Religious Freedom and Fairness for All | Ronald A. Rasband

Religious Freedom and Fairness for All | Ronald A. Rasband


Good morning, my dear friends and associates
in this great cause. You are an impressive group this morning,
with so much potential. I know your participation in these devotionals
is highly recommended and encouraged, and many of you have homework, tests, and other
commitments, so I thank you for attending and will do my best to make this morning worth
your investment of time. One of my Church assignments is to serve on
the Public Affairs Committee of the Church. This is a First Presidency–directed committee,
and I am very honored to serve under their leadership. The chairman over the committee is a member
of the Quorum of the Twelve. In my tenure, those chairmen have been Elder
L. Tom Perry and, before him, Elder M. Russell Ballard. Elder D. Todd Christofferson is currently
the acting chairman. It is with the assistance of the Public Affairs
Committee that I speak to you on an important topic that is attracting more and more public
attention, and that is the subject of religious freedom. Because you are a sophisticated and intelligent
audience, I plan to speak with you with the candor that your generation craves. I suspect that for some of you the phrase
“religious freedom” feels more like “freedom to discriminate.” I want to talk with you about this view and
help you understand what the Church means when it talks about religious freedom and
why it is so vitally important for your future and for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. I also plan to address some misgivings and
misunderstandings some of you may have when it comes to religious freedom. Some of you might struggle with an understanding
of religion’s role in society, politics, and civic issues. Some in your age group wonder why religious
groups are involved in politics in the first place, and they are often skeptical of the
motives of religious people when they do so. In recent years the collective voice of groups
who feel that religion should not play a role in political deliberation has grown louder. The opportunity to be involved in the ­political
process is a privilege given to every citizen. Our laws and legislation play an important
teaching role in shaping our social and moral culture. We need every individual in society to take
an active role in engaging in civic dialogue that helps frame laws and legislation that
are fair for everyone. What are we talking about when we refer to
religious freedom? I am going to tell you the stories of two
people who may be just a little older than you, and, as I do so, I would like you to
think about how you would feel if you were one of these individuals. The first story is about someone I will call
Ethan. He had recently started his job in a career
he had longed for, and he wanted to make a good impression. He came early to work and stayed late. He picked up extra projects and did excellent
work. He was well liked by many of his colleagues
and was enjoying his job. One day at lunch with a couple of coworkers
he felt comfortable telling them that he was gay. An awkward silence developed because no one
knew how to respond and the work environment was quite conservative. Ethan was disappointed by their cold response
and felt hurt and rejected. He began to feel vulnerable at work and less
valued. After that lunch meeting, things became increasingly
awkward for Ethan at work. He found himself excluded from large projects
and social activities after work, and his productivity began to suffer, as he felt he
did not belong and was not wanted. After a few months he was let go because his
boss felt he was not keeping up. Despite all the claims to the contrary, Ethan
knew he had been fired for being gay. Now I want to tell you about Samantha. Samantha had just started work in the administrative
offices of a local university. She was excited to work in a stimulating environment
full of diverse thoughts, ideas, and backgrounds. One day at work a coworker approached Samantha
and said she had heard that Samantha was a Mormon and asked if that was true. Samantha cheerfully responded that it was,
but the question that followed brought her up short. “So why do you hate gays?” her coworker
asked. Samantha was surprised by the question but
tried to explain her belief in God and God’s plan for His children, which she believed
included guidelines on moral and sexual behavior. Her coworker countered by telling her that
the rest of society had progressed beyond those beliefs. “And besides,” she said, “history is
full of people using religious teachings to wage wars and marginalize vulnerable groups.” Samantha restated her convictions and her
understanding of God’s love for all people and then asked for her coworker to respect
her right to believe. The coworker felt compelled to tell other
employees about their conversation, and over the next few weeks Samantha felt increasingly
isolated as more and more coworkers confronted her with questions and attacks. Samantha’s boss, seeing the increase in
religious conversations in the workplace, cautioned Samantha against proselytizing in
their work environment or her job would be in jeopardy. Her work, like Ethan’s, began to suffer. Rather than risk being fired, Samantha started
to look for another job. Now, these are hypothetical stories, and yet
they are not. There are many Samanthas and Ethans. However we choose to live and whatever choices
we make, we all share a common humanity and desire for fairness and kindness. Ethan should not have been fired for being
gay and Samantha should not have been intimidated for being religious. Both were wrongly criticized, judged, and
retaliated against. In today’s society it is politically correct
to empathize with Ethan’s situation but less so with Samantha’s. Ethan may find his case picked up by an advocacy
group as yet another example of anti-gay discrimination. And, indeed, he does deserve protection. But what about Samantha? Who will defend her right to religious conscience? What about her right to live authentically
as a person of faith, committed to loving and serving everyone but also with the right
to choose what is right and wrong and to live her life accordingly? Our society has become so blinded by its quest
to redress wrongful discrimination against one class of people that it is now in danger
of creating another victimized class: people of faith, like you and me. Already some religious schools are being questioned
because they require students and faculty to adhere to an honor code that requires fidelity
and chastity. CEOs of large companies have been marginalized
or forced to resign because their personal religious views are no longer politically
acceptable. And some businesses have been forced to close
because their owners have spoken their conscience. Despite what you may have heard or read over
the years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stood consistently for freedom
of choice and conscience. Many years ago the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote: We believe . . . that all men are created
equal, and that all have the privilege of thinking for themselves upon all matters relative
to conscience. He later went on to say: If . . . I have been willing to die for a
“Mormon,”. . . I am just as ready to die in defending
the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for
the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would
trample upon the rights of . . . any other denomination who may be unpopular and too
weak to defend themselves. So what is the position of the Church on religious
freedom? I can assure you that apostles and prophets,
under the inspiration of heaven, have given significant consideration to this issue. We believe in following the commandments of
God, which are designed to secure our eternal happiness. However, “God will force no man to heav’n.” We believe in creating a space for everyone
to live their conscience without infringing on the rights and safety of others. When the rights of one group collide against
the rights of another, we must follow the principle of being as fair and sensitive to
as many people as possible. The Church believes in and teaches “fairness
for all.” Protecting conscience is about safeguarding
the way someone thinks and feels and their right to act on those beliefs. I am talking about someone telling you that
the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs you have are not allowed, valued, or acceptable because
your views are not popular. A war in heaven was fought for agency, and
it is a gross violation of that agency to force someone to betray their conscience because
their views do not align with the crowd. Please do not misunderstand me here. When I speak of us being authentic, the Lord
does not give us a free pass to live any way we choose without consequences. We are still accountable to Him for our choices. He has said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even
as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The commandment to seek after perfection implies
that we start where we are and seek the Lord’s help to lift us to where He wants us to go. Being true to our authentic self requires
continual effort to increase our light, knowledge, and understanding. Your generation is the most “wired” in
­history. You are always connected. And you know that everything on the Internet
is always, perfectly 100 percent accurate, right? All right then. So do not believe everything you have heard
on the Internet about the Church and its position on gay rights. A recent example of this “fairness for all”
approach occurred in January of this year when we held a press conference with three
apostles and a member of the Young Women general presidency to remind our members, the community,
and the state legislature that the Church favors a balanced approach that secures the
rights of all people. Elder Dallin H. Oaks expressed the following
at that press event: We call on local, state, and the federal govern­ment
to serve all of their people by passing legis­lation that protects vital religious freedoms for
individuals, families, churches, and other faith groups while also protecting the rights
of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment, and public accommodation in hotels,
restaurants, and ­transportation—protections which are not available in many parts of the
country. With the passage of protections for both LGBT
and religious people six weeks later, our Church leaders and others congratulated the
LGBT community. It was encouraging to see them protected across
the state against eviction, housing discrimination, or being fired from a job because of their
sexual orientation. We also congratulated our religious friends
of other denominations, seeing them similarly protected in the workplace and in the public
square. Utah—and the Church—received national
news coverage and praise for such a historic compromise. Now, note that no doctrinal or religious principles
were sacrificed. No changes were made to God’s moral law
or to our belief that sexual relations should only occur within marriage between a man and
a woman. The outcome was fair to all and reflected
a consistency in moral standards and teachings and in respect for others. Not many of us will play prominent roles in
government and law making, so you may be wondering how this topic pertains to you personally
in your day-to-day life. I would like to talk with you now about three
things you can do—each one of you—to support and promote a message of fairness. First, try to view others through a lens of
fairness. To do this requires you to first acknowledge
that Heavenly Father loves all of His children equally. He has said, “Love one another; as I have
loved you.” There is no choice, sin, or mistake that you
or anyone else can make that will change His love for you or for them. That does not mean He excuses or condones
sinful conduct; nor do we, in ourselves or in others. But that does mean we reach out in love to
persuade, to help, and to rescue. When you feel completely and perfectly loved,
it is much easier to love others and to see them the way the Savior does. Please turn to our Savior in prayer and ask
to receive His pure love both for yourself and for others. He has promised that you will feel His love
if you ask in faith. Being filled with this pure love will guide
your thoughts and actions, especially in a political arena that can at times be very
contentious. Tensions can flare easily when discussing
politics, and especially when discussing religious freedom. If we allow these moments to get the better
of us, we will appear very unchristian to our family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Remember how the Savior handled tough questions
and challenging viewpoints. He remained calm, He showed respect, and He
taught truth, but He never forced anyone to live the way He taught. Second, let fairness guide your treatment
of others. Jesus Christ looked past people’s ethnicity,
rank, and circumstances in order to teach them simple truth. Remember the Samaritan woman at the well,
the Roman centurion, and the unpopular publican. The Lord has commanded us to follow His example,
saying, “Ye shall observe to do the things which ye have seen me do.” Do not judge people or treat them unfairly
because they sin differently than you, or we, do. Perhaps the greatest challenge in ­treating
others fairly is in the balance required in supporting religious freedom when you have
friends or family members who experience same-sex attraction or who are firm supporters of their
rights. Some of you worry that you will appear intolerant
or unsupportive if you seek protections to exercise your faith publicly and freely. Again, study the life of our Savior and seek
His guidance. The Savior demonstrated perfectly how to reach
out in love and encouragement while also holding firm to what we know to be true. Remember that when the woman was caught in
adultery, the Lord asked for anyone without sin to step forward and be the first to condemn
her. When no one approached, our Savior, who was
without sin, commented, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” The forgiveness and kindness He showed her
did not contradict His teachings that sexual intimacy is meant for a husband and a wife
who are legally and lawfully married. You too can be unyielding in right and truth
yet still reach out in kindness. When Christ’s friends and followers ended
their relationships with Him, He expressed sadness and pain. However, when a relationship did end, it was
because they were uncomfortable with His teachings, not because He was uncomfortable with them. As we seek to treat others fairly, we must
remember the principle of agency. We must always respect the ability of others
to make choices and ask that they extend to us the same courtesy. When talking with others about religious freedom,
we must always remember that we can disagree without becoming disagreeable. Please do not shy away from a dialogue regarding
these important issues simply because you are worried that it might be difficult or
uncomfortable. We can pray for help, and we can expect that
the Savior will help us speak and act in a way that is pleasing to Him. Third, I would encourage you to stand up for
fairness if you see another’s rights being impeded. Elder L. Tom Perry was a great example of
someone who firmly believed in man-woman marriage, and yet he was willing to stand up for the
rights of others. He left an example of ensuring that others’
rights were protected when he witnessed unfair treatment or an imbalance in our laws. From the time of Joseph Smith to our ­present
day, our legacy is one of reaching out to heal breaches and hurt without compromising
the doctrine that is not ours to trade away. This brings me to my final point, and that
is the need for active involvement from your generation on this topic. I stand with the leaders of our Lord’s Church
when I say that we need your generation’s natural understanding of compassion, respect,
and fairness. We need your optimism
and your determination to work through these complex social issues. We have faith that you will turn to the Savior
to understand how to live a Christlike life while also showing fairness and love to others
who do not share your beliefs. We know you want to be a part of something
meaningful, and we know that you are resilient and collaborative. Most important, we need you to engage in dialogue
regarding the complexities of this issue and find solutions for how to best extend fairness
to everyone, including people of faith. These conversations need to be occurring in
our schools—perhaps right here at Brigham Young University—in our homes, and in our
­relationships with friends and coworkers. When you have these conversations, please
remember the principles we have discussed today, which are simply these: see others
through a lens of fairness, treat them with respect and kindness, and expect the same
treatment in return. As you do these things, I want you to please
report back to me. I want to hear about your experiences and
the successes you are having in creating friendships with those who see life differently than you
do. On my Ronald A. Rasband Facebook page, I have
posted about my devotional remarks. In the next few days, will you head to my
page on Facebook? I would love for you to leave me a comment
about your desires for and experiences of spreading our message of fairness for all. I want to hear from you! I know some of you prefer Instagram and Twitter,
but I am hoping for ­stories that are longer than 140 characters! Please write me. Finally, I want to leave you with my testimony
and my witness that as you follow our invitation to reach out to others in a spirit of fairness,
you will feel an increase in the Savior’s love for you and for all of Heavenly Father’s
children. Your example of respect and fairness will
open doors and create meaningful friendships that you will cherish throughout your life. I witness to you that our Heavenly Father
lives, that He knows you, and that He loves you personally. He stands ready to help you during this exciting
and challenging time of your life. He has revealed His plan to us not only so
that we can return and live with Him forever but also that we can be blessed and be happy
in this life. As you follow His teachings and as you reach
out in love and consideration to others, you will feel even more His power and His love. Of these truths I bear witness to you, as
well as of my love for our Savior and my knowledge that He loves you and cares for you, each
and every one. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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