“Rights are best guarded when each person and group guards for others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.”
So said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the owner of this paper, in a landmark news conference on Tuesday morning. His deft rephrasing of the Golden Rule in the midst of contentious policy debates about the tension between religious liberty and LGBT rights strikes precisely the right tone and balance for how to move forward in providing fairness for all, including people of faith, in an increasingly diverse society.
For at least the past 50 years, contemporary society has wrestled with significant changes in social mores regarding marriage, family and faith. Where such values once emanated from definable, fixed and seemingly transcendent sources, they are now, for many people, increasingly subjective, rationalized and situational in nature.
As a result of these changes, we see increasing conflicts between competing worldviews. We see troubling examples around the country where individuals seeking to share a perspective informed by faith or seeking to avoid an action contrary to their religious convictions are intimidated, retaliated against or coerced because of their conscientious opposition to a secular standard.
Sometimes this intimidation is made through the auspices of anti-discrimination laws that on their face seem necessary to promote fairness, but sometimes fail to recognize fundamental rights of free exercise of religion, free association and free speech.
Strong voices on both sides of these vital issues argue for no middle ground.
Some traditionalists have claimed that the liberty of those faiths supportive of gender differences and sexual complementarity as that basis of marriage will be obliterated in the sweep for so-called “marriage equality” and nondiscrimination.
Some seeking for “progressive” change have argued that providing any protection for religious belief and practice would provide an unconscionable license to bigots to continue to discriminate.
We understand the purity of such reasoning, but we reject the polarization that comes from these entrenched positions.
One of the extraordinary accomplishments of our unique republican form of government has been its capacity to accommodate a plurality of deeply rooted but potentially contradictory beliefs and identities into productive processes and policies that understand the practical limits of absolutist positions. There is no reason that true friends of religious liberty and true friends of anti-discrimination cannot find common ground.
Where extra help is required to protect the dignity and equal worth of individuals before the law, where legislation is needed to protect individuals from persecution or intimidation because of their race, religion, ethnicity, class, gender or sexual orientation — be it in employment, housing or public accommodations — such protection should explicitly protect the free exercise of religion for individuals, families, churches and faith groups.
Some will argue that such a “third way” abandons moral high ground or that it amounts to little more than a mutual non-aggression pact that provides but a brief tactical advantage to both sides in an interminable culture war.
We, however, are less cynical. Our inherent idealism believes that anti-discrimination principles coupled with religious protections will provide a lasting legislative acknowledgement that human flourishing is best accomplished when society protects self-conceptions of identity from persecution and retaliation. Such a course of action will protect the basic human rights of all people while allowing people of faith — and people of no faith — to maintain their God-given and constitutional right to live according to the dictates of their own conscience.