SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A high-ranking Mormon leader said he believes protections for religious freedom of speech are eroding.Dallin H. Oaks, a member of The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve, spoke on the topic at Utah Valley University in his first legal lecture since he left his post as a Utah Supreme Court justice and became a member of the second-highest governing body of the church.
“Some current theories assert that religious speech is less deserving of protection than other types of speech,” Oaks said last week.
Oaks lamented the fact that some people are trying to push religious values “off the public square” by suggesting they are either irrational or based on hate.
“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,” Oaks said. “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.”
Several fellow members of the Quorum of the Twelve were in attendance at the Wednesday night speech. Modeled after Jesus Christ’s apostles, the 12 men serve under the church president and his two counselors.
As an example of the incursions on this right, Oaks cited the boycotts, firings and intimidations that have come against people who supported California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage six years ago. He mentioned the recent resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who stepped down Thursday, just days after his appointment, after furious attacks, largely on Twitter, over his $1,000 contribution to support the now-overturned 2008 gay-marriage ban in California.
Oaks said that is “another unfortunate example of the bullying and intimidation that too often seeks to censor speech in the public square.”
Oaks’ speech comes on the heels of fellow Quorum of the Twelve member Neil L. Andersen telling members of the faith that they should not buckle under the pressure of a growing movement on social media and elsewhere on one of the most prominent social issues today: the push to make gay marriage legal.
Utah’s voter-approved ban on same-sex unions was overturned by a federal judge in December, and a federal appeals court is reviewing that ruling. The Mormon church joined other faiths in filing a friend of the court brief asking the judges to uphold the ban, saying unions between a man and a woman are best for children, families and society.
Despite the threats on religious freedom of speech, Oaks said he remains optimistic that things will improve in the long run.
“In this country we have a history of tolerant diversity — not perfect but mostly effective at allowing persons with competing visions to live together in peace,” Oaks said.
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