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The following was contributed by Elizabeth Warner.
Tolerance. Acceptance. Liberty.
These are all principles that are highly valued in this day and age, particularly by millennials. And yet it seems that tolerance, liberty, and acceptance are accorded to only select groups of people. In fighting for equality and freedom for people of different races, genders, and sexual orientations, one important factor is increasingly overlooked: religion.
While the government should protect people from discrimination, the First Amendment also protects the freedom to live according to your religious beliefs. We’ve seen this battled out in various court cases, including the recent Masterpiece Cake Shop case. Thankfully, the Justice Department has just created a religious liberty task force in order to make sure that people really do get that promised freedom of religion.
Protecting our religious liberty
Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained why the task force was put in place: “A dangerous movement, undetected by many, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”
In comparison with many nations in the world, the United States enjoys a remarkable amount of religious liberty. But as our country becomes more and more progressive, those who hold traditional religious values are becoming more and more ostracized. One study found that attacks on religious liberty have increased by 133% in the last 5 years!
So with increasing attacks on our First Amendment right, this new task force looks like a win for religious liberty. But what exactly will it do to protect for our religious rights?
What will it actually do?
Jeff Sessions explained that the purpose of the task force is to “help the department fully implement our religious liberty guidance.” That religious liberty guidance takes the form of a memorandum with 20 principles of religious liberty and suggestions on how to implement them.
Here are just a few of the principles:
- “The freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, expressly protected by federal law.”
- “The freedom of religion extends to persons and ”
- “Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.”
- “Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.”
These principles will help protect religious institutions in addition to protecting individuals who are trying to live what they believe. It may help organizations keep their tax-exempt status or protect individuals whose businesses are under attack. As one Deseret News editorial states, this religious liberty task force is “the most positive development in religious freedom since 1998.”
What about the critics?
Discrimination against LGBTQ+
While many Christians are excited about this task force, some, including LGBTQ+ activists, have criticized it. They worry that this will protect religious liberty at the cost of the LGBTQ+ community.
So is this task force simply masking discrimination under the guise of religious liberty? That will in part depend on how the memorandum is enforced. However, the document itself doesn’t make individuals or organizations exempt from following anti-discrimination laws.
Not Protecting All Faiths
In addition to concerns about discrimination, some are concerned that the task force will only protect Christians. Once again, the document itself doesn’t have any language that suggests it applies only to Christians. In recent years some politicians have negatively singled out the followers of Islam. For that reason, we must insist that the religious liberty task force will fairly apply the memorandum to all faiths.
In our personal fight for religious liberty, we can make sure that we’re really advocating for liberty for all — not just for Christians. Religious leader Joseph Smith stated,
If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a “Mormon,” I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.
What can you do?
The religious liberty task force is a great step at the governmental level in protecting our religious freedom, but how are you doing to make sure that you are defending liberty for all? Here are a few ideas.
- Be informed. Learn more about religious liberty. You can stay up-to-date through reports published by the Heritage Foundation, by watching videos about religious freedom produced by the LDS Church, and by following religious liberty cases with the American Center for Law and Justice.
- Be kind. Take the time to get to know people who have different beliefs from you. Talk to them, and more importantly, listen! As you share your beliefs and let others share theirs, you’ll promote an environment where people with diverse faiths are safe to live and practice what they believe.
- Be involved. It’s your privilege and responsibility to stand up for liberty by being involved in the community. That may mean voting (and not just during the presidential election), going to community events or meetings, or sharing information about religious liberty with others.
George Washington called religion an “indispensable support” to human happiness and warned of the harm that would come to our society if it were ever driven from the public square. The responsibility is ours to protect and defend our right to live our lives in accordance with our most deeply held religious beliefs.
About the Author
Elizabeth Warner graduated from BYU-Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. Her favorite thing is being a wife and mother, but she also enjoys writing about the family, exercising, and experimenting with vegetarian recipes.