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A grave example of religious oppression is embedded in the history of American slavery.

Some slaveowners refused to allow Black slaves to attend church, denied them literacy to keep them from the Bible’s liberation narratives and even forbade them to pray.

That history gives profound moral authority to Black churches and leaders who are banding together to support religious freedom. At Notre Dame last week, one such leader stood and offered the Fairness for All Act as a solution to polarization. The act began as the Utah Compromise, which was created, backed and announced in part by the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to provide legal protections for LGBTQ people and religious freedom.

Meeting in the middle on religious and LGBTQ rights

“We have decided to stand for religious freedom for everyone, not just for Christians, and for things like LGBT rights, not surrendering our convictions or splitting the baby, but rather demonstrating that it’s not a winner-take-all proposition,” said Justin Giboney, president of the AND Campaign.

The AND Campaign seeks to educate and organize Christians to advocate for better representation, more just and compassionate policies, and a healthier political culture.

Giboney spoke during a panel discussion at the Notre Dame Law School’s inaugural Religious Liberty Summit, attended by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Cook has repeatedly supported the Fairness for All concept.

“A lot of times it’s about advocacy, and that’s one of the reasons that the AND Campaign and the folks who are standing with us wanted to advocate for something like the Fairness for All Act,” Giboney said. “Rather than just saying, you know, we’re sorry to our LGBT brothers and sisters, that we disagree with, you know, that we’re sorry for what happened in the past, to actually say, ‘No, I’m going to do something about it. I’m not only going to push the church to make sure that they’re protecting folks, whom they may again disagree with that are in that community, but actually advocate that the laws be changed to do that.’”

The Fairness for All Act, introduced to Congress with Latter-day Saint backing, seeks to change laws to protect LGBTQ rights in housing, employment and accommodation.

Speaking at Princeton in 2017, Elder Cook said the Fairness for All concept “recognizes the essential role of protecting core religious freedoms and core LGBT freedoms with dignity for everyone. A robust pluralism is still the best model for reasonably accommodating everyone’s needs in a diverse society.”

Giboney said such advocacy is powerful.

“I think it’s that step that really helps out because we can talk about who we can fellowship, but at what point are we willing to change what we advocate for, and even risk something of our own, to make sure people who we may differ with are protected. I think that’s what can make this country better at the ideals that set us apart.”

Giboney memorably described the religious oppression of slaves during his presentation.

“The Black church experience is ultimately a testimony that couldn’t be contained. It’s a praise and worship chorus that couldn’t be silenced,” he said. “Conversely, it’s a reminder of man’s inability to subvert the Providence and plans of God. It’s a glorious reminder of the fact that there are some things you can’t beat out of a people. ... An enslaved people in the midst of a system designed to produce nothing but hopelessness and self-hate somehow found a way to sing freedom songs.”

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