Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently discussed the importance of religious freedom with Grant Nielsen and Amanda Dixon of KSL NewsRadio in Salt Lake City.

Elder Oaks explains religion’s vital role in civil society, how its free exercise can be preserved and the need to live together harmoniously in a pluralistic world. See excerpts of the interview below.

Question 1: How critical is the situation with religious freedom?

Elder Oaks: There are many contests about religious freedom in our country today. We’ve always had such contests, at least for a century. But now they’ve gotten to be very political and very divisive. And specifically, we’ve got nondiscrimination, which is a very important civic value, being set in opposition with religious freedom. And people are choosing up sides as if you couldn’t have both of them, and it’s not a good situation. And related to it is the fact that some of the contests are really impinging on free speech, something the media ought to be concerned about, as well as citizens generally.

Question 2: Is the First Amendment doing its job to protect religious freedoms in America?

Elder Oaks: The First Amendment stands as a barrier, but it’s constantly in interpretation. And some of the current interpretations of freedom of religion, for example, put that value in doubt. For example, I’m very concerned about an argument that’s being made by some scholars that religious freedom doesn’t really add anything to free speech, that as long as ministers are able to speak and as long as people are free to worship – all of that comes under free speech and there’s no reason to be concerned about the free exercise of religion; I’m quoting the constitution provision. That’s a very dangerous argument. The framers of our constitution must have felt that there was something very significant in the freedom of religion because they provided two guarantees for the freedom of religion. They guaranteed the free exercise of religion and they also guaranteed free speech. And both of those great values, the first freedoms we call them, combine to protect the freedom of religion. And that is being threatened by arguments that are being put forward and sometimes relied on impliedly or directly by courts.

Question 3: Do you think that religious and secular people understand the constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion?

Elder Oaks: Oh, I don’t think so, but people generally have not been very sophisticated about constitutional guarantees, so I don’t see that as something unusual. But I see it as a responsibility for well-educated citizens, members of the bar and opinion leaders to be acquainted with the United States Constitution and its guarantees.

Question 4: What can people do to uphold the free exercise of religion?

Elder Oaks: There are a number of things that people can do to contend for it. One is to insist upon their right to be heard in the public square. There’s another theory abroad in the land and it’s relied on expressly by some judges and some scholars that religious values are off limits in the public square and that they certainly can’t be used by lawmakers, which is a preposterous argument. Anyone who knows anything about Anglo-American law knows that the law of crimes and the law of family and a lot of other laws are based on the Judeo-Christian heritage. You can take them right back into the Old Testament. And to say that religious values are not an appropriate basis to make laws – that’s a preposterous argument but it is gaining velocity today. And that’s one of the reasons for concern. People are saying in public debates and some legal philosophers are publishing books and contending that a person has to have a public reason for making a law or making an argument. And a public reason can’t be religious faith or religious values.


To read the full interview or listen to the KSL NewsRadio program, click here.