The LDS Church's new website regarding religious freedom provides excellent guidance on becoming a positive influence in civics, politics, and culture. The site includes explanations of the rights we currently enjoy and advice on what you can do to help protect those right, as well as how to work with those you disagree with to advance public policy.
In this FAQ about the first amendment the church explains that the first amendment establishes that:
- Government can’t establish an official church or favor one church over another.
- Government cannot discriminate against religious believers.
- All people have a fundamental right to believe, worship, and exercise their religious beliefs as they wish, so long as it doesn’t harm the health and safety of others.
- Individuals can gather together with other believers to form churches.
- Churches have a right to conduct their internal affairs without government interference.
- Government must sometimes provide special accommodations to religion.
- Government can listen to all voices—including religious voices—when making policy.
The FAQ explains that while those rights have been recognized they can change as the culture changes. In order to help preserve a culture of tolerance the church encourages us to do several things, eg:
- Find simple ways to help protect the rights of everyone to act on their beliefs. You can attend city council meetings, vote, and contact your government representatives to express your views. Get involved in the democratic institutions and conversations around you.
This is clearly advice those of us at MormonPress have already taken to heart. We encourage you to follow it as well. Join us at caucus meetings, socials, contribute to MormonPress, and join our conversations on Facebook and Twitter. You should also like/follow LDS Dems and Latterday-Left. If you are uncomfortable contributing at least let us be one of your trusted sources.
Another piece of counsel is this:
- Build trusted relationships in your community among people of diverse opinions. For example, serve in your neighborhood, get involved with your business or professional association, run for a school board, or coach a sports team. As you get to know more people and understand each other’s beliefs, you’ll be better able to find ways to protect one another’s rights in a way that benefits everyone.
I know too many members who believe everything outside the church is corrupt and should be avoided. This is not the teaching of our faith. We are to join and contribute to the many good organizations around us. Many are now are contributing to refugee related organizations, but there are also homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, education programs, youth programs, environmental programs, arts programs, professional groups, and other civic organization organizations we can consider joining as well. For example, In Draper, where I live, we have an arts council, acommunity foundation, an historical society, and an emergency preparedness committee. These are all good groups to support and participate in. When seeking an organization to join, we should bear in mind that as latter-day Saints we are advised to exercise "moderation in all things," as demonstrated, eg., by Elder Oaks when he discouraged members from joining private armies preparing for armed conflicts.
We can not view those who disagree with us as enemies. Our children are taking political conversations they hear in our homes with them to school. Do your kids know they can/should be friends with Republicans and Democrats? Are you friends with Republicans AND Democrats?
The Church's website includes a section about their stance on religious freedom, including the 11th article of faith:
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
It's important to remember that it is against our faiths fundamental tenets to use government to force others to live according to our doctrines. As individual members we may support laws regulating drugs, abortion, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as advocate for legislation that helps the poor, but we should do so because we believe these laws benefit society as a whole not because we believe they contribute to the eternal salvation of those compelled by law to follow doctrine.
The church does recognize an important exception to religious freedom:
It’s important to note that limits on religious activities can be appropriate when necessary to protect life, property, health, and safety or to prevent infringements upon the fundamental rights of others. But such limitations should be rare and never used simply as an excuse to restrict religious freedom.
There has been much recent debate arising from interpretations of this statement. Those of us politically active on the left have brought attention to the link between homosexuality and suicide. Many of us struggle to reconcile a faith that has brought us so many blessing and joy with the knowledge of the pain and suffering that homosexuals often experience. We are jeered by many of our fellow democrats for not renouncing our faith, and we are jeered my many of our faith for not renouncing our party. Of course, this struggle pales to those who contemplate death because their sexual feelings are out of line with their faith and culture. The church has already set an example of working with the LGBT community on common goals. Hopefully as members we can follow the counsel given and build on their efforts:
Focus on seeking to understand one another’s perspective and finding common ground that unites you.
I hope many of you who read this will reach out to those you disagree with, including member of the LGBT community and their advocates, and seek to understand their perspective. If you don't know how to have these conversations, the church offers some advice.
While many Christians faiths are pushing for government to grant them special protections and seek to separate themselves from the rest of society, LDS leaders have called upon us to join and participate in society at large. In doing this we seek to understand others and to work together to better ourselves.