The Big Deal With Religious Freedom

To the disappointment of my English teachers, I’m not going to start out with a synopsis of current events to catch your attention. (I only have forty minutes left in my lunch break.) It’s no secret that tensions are high for religious people in the United States. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that marriage is a Civil Right, there’s all kinds of questions, and there’s not many answers yet. Just yesterday, I sat in the church lobby, waiting for my ward’s little YSA group to meet, and listened to two brothers argue about what’s going to happen to a person’s ability to live their beliefs. They went through the possibility of the Church losing its tax exempt status, of Bishops having to forfeit the civil power to perform marriages, and whether marriage itself would survive in the eyes of the United States. While they were talking, I couldn’t help but let my imagination wander to what life would be like if the worst should happen, and I started to wonder if I could stay true to what I believe in the face of consequence. I can’t say that I believe that it will come to that, at least not yet, but it was an interesting thought.

That being said, I can’t help but feel some sympathy for the people who facing those circumstances. I’m not saying that it’s right to deny gays anything because they’re gay. Personally, I could probably live with myself if I was hired to bake a cake for a gay wedding or if I had to issue a marriage license to a gay couple as a county clerk. That being said, I can’t bring myself to believe that I should force other people to do so, and this is why: “And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil. And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls. Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever. And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen.” (Mosiah 3:24-27. emphasis added.). King Benjamin taught that the literal definition of hell is a mental chasm between who a person is, and who they know they ought to be.

Religious freedom is a misunderstood concept. Some reason people tend to think that it’s a “do whatever you want!” or “be yourself no matter who you are!” freedom, which isn’t true. Religious freedom is rooted in the freedom of conscience, which essentially states that no one should be forced to do what they feel is morally wrong. The Founders of the United States recognized that it wasn’t right to place people in a position where they would either have to abandon their moral code, or endure the self-hatred that comes to an unrepentant person who does what he knows to be wrong, especially when he is compelled against his will. I don’t believe it to be within my power, or anyone’s power, to make an individual face that choice, even when it’s over a wedding cake or signing a license. If their conscience tells them it’s wrong, no one should be prepared to stand behind a movement that would compel them.

Religious freedom is irreplaceable when it comes to the wellbeing of society. My favorite quote from a founding father is this: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”- John Adams.

Religion, and respecting the religious beliefs of individuals safeguards society; It preserves the ability to act or refrain on the grounds that something is wrong, especially when there isn’t a logical reason of why it’s wrong. For instance, I had a psychology teacher who once asked me if murder should be an acceptable practice. I thought it was a stupid question and said no. He asked why. My reflexive response was that it deprived another person of life, and their life isn’t mine to take. Being a teacher, he asked why I believe that taking another person’s life is outside of my rights, and I couldn’t tell him. Needless to say, my mind was blown that day. I didn’t doubt that killing someone was wrong, but at the time, I couldn’t put into words why I believed that. Luckily, the last four years have given me enough time to think about it and here’s the best I’ve come up with. Murder is wrong in my mind because: 1. My moral code, drawn from my religious beliefs, condemns murder. 2. There’s a feeling in me that says it’s wrong. 3. When I was a kid, adults told me that it was wrong. I’m going to go ahead and throw a wrench in #3, because I questioned EVERYTHING I had been taught as a teenager, and if it wasn’t for the persistent feeling of goodness that came when I did right and guilt when I chose wrong, I can tell you that a lot of those teachings wouldn’t have followed me into adult life. So essentially, I don’t kill people because my religion and my conscience won’t allow it. My concern is that there are currently highly criticized bakers and county clerks who are acting on the same principles. We have a lot to lose from allowing the precedent of our courts to exclude religion and conscience as justification for action.

So what does the future hold? I have no idea. I’m sold on Armageddon being tomorrow, but I’m also not ready to think that the future of religious people is secure. A few days ago, a federal court ruled that a Kentucky county clerk cannot refuse to issue marriage licenses on the grounds of religious beliefs. (Of all things, the judge’s opinion states that doing so would establish a state religion.) For now, I think that people need to do what they feel is right, without forcing others to do what they know to be wrong.

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