Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a series about ways that individuals can stand up for religious liberty.
In the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference two weeks ago, Elder Robert D. Hales said that freedom of religion consists of four cornerstones:
- Freedom to believe.
- Freedom to share our beliefs with others.
- Freedom to form a religious organization.
- Freedom to live our faith – “not just in the home or chapel but also in public places.” [Emphasis added]
Some are offended when we bring our religion into the public square, yet the same people who insist that their viewpoints and actions be tolerated in society are often very slow to give that same tolerance to religious believers….
And then, noting that, “we are responsible to safeguard these sacred freedoms,” he gave this counsel:
First, we can become informed. Be aware of issues in your community that could have an impact on religious liberty.
Second, in your individual capacity join with others who share our commitment to religious freedom. Work side by side to protect religious freedom.
Third, live your life to be a good example of what you believe – in word and deed.
We members do better with the first and third directives than we do with the second. We fall short on standing up and being counted. Note also that he says “in your individual capacity.” In other words, don’t wait for the Church to organize it; organize it yourselves. It’s D&C 58 time.
Time to show our faces.
We must have a more active public presence to influence decisions that affect religious freedom.
The traditional methods include writing or calling elected representatives, and social media have improved on this with the potential to catch public attention and go viral.
But even these fall short of the impact we must have in the battles that are coming.
If hundreds of people write or phone a congressman, for example, the general public doesn’t “see” it. (And the congressman only sees the Yes-No tally.) Even if hundreds of people tweet their opinion, the American audience still won’t see it or feel it the same way they saw and felt the nationwide outpouring of support on August 1, 2012, for the free-speech rights of the owners of the Chick-fil-A fast-food chain who voiced opposition to same-sex marriage.
TV news stories showing people lined up to purchase chicken sandwiches had far more impact than any letter-writing or tweeting campaign could ever have had. While writing, calling, emailing, tweeting and other social media methods can and should play their role, no other method has the impact of … faces.
I know of a state where one side of an issue was successful getting a desired bill passed by the lower house of the legislature by a 3-2 margin. But the upper house refused to even debate it. Why? Because shortly after the vote in the lower house, the other side of the issue showed up in busloads. They stood up and showed their faces. Though a statewide survey showed substantially more support than opposition, what the legislators saw were scores of opponent faces versus only the faces of two lobbyists supporting the bill. Guess who won? The faces. The upper house refused to consider the bill and it died, which would not have happened had equal busloads of supporters shown their faces.
Court watchers have a saying, “Judges read newspapers.” To which I add, “Legislators look out their windows.”
The world is run by those who show up.
While the legal maneuverings about public policies must be left to our allies in the legal profession, there is much that we non-legal people can do in the political-cultural arena. I will have more in future columns, but for now consider the obvious ways we can stand up and be counted:
- Show up at city council, county supervisor, or board of education meetings if an item involving religious freedom or freedom of speech is on the agenda. (All agenda items must be made public before the meeting, usually 5-7 days prior.)
- Register to speak during the public comment period, usually three minutes per speaker. Be concise; don’t ramble.
- Prepare point-of-view petitions addressed to state and federal legislators who will more frequently than local officials find themselves addressing religious freedom issues. Circulate them among friends and neighbors and try to get least 50 signatures on each petition. These are not petitions to place an issue on the ballot, so they need not conform to a specific format.
- Don’t mail in the petitions. Organize a group (faces, again) to present petitions to an elected official. Try to arrange a meeting to formally present the petition, but if refused, show up at that legislator’s regional or field office and, preferably with a reporter, respectfully deliver the petition to the highest-ranking staffer available. A presenting delegation of seven is optimal, with 20 more in the hallway if the official holds a contrary viewpoint.
- Pass along ideas to people you know in neighboring communities. Several delegations presenting their petitions at the same time will have a synergetic effect.
- If a federal or state agency is considering a regulation that may impact freedoms of religion or speech, organize a gathering of 20 to 30 people who will respectfully hold pro-freedom signs outside a federal or state office building. Doing it for one hour at lunchtime each weekday (while we eat our brown-bag peanut-butter sandwiches) is more effective than one all-day gathering. It shouldn’t be geographically difficult because nine out of ten Americans live within a 15-mile radius of one of the 7900 federal office buildings. State agency offices are similarly distributed.
The latter may not yield the same result as Israel’s perambulation at Jericho, but the activity has its similarities.
Run, don’t walk.
Elder Hales concluded his conference talk by reminding us of Captain Moroni’s title of liberty and how the people “came running together” with a covenant to act, and told us specifically:
My beloved brothers and sisters, don’t walk! Run! Run to receive the blessings of agency by following the Holy Ghost and exercising the freedoms God has given us to do His will.
Get on your track shoes. Get ready to show your faces.
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Coming next: Stand Up and Be Counted, Part 2 – Setting the Radar.
Gary Lawrence, pollster and author, was the California statewide LDS grass roots director for Proposition 8. He welcomes questions at: [email protected]