The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided against reviewing the high-profile case of a New Mexico photographer who was sanctioned for refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony in 2006. Although the high court has sidestepped the issue for now, it’s one the American public must learn to work out—how to balance the government-given right for same-sex couples to marry and the Constitutional right to freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is the God-given right to think, believe and act according to our deeply held beliefs and convictions. Anything less is not true freedom—for anyone. The New Mexico photographer made a really great point that bears repeating in her reply:

 

Elaine Huguenin refused the e-mailed request, explaining later that her work is blended with her beliefs, where the artist and potential client must both feel comfortable collaborating to create a special lifetime memory.

She and her husband concluded they could not “in good conscience” do so, since they would be compelled to convey and “celebrate” someone else’s contrary views. “The message a same-sex commitment ceremony communicates is not one I believe,” she said. [1]

 

The same-sex couple hired another photographer and then filed a complaint with the state’s Human Rights Commission, which fined the business owners for discrimination. [1] But this should have ended when the two groups parted ways over a differing set of beliefs. That is how compassion and tolerance work in a true and balanced democracy—with each side recognizing the other’s beliefs and understanding that working together just wouldn’t be mutually beneficial. When we celebrate special life moments, we want to be surrounded by people who love and support us—not by people who are forced to help us out of fear of retribution. The truth is that in defending her beliefs, Huguenin gave the couple an opportunity to find a photographer who would capture their special day in a way that she could not. People—even those who own their own businesses—should not be penalized for living by their religious convictions. When they are, it has a chilling effect on our freedoms.

 

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Traditional marriage advocates, as well as supporters of same-sex marriage, must learn how to live together while respecting each other’s beliefs and convictions. That means we will disagree—sometimes to a great degree. But, as Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church), said:

 

Many in this world are afraid and angry with one another. While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions. This is especially true when we disagree. …  I invite each one of us individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior. It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable. [2]

 

 

Respecting Our Differences of Opinion

 

Same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage are divisive issues because they hit at the very core of the human need to love and be loved, and to belong. On its website Mormons and Gays, The Church of Jesus Christ explains:

 

Few topics are as emotionally charged or require more sensitivity than same-sex attraction. This complex matter touches on the things we care about most: our basic humanity, our relationship to family, our identity and potential as children of God, how we treat each other, and what it means to be disciples of Christ. [3]

 

Because these issues are so emotionally charged, it’s easy to get caught up in rhetoric and name-calling. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, each of us must respect the differing opinions of others. Elder M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

 

I now speak to all those who are not of our faith. If there are issues of concern, let us talk about them. We want to be helpful. Please understand, however, that our doctrines and teachings are set by the Lord, so sometimes we will have to agree to disagree with you, but we can do so without being disagreeable. In our communities we can and must work together in an atmosphere of courtesy, respect, and civility. …  Perhaps there has never been a more important time for neighbors all around the world to stand together for the common good of one another. [4]

 

Working together for the common good means that sometimes we have to set aside our differences and work toward mutually beneficial goals. We may not agree on same-sex marriage, but we can build better communities where all opinions and beliefs are welcomed in the public square.

 

 

Freedom to Believe—or Not to Believe

 

 

The greatest freedom that every man or woman has is the freedom to think and act according to his or her deeply held beliefs. This is called freedom of religion, or freedom of conscience. It is a God-given right that the inspired writers of the Constitution hailed as our first unalienable right. Those who would silence their critics or their opposition trample these freedoms. When we cease to have open, honest dialogue in the public square, we stop being a free people and begin to live under tyranny. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

 

My final example of the importance of religion in our country concerns the origin of the Constitution. Its formation over 200 years ago was made possible by religious principles of human worth and dignity, and only those principles in the hearts of a majority of our diverse population can sustain that Constitution today. I submit that religious values and political realities are so inter-linked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of religion in our public life without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms. …

It is well to remember James Madison’s warning:

“There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” [5]

 

Unfortunately, we are on the cusp of this today. If so-called sexual freedom becomes more important in our society than freedom of religion—which is beginning to occur—then our foundational freedoms are in real jeopardy. Elder Oaks said:

 

We are beginning to experience the expansion of rhetoric and remedies that seem likely to be used to chill or even to penalize religious expression. … Individuals of faith are experiencing real retribution merely because they seek to express their sincerely held religious beliefs.

All of this shows an alarming trajectory of events pointing toward constraining the freedom of religious speech by forcing it to give way to the “rights” of those offended by such speech. If that happens, we will have criminal prosecution of those whose religious doctrines or speech offend those whose public influence and political power establish them as an officially protected class. [5]

 

As same-sex marriage advocates are seeking freedom from the teachings of God, they are limiting the freedom of those who would follow Him. When we make one group a protected class, we do so at the expense of the rest of the nation. Unfortunately, the protections come at a high price. Elder Oaks continued:

 

A few generations ago the idea that religious organizations and religious persons would be unwelcome in the public square would have been unthinkable. Now, such arguments are prominent enough to cause serious concern.  It is not difficult to see a conscious strategy to neutralize the influence of religion and churches and religious motivations on any issues that could be characterized as public policy. As noted by John A. Howard of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, the proponents of banishment “have developed great skills in demonizing those who disagree with them, turning their opponents into objects of fear, hatred and scorn.” Legal commentator Hugh Hewitt described the current circumstance this way:

“There is a growing anti-religious bigotry in the United States. . . .For three decades people of faith have watched a systematic and very effective effort waged in the courts and the media to drive them from the public square and to delegitimize their participation in politics as somehow threatening.”

The forces that would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation should answer this question: How would the great movements toward social justice cited earlier have been advocated and pressed toward adoption if their religious proponents had been banned from the public square by insistence that private religious or moral positions were not a rational basis for public discourse? [5]

 

Freedom of religion is a safeguard that covers everybody—because each person is free to believe in God, or not believe in God. It is the precursor to all other freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, just to name a few. When we limit freedom of religion, we limit all of our other freedoms. And the late President Ezra Taft Benson, until his death the prophet of God and president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said, “Once freedom is lost, only blood—human blood—will win it back.” [6]

 

 

Religious Beliefs in a Free-Market Economy

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There are some who would argue that personal religious beliefs have no place in business—but they would be wrong. Religious people live according to their beliefs all the time, no matter where they are. Elder Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

 

Clinicians, academicians, and politicians are often put to a test of faith. In pursuit of their goals, will their religion show or will it be hidden? Are they tied back to God or to man? I had such a test decades ago when one of my medical faculty colleagues chastised me for failing to separate my professional knowledge from my religious convictions. He demanded that I not combine the two. How could I do that? Truth is truth! It is not divisible, and any part of it cannot be set aside.

Whether truth emerges from a scientific laboratory or through revelation, all truth emanates from God.  All truth is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet I was being asked to hide my faith. I did not comply with my colleague’s request. I let my faith show! In all professional endeavors, rigorous standards of accuracy are required. Scholars cherish their freedom of expression. But full freedom cannot be experienced if part of one’s knowledge is ruled “out-of-bounds” by edicts of men. [7]

 

The same is true for business owners. They must be allowed to stand up for their beliefs without being sanctioned by the government—otherwise no one is truly free. Religious teachings also help to provide a moral compass, which is a much-needed tool when it comes to business practices. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said in 2009:

 

In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the U.S. housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention. There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. …

In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay. Societies will struggle in vain to establish the common good until sin is denounced as sin and moral discipline takes its place in the pantheon of civic virtues. [8]

 

We can’t—and shouldn’t—try to separate religious beliefs in business. We need the ethical and moral values established by these convictions. There will be differences of opinion, especially when it comes to dealing with same-sex marriage. There are people and businesses who celebrate same-sex marriage—and there are people and businesses that don’t. But the rights of same-sex marriage supporters cannot trump the centuries-old Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religious expression. Business owners are still people, and they are still entitled to their religious beliefs. Forcing them to do something contrary to their convictions is tyrannical. And it is unnecessary in a free-market economy where there are lots of other options. America is the great melting pot because people of all backgrounds, cultures and faiths can live together peaceably. But this is only accomplished as we work together to build a better nation. Same-sex marriage advocates have every right to promote their cause, but those who oppose them and disagree with their cause have the same right to publicly voice their opinions and fight against it. As Americans work together to deal with same-sex marriage issues, we must be respectful and courteous with one another.

 

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