"Elder Oaks has had a front-row seat in observing what he calls the “significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion” in public life. Prior to his appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Oaks had an illustrious law career. He served as a justice on the Utah Supreme Court, was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School and clerked for Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court.
Although his address on religious freedom was not written in response to the Proposition 8 battle over same- sex marriage in California, Elder Oaks likened the incidents of outrage against those who prevailed in establishing marriage between a man and a woman to the “widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South.”
He said members of the Church should not be deterred or coerced into silence by threats. “We must insist on our constitutional right and duty to exercise our religion, to vote our consciences on public issues, and to participate in elections and debates in the public square and the halls of justice.”
Elder Oaks also said religious freedom is being jeopardized by claims of newly alleged human rights. As an example, he referred to a set of principles published by an international human rights group which calls for governments to assure that all persons have the right to practice their religious beliefs regardless of sexual orientation or identity. Elder Oaks said, “This apparently proposes that governments require church practices to ignore gender differences. Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines should be resisted by all believers.”
Noting that the students he was addressing were among the generation that would face continuing challenges to religious freedom, Elder Oaks offered five points of counsel:
Speak with love and show patience, understanding and compassion to those with differing viewpoints.
Do not be deterred or coerced into silence by intimidation from opponents, insisting that churches and their members be able to speak out on issues without retaliation.
Insist on the freedom to preach the doctrines of their faith.
Be wise in political participation, remaining respectful of those who do not share their religious beliefs and contributing to reasonable discussion.
Be careful to never support or act on the idea that a person must subscribe to a specific set of religious beliefs in order to qualify for public office.
“Religious values and political realities are so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of Christianity in the public square without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms,” Elder Oaks concluded. “I maintain that this is a political fact, well qualified for argument in the public square by religious people whose freedom to believe and act must always be protected by what is properly called our ‘First Freedom,’ the free exercise of religion.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks