Monday, November 3, 2008

Religious Freedom Part II

I apologize for taking so long to get to the meat of the debate, but I hope you'll bear with me for one more observation. This post will argue that just because something is detrimental to the interests of a particular religion does not mean that it is detrimental to religious freedom. Let me illustrate this point by posing a hypothetical situation. For our hypothetical let's travel to Salt Lake City. The city has had enough of the conference street preachers and so passes the following ordinance:

Whereas, the freedom to peaceably assemble for worship purposes is a vital component of religious freedom, and whereas, contentious protest and proselytizing upsets the peace and goodwill that characterizes religious worship and reduces the quality of the worship experience for parishioners, therefore, be it enacted that no protest or proselytizing shall occur within 500 feet of any church within the hour prior to, during, and within the hour after the worship services of that church.

Anyone who has experienced the street preachers at temple square would probably agree with the preface of the ordinance. Having a contentious person calling you to repentance while you are standing in line to get in to the conference center does take away from the spirit of the meeting. The ordinance would likely increase the quality of the religious experience for many conference-goers. However, this ordinance would be unequivocally bad for the principles of religious freedom, as it would limit the freedom of the street preachers to proclaim their beliefs.

This story illustrates in my mind an important distinction that I think we sometimes overlook: just because a law promotes a view that is hostile to a particular point of view of a religion does not mean that it violates the principles of religious freedom. I, for one, freely admit that government tolerance of homosexuality and the sanctioning of same-sex relationships pose problems for the promotion of LDS doctrine. It becomes harder for a church to preach that a certain behavior is a sin when the state endorses that behavior. One can envision all sorts of practical problems from proselytizing to record keeping that the Church suffers because of same-sex marriage. However, these problems do not necessarily mean that religious freedom is implicated.

Therefore, an argument showing how Prop 8 implicates religious freedom necessarily has three steps: First, the argument should identify the freedom at issue and show that it is a part of the principles of religious freedom. Second, the argument should show how that freedom is being harmed in the status quo. Finally, the argument should show how passing Prop 8 will solve that harm. Anything less just won't logically cut it.

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