to practice the religion of your choice, then tell me what is it?  As for the second sentence, I wholeheartedly agree.  Religious freedom is also for people like me who wish to have no part of religion, and we should be free to do so.  Non-religious people should be free to be non-religious without being persecuted for it.
So while religious freedom encompasses the liberty of religious belief and devotion, it also extends well beyond that, incorporating the freedom to act — to speak freely in public, to live according to one’s moral principles and to advocate one’s own moral vision for society.
In other words, churches that wish to perform gay marriages should be allowed to do so.  Fundamentalist Christian churches, such as the LDS church, want people to think that all religions preach that homosexuality is bad and therefore advancing it infringes on religious belief, but this is far from the truth.  There are many gay ministries and Christian organizations, whose freedoms are being oppressed by those who wish to keep gay marriage illegal.  The church doesn't want true religious freedom, it only wants to be rid of criticism from the public.  It wants to be able to teach whatever doctrine it likes (which it should be able to do) but without any consequence from those who disagree.  One of the many truths I learned from Mormonism is that you can choose your own actions, but you can't choose the consequences of those actions.  This is something that the church seems to fail to realize here.
When honored, religious freedom helps to avert violence and to mediate conflict.
To that, I only have one thing to say: 9/11.
Empirical data also suggest that religiously free societies enjoy many other benefits, including higher levels of other freedoms, than do those where religion is repressed or disadvantaged.
I'm actually quite shocked to see this in an article that the church is presenting as scholarly.  This is the altogether common logical fallacy made by the novice student of statistics that correlation implies causation.  Consider why there is a correlation between religious freedom and other freedoms.  In a country where religion is repressed, the government is likely the kind that is overly controlling--that is, they wish to micromanage the lives of their subjects. However, in a more democratic (or republic, as ours is) type of government, the government has less control over people's lives and therefore grants (or allows, whichever way you wish to see it) more freedoms to its subjects.  A government that grants freedom of speech is more likely to also grant the freedom of religion than a government that does not allow free speech.  So, I don't believe what the author is implying here, which is that allowing freedom of religion makes other freedoms more likely to be granted.
In the United States, we maintain a healthy independence of church and state, though we should not sequester religion’s moral influence from the nation’s public affairs.
I agree with this statement, with only slight modification.  But, it seems that the person writing it either does not see the difference between having separation of church and state and forbidding morals to influence national affairs or does not want the reader to know the difference.  Separation of church and state is actually very vital to religious freedom, and that is one of the reasons that I am an advocate for it.  Too many governments have either been run by or been significantly influenced by churches.  In some countries, a national religion has even been established.  In America, we have (or should have) separation of church and state.  No church should have any political power--they should not be able to make or change laws, they should not be able to exact any legal punishment for breaking laws.  Neither should the government have the power to enforce policy in any particular church.  Such is necessary for religions themselves and individuals to have true freedom of religion.

However, morals should influence the nation's public affairs.  The laws of a country should reflect what its people believe to be moral.  But, as the author worded it, this responsibility would lie with religions. That is not true.  While each religion has the right to preach to its own membership what it believes is moral and immoral, the responsibility to influence national (or local) affairs with one's morals lies with the individual, not with a religion.  What's the difference?  The difference is that if Jack Smith thinks that gay marriage is immoral, he has the right (and perhaps even the obligation) to vote and campaign against it.  But, if the LDS church thinks that gay marriage is bad, the only power it has (or should have) is to teach its members not to engage in it.  It should not have the power to influence legislation.  As an organization, it should not campaign for any political party, candidate, or policy.  It should leave that right to the individuals, where it belongs.
Challenges to religious freedom are emerging from many sources. Emerging advocacy for gay rights threatens to abridge religious freedom in a number of ways.
Really?  In what ways?  Can you think of any?  Because you aren't listing any.  The way I see it, your church is trying to oppress my freedoms by not letting me marry my fiancé.  I'm not trying to oppress any of your rights.  I'm not trying to make it illegal for you to hold worship services.  I'm not trying to pass laws that make it illegal for you to teach that gay marriage is bad.  I'm not trying to tell you what to believe or how to live your life.  All I want is to marry the man that I love.  How is that infringing on your rights?  You don't want the definition of marriage to change?  I'm sorry, but you're going to be having a lot of temper tantrums if you have a fit whenever the definition of a word changes.  Language is fluid, not stagnant.  Also, if you want to use the word "marriage" to only include heterosexual unions, then by all means, do so.  No one's telling you that you have to include gay couples when you use that word.  Do you really want to claim that changing the definition of a word is somehow an infringement upon your religious freedom?
Changes in health care threaten the rights of those who hold certain moral convictions about human life.
Really?  You mean, like if abortion is legal then you can no longer believe that abortion is immoral?  Or, if abortion is legal then you'll be forced by the law to have one every month?  This doesn't make any sense.  Coffee consumption is legal, even though it is forbidden by the Mormon faith.  Does that infringe on Mormon's rights to believe that drinking it will damage one's soul?  Of course not.  Of course, you have the right to campaign against gay marriage or abortion or any issue you want, but if you lose the political battle, it doesn't mean that your rights are being oppressed.  You can still believe whatever you want and conduct your own personal life in whichever way you feel is moral.  If you feel that someone else believing that life doesn't start at the time of conception is somehow an infringement upon your own right to disagree with them, then you've definitely got a victim complex going on.
Given the depth of these conflicts and the controversy that they sometimes create, it is essential that all parties are civil as they negotiate these deeply important issues.
I agree.  And I would very much like to see churches, especially the Mormon church, act civilly.  It would be nice if they wouldn't try to act behind the scenes in campaigns such as that for Prop 8 in California, or setting up an organization to hide behind, such as NOM.  It would be nice to see them report their campaign contributions properly, instead of lying about them.  It would be nice to see the church actually take responsibility for its own actions and to apologize when it does something wrong (racism, anyone?).  It would be nice if they would be humble and actually admit that they don't know everything.  I'm not going to delude myself by saying every gay rights activist is civil.  Obviously that is not true.  It would be nice to see them be civil as well.  It would be nice if no one vandalized any churches back when Prop 8 was passed (or at any point in time).  It would be nice if everyone was kind and courteous to each other.  But, the point I want to make here is that the LDS church demands that of those opposing it, while not behaving that way themselves.  This is commonly called hypocrisy.

To sum things up, I really feel like this article (which claims to be the first of many in a series) is a last-ditch effort to save itself from all the backlash from Prop 8 and to try once more to set itself up as a victim in the hopes of opposing gay marriage.  Religious freedom is not under attack in America, certainly not by gay rights activists or abortionists.  Claiming that this is so when it is truly not is merely paranoia.

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