Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; (D&C 98:10)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"The free exercise of religion is the paramount civil liberty"

On Friday, Dallin H. Oaks gave a speech at Chapman University School of Law.  Later Hugh Hewitt interviewed him.  I have listened to the interview and found several things of note.

Well, the free exercise of religion is the paramount civil liberty in terms of priority and placement in the United States Constitution. And religion has always been in a sanctuary in the sense that it had a pedestal higher than other legal rights. And in Employment Division V. Smith, the United States Supreme Court dragged religion out of the sanctuary, and said you’re in effect, you don’t have any more free speech rights than people generally. You don’t have the right to override state laws any more than any other person does. And it just deemphasized religion very significantly.
The founders said that that Constitution presupposed a moral and religious people, and it would be inadequate to the government of any other.
HH: ... you quote Adams. And very early in this speech, John Adams wrote, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for our moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government than any other.” Then you go on to say, and I’m quoting you now, Elder Oaks, “I submit that religious values and political realities are so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of religion in our public life without seriously jeopardizing our freedom.” Do you believe for a moment that elite opinion makers will even take that argument seriously?
DO: No, I don’t believe elite opinion makers will take that argument seriously, but I’m trying to speak over their elevated heads to the people of the United States. And I think there are a lot of great people out there who’ll take that seriously. And some of them are affiliated Protestants, some Catholics, some Mormons, some Muslims, and a lot of people that aren’t affiliates with any religion, but believe down in their hearts that there’s such a thing as right and wrong, and they’re going to take it seriously.
I think that there is a broad consensus among very many that religious freedom and practice increases our freedoms. I have heard the word avarice before but have never gotten a good hold of what it means.  Dictionary.com says it it "Extreme greed for wealth or material gain."

There is so much more in the interview.  I have not yet listened to his address to the law school.  I am including a shorter video of a question and answer session on the topic of religious freedom.  Here is a transcription.

This caught my attention,
Another thing that concerns me about the diminished influence of religion in our society is the increasing volume of voices that say that religion has no place in the public square. In other words, in the halls of legislative chambers, in the courtrooms, in public debates, a religious opinion, or the advocacy of a religious leader, has no place. It’s somehow a violation of the separation of church and state. By the way, separation of church and state is a concept that has gotten up outside the four corners of the Constitution. The Constitution said there will be no establishment of religion, meaning no official state religion. It does not say that church and state should be separated by a wall impregnable, to use a term used in a United States Supreme Court decision some years ago. [emphasis is mine]
And an important distinction between the freedom of worship and freedom of religion.
 I think we’re seeing erosion when some public figures, for instance, refer to freedom of worship rather than freedom of religion. Now let’s look at that for a moment. Freedom of worship is a far narrower concept than freedom of religion because freedom of religion includes the freedom to act upon one’s religious beliefs, whereas freedom of worship tends to indicate that religion is confined within the church or synagogue, if you choose to go there.

You can find the transcription and free audio for the interview here .  The newroom at lds.org noted his talk to the school and provides a video and transcription of it.  I have converted the video to mp3.

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