Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke at the second annual Sacramento Court /Clergy Conference in Sacramento, California, on Tuesday, Oct. 20 on keeping balance and respect between those with secular or religious points of view.
Debates on separation of church and state escalated when Kim Davis, a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, gained international attention this year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage a constitutional right.
Davis said she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it went against her Christian faith.
“I’m just a person that’s been transformed by the grace of God, who wants to work and be with my family,” Davis said, according to CNN.
After Davis continued to defy the law and refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she was arrested and spent five days in jail before being released.
This sparked a discussion of whether or not Davis’ religious freedoms were being violated.
But what exactly does having one’s religious freedom infringed on mean, and how can we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, coexist respectfully in a society that will not always share the same values?
We, as members of the Church, need to know how to respectfully coexist with others who think differently than we do. Not only about same-sex marriage, but about any topic or issue that is being presented in our communities.
“There should be no belligerence between religion and government,” Elder Oaks said, according to Mormon Newsroom. “Governments and their laws can provide the essential protections for believers and religious organizations and their activities. Believers and religious organizations should recognize this and refrain from labeling governments and laws and officials as if they were inevitable enemies.”
Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, and that is not going to change. Davis arrest, because she broke the law by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, is not an infringement on her religious freedom.
She was not being forced to remain as a county clerk and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Office holders remain free to draw upon their personal beliefs and motivations and advocate their positions in the public square,” Elder Oaks said according to Mormon Newsroom. “But when acting as public officials, they are not free to apply personal convictions — religious or other — in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices.
A county clerk’s recent invoking of religious reasons to justify the refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples violates this principle.”
It is no surprise Elder Oaks took this stance.
The Twelfth Article of Faith states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.”
Religious freedom means having the right to worship God how you please. It does not mean breaking the law and refusing to fulfill employment responsibilities because it goes against religious convictions. If that is the case, and an individual like Davis feels it goes against his or her conscience, it is time to find new employment.
Davis refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples could be compared to a Latter-day Saint McDonald’s employee refusing to serve a customer ordering coffee or a bartender refusing to serve alcohol. It is part of the job description.
Everybody desires to live their life in a way that makes them happy. People and cultures are so different, and disagreements on certain topics are inevitable, but we still need to have love, respect and understanding toward those who think differently, especially when it comes to church and state in regards to same-sex marriage.
“Both sides in big controversies like this should seek to understand the other’s position and seek practical accommodations that provide fairness for all and total dominance for neither,” Elder Oaks said according to Mormon Newsroom.
Each side of this debate has become so intense, polarized and hateful towards the opposing viewpoint that opportunities are being missed to learn and gain a more compassionate perspective on others who are trying to live their lives in a way they feel will make them happy – just like we all are trying to do.
“Extreme voices polarize and create resentment and fear by emphasizing what is nonnegotiable and by suggesting that the desired outcome is to disable the adversary and achieve absolute victory,” Elder Oaks said according to Mormon Newsroom. “Such outcomes are rarely attainable and never preferable to living together in mutual understanding and peace.”
Allowing others to have their rights as determined by the law of the land does not mean our rights, as a people of faith, are being taken away. We need to stop claiming religious freedom infringement every time someone else is allowed to do something we might disagree with.
We all should adhere to the council Elder Oaks gave in this address by respectfully coexisting with those who see things differently than we do. Our right to worship God how we choose still stands. Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that in order for religious freedom to win, the rights of others have to lose.