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As I covered a recent conference and heard an expert offer three “Cs” for overcoming polarization, it reminded me of an important position paper delivered by the chief lawyer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The first of the expert’s three Cs — compromise, critique and celebrate — echoed a notable 2016 talk by Elder Lance B. Wickman, an emeritus General Authority Seventy and general counsel for the church.
Elder Wickman outlined a hierarchy of religious freedoms. He said Latter-day Saints should prioritize defending the innermost core of those freedoms but be willing to compromise on those outside the core.
“What I am suggesting is that if we want to preserve religious freedom and live in peace in a society that is increasingly intolerant of faith, then we will have to be very clear about what matters most and make wise compromises in areas that matter less,” Elder Wickman said then. “Because if we don’t, we risk losing essential rights that we simply cannot live without.”
(Read his full remarks here.)
The expert at the recent Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Summit was John Inazu, a professor of law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis.
Here’s a snapshot of his 3 Cs:
To me, religious freedom in this country is fundamentally about compromise and ... it doesn’t have to be winner-take-all. That also implies that everybody loses a little bit, and I think in our partisan wars and framing around some of these issues, we’re not willing to think about what true compromise and true sacrifice might mean and, actually, when you think about the heart of what all civil liberties are and religious liberty included, it’s a kind of compromise. We don’t have a theocracy precisely because we allow dissent in different kinds of religious practices or other things that really matter. And the only way to finally and fully figure out how to live together is through a kind of compromise. That doesn’t mean compromising your beliefs, your fundamental convictions, but it does mean a kind of political compromise.
There are a lot of people that are against any form of compromise ... We’re reticent to critique our friends and our allies when they step out of line, when they refuse to compromise, but the key to overcoming polarization will include some willingness to critique our own. So I think about on the right, the white evangelicals ... who do not tolerate religious freedom for everyone, who are actively out to suppress the rights, especially of American Muslims and others. There have to be, from white evangelical leaders, a critique of those voices, and a strong critique of those voices, even at the expense of mutual platforms and friendships, at some point. There are Republican elected officials who are actively against religious freedom for all, and there have to be critiques of those as well. There are progressive organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, that are not fundamentally for religious freedom for all, and progressives on the left need to critique those for the sake of compromise.
We need to celebrate events, and here again I think about the social media context, where nobody likes to listen to nuance and nobody likes to listen to compromise and yet that’s fundamental, key to the success of all civil liberties, so we need to celebrate those voices, celebrate the stories that are nuanced, that are surprising, that are sometimes very ordinary, and think about how to support each other in the midst of this ... I think it’s important to celebrate the voices that are trying to do the more ordinary work of suggesting compromise, of suggesting the importance of religious freedom for all. We’re not going to get there on Twitter, and so we need to start doing this more in person, and I would encourage all of us to listen better to each other, to be more charitable in our understandings of each other.
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