Dallin H. Oaks, who is an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a former member of the Utah Supreme Court, spoke last week at Utah Valley University. What’s unique about the address is Oaks spoke as a legal expert, rather than as a theologian.
In the speech, Oaks cited two distinct legal strategies that he maintains are used to diminish religious values and attempt to disqualify it as an argument in public speech. Oaks describes one as the theory of public reason, tagging it as an “incredible claim that laws cannot be based on religious morality” and that “religion is said to be a private matter rather than a public matter.” … “He also described ‘a companion technique‘ of dismissing religious values and arguments as irrational or reflecting ‘impermissible animus (hatred).’” (Deseret News, April 18). (Read)
Oaks further added: “Accusations of bigotry or animus leveled at those who promote an adverse position have a chilling effect on speech and public debate on many important issues.” … “Both freedom of speech and freedom of religion are jeopardized when their advocates are disparaged as being motivated by hatred.”
Oaks argued that “religious leaders and religiously motivated persons should have the same privileges of speech and participation as any other persons or leaders.” (Standard-Examiner, April 21) (Read)
Oaks’ concern is that the legal theory of public reason will have an adverse consequence to free speech, by eliminating religious-based arguments, either by having them dismissed as irrational or hateful. He added that this leads to consequences such as someone losing their livelihood or other positions.
Oaks is correct on how political correctness has chilled free speech of late. In the debate over gay marriage, some supporters have attempted with success to tar opponents of gay marriage as bigots. In their minds, opposition to gay marriage based on religious-based beliefs in traditional marriage is unacceptable, and has been compared to opposition to mixed-race marriages.
That kind of reasoning is demagogic, and when it’s used to try to push someone from their livelihood it has a strong relationship to efforts in totalitarian nations.
My wife is a Hungarian native. Her father supported the 1956 Hungarian revolution. After it failed, he was imprisoned. It’s been explained to me that growing up under communism, if an individual, or family, did not exercise “correct” speech on certain political or social issues, they did not get the most preferred jobs, or they lost jobs they already had, or they were shunned as “bad citizens” and isolated from situations or relationships deemed respectable by the prevailing social and political order. In short, they were accused of being haters, with opinions unworthy of debate.
It would be a real tragedy if the remnants of totalitarianism wormed their way successfully into public debate in the United States. Oaks believes that the strong history of tolerance and diversity in the United States bodes well for the future of religious freedom of speech.
I certainly hope so. If gay marriage rights are secured, I’ll be in accord. Marriage strengthens commitment and families, and that’s a good thing. But I don’t want all religious opposition to gay marriage shoved into a box labeled “hater” or “bigot.” That’s anti-democratic, and reflects badly on the accuser, not the accused.