Rinamay Rhoten, Staff Writer

Photo credit: Laura Fox

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, legal scholar and General Authority of the LDS church, addressed freedom of religion in a speech given on campus Wednesday. Not speaking as a religious figure, Oaks spoke on his expertise in freedom of religion and its importance.

Oaks began by saying that he did not want to focus on the technicalities and boundaries of the First Amendment. Instead, he decided to focus on Constitutional law and public safety.

“I believe we live in a time of diminishing freedom of speech—not the formal free-speech doctrine declared by the United States Supreme Court, but the extent of free speech enjoyed by citizens in their daily lives,” Oaks said

Oaks, who taught and practiced law in Chicago, mentioned the new laws that punish so-called hate speech. Scholars are no longer able to publish facts and opinions that are unpopular.

He argued that these impositions are unconstitutional and instead of bringing peace, they bring inequality and impose on the ideas of the nation.

Oaks cited Proposition 8 in California as an example. It was a time in America when freedom of speech and religion were put to the test. Although the proposition was in California, the entire nation was able to witness the controversial issue.

The New York Times reported, “Some of the violence is being stoked by public statements denouncing the LDS [Church] for merely participating in the debate at all—as if that were somehow illegal.”

Oaks continued, bringing up the corporate executive that was recently fired for making a private donation in the Proposition 8 campaign six years ago. Oaks called these acts nothing more than “bullying and intimidation that seeks to censor speech in the public square.”

The Constitution not only protects the freedom of religion but also the freedom of speech and “these great guarantees are cumulative, strengthening one another,” said Oaks.

Unfortunately, because some people have responded with violence and offensive behavior, these rights are challenged in today’s world as concerns are explored within discussions of peace and public safety.

“It is a daunting effort that might, perhaps, be avoided by following the ancient wisdom that it is easier to make friends than to make laws,” said Oaks.

Regarding Freedom of Religion, Oaks considered himself someone that has criticized court decisions, theories, and actions that are taking away Freedom of Religion in this country.

“One theory attempts to reduce the reach of the guarantee of the free exercise of religion by deeming it redundant in view of the assumed adequacy of the guarantee of free speech,” explained Oaks during his discourse.

In addition, there are new state and federal laws that the government is making which contradict civil rights. Oaks used same sex marriage to illustrate his point.

“I comment on this particular legal argument because of its relationship to free speech and because of its obvious importance to your Constitutional Symposium on Religious Freedom,” said Oaks.

Even though it’s a long battle, Oaks is optimistic about the future. He claims that freedom of religion would benefit not only religious people but all people as well.

“Leaders of various religious denominations—Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—are coming together in unprecedented ways,” he said.

His last message was one of hope that people have a mutual respect towards one another, even if other people’s beliefs are different.