Less than 24 hours after the Salt Lake Tribune reported that during a meeting with three organizers of the pro-gay National Equality March that took place in Washington D.C. on October 11th, Senator Reid criticized the LDS Church for backing Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in California, saying the leaders of his faith should have stayed out of the contentious political fight, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve sounded the alarm about the erosion of religious freedom in the United States, citing the gay-led backlash directed against the LDS Church over their support of California Proposition 8 in 2008.
During a speech delivered at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg on October 13th, 2009, Elder Oaks spoke of the increasing pattern of religious discrimination directed against Mormons following the passage of California's Proposition 8, even comparing it with voter discrimination experienced by American blacks during the 1960s. He explained how a number of Mormons experienced economic discrimination and were even fired from their jobs after it was found they contributed financially to the Yes on 8 campaign, and how churches facilities were targeted with vandalism, as examples of coercion and intimidation. He asserted that when churches and their members, or any other groups, speak out on public issues, win or lose, they have the right to expect freedom from retaliation. Note that he said "freedom from retaliation", not "freedom from criticism". Mormons do not expect freedom from criticism; criticism is a First Amendment right. Read the full text of Elder Oaks' full speech HERE.
Utah media coverage by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, KSTU Channel 13 with video links, and KSL Channel 5. Bloggernacle coverage provided by A Soft Answer and the Milennial Star. KSL news video embedded below:
KSTU is also running an "unscientific" opinion poll on the speech. In response to the question, "The anti-Mormon backlash after California voters overturned gay marriage last fall is similar to the intimidation of Southern blacks during the civil rights movement, according to Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Do you agree?", out of 848 respondents so far, 43.6 percent say Yes, while 56.4 percent say No.
But what very few have picked up on is that this is NOT just a Mormon issue. Intrusions upon religious liberty are escalating all around the United States, most notably under the protective cover of "sex offender" laws. While Elder Oaks did not address this specific case, in March 2009, a registered sex offender, James Nichols, was arrested in North Carolina for going to church.
That's right - for going to church. He told the pastor he was a registered sex offender, his pastor accepted him and ensured he never had unsupervised contact with children...but Nichols was still arrested for going to church.
How could this possibly happen? The North Carolina legislature set the stage in December 2008 when they passed a law barring sex offenders from coming within 300 feet of any place intended for the use, care or supervision of children. No exceptions, no exclusions. Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Nichols, who was twice convicted of indecent liberties with a teen girl and again in 2003 for attempted second-degree rape, had served six years and two months in prison and was released in September 2008. Nichols had found God in prison, and when he was released, he followed up by attending Moncure Baptist Church. The pastor at Moncure Baptist Church welcomed him with open arms while ensuring Nichols was never left alone with minors.
Except that Moncure has a nursery, and is also a place where minors gather for regularly scheduled programs. In the eyes of the law, this made it a place "intended for the use, care, or supervision of children". So the fact that Nichols was always supervised made no difference in the eyes of the law, and on March 28th, Chatham County deputies arrested Nichols at his home after he attended Sunday services. His attorney has since filed a motion to declare the law that banned him from Moncure Baptist unconstitutional.
Incredibly, the North Carolina lawmaker who sponsored the bill is absolutely unapologetic about it. Democratic State Senator David Hoyle said, "If they are a convicted pedophile, they have given up a lot of their rights." So in Hoyle's mind, the state can be allowed to sentence someone to a life of being an agnostic or an atheist merely to protect us against "sex offenders".
Hoyle will have some tough questions to answer on Judgment Day.
The unspoken point that Elder Oaks was making is that if the state can arrest a man for going to church today, it could arrest a pastor tomorrow for...refusing to perform a same-sex marriage. This is why he sounds the voice of warning now. But in concluding his speech, Elder Oaks cautioned Latter-day Saints and others against getting down in the gutter with our opponents. He offered five points of counsel on how Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves to enhance religious freedom during this period of turmoil and challenge.
-- First, speak with love, always showing patience, understanding and compassion toward our adversaries.
-- Second, don't be deterred or coerced into silence by intimidation.
-- Third, insist on our freedom to preach the doctrines of our faith.
-- Fourth, as advocates of the obvious truth that persons with religious positions or motivations have the right to express their religious views in public, we must nevertheless be wise in our political participation.
-- Fifth, Latter-day Saints must be careful never to support or act upon the idea that a person must subscribe to some particular set of religious beliefs in order to qualify for a public office.