J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Center for Law and Religion Studies Annual Review Explores Fairness for All

More than 400 attendees gathered for a three-day Annual Review at BYU. Hosted by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) July 6-8, 2015, speakers and participants considered current developments to Religious Freedom and Fairness for All in the U.S. and abroad. The following highlights one of the topics.
Religious freedom is a foundational freedom of America. Its protections are good not only for the religious but for democracy as a whole. This freedom is being challenged in an era of dramatic changing social attitudes evidenced by the same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Speaker and BYU Professor Quin Monson elaborated:

  • Religious adherence in the U.S. has declined at an accelerated pace during the past 15-20 years, particularly among Millennials.
  • Social attitudes have shifted toward same-sex marriage.
  • This shift corresponds with a higher percentage of Americans who now know someone who is gay.
  • Opposition to religious freedom comes from both the Left and the Right.

The Obergefell decision and these social trends have sparked questions about what’s next.
One thing is clear: what’s next will be shaped by the response of the American people and the cultural dynamics that follow. How we respond will shape our future and the future of religious freedom—how it is viewed and shaped, both culturally and by the courts. Alexander Dushku of Kirton McKonkie suggested two possible models that could evolve.
The first model comes from Brown vs. Board of Education. In Brown, one perspective prevailed (desegregation) and became the only socially acceptable view. Those who openly opposed it suffered the consequences. That was reasonable, even a good result. Such a result in the wake of Obergefell would be problematic.
The second model is found in Roe v. Wade. Even after Roe, the pro-life perspective continues to enjoy support among Americans and can generally be openly discussed without overly negative consequences. According to Dushku, it could have ended up like Brown; the forces were in play to go that direction, but it didn’t happen. Why? Dushku suggests the response of those whose perspectives differed from that of the court made a difference. They were not intimidated, and they continued to speak. They did so by “reason, civility and even love”.
As those who support religious freedom continue to make a strong case for the value religious freedom brings to a society, Dushku believes “the decency of the American people will rise up. Our culture and law (emphasizing the importance each plays) will carve out space (for religious freedom to continue).” If we refuse to be intimidated into silence, we can impact the final result for good.
Attorney Gene Schaerr from Washington D.C., speaking of the Obergefell case, pointed out that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy’s decision to focus on the fundamental due process right provided a better outcome for those interested in religious liberty than some of the other options would have. All the same, the Obergefell decision has opened a can of worms for religious liberty, and the results will depend largely on what we do. (Schaerr’s detailed legal analysis of the decision and other presentations are available on the Center's website: http://www.iclrs.org/event.php/2015+Annual+Review/Presentations/English.) 

Schaerr, Dushku, Gary B. Doxey of the ICLRS and many other speakers provided some insights regarding what we can each do:

  • Avoid being shrill. Civility is important. Be an example of the believers. Tone matters as much as what you say.
  • Don’t make it partisan. Challenges to religious liberty come from both the Right and the Left.
  • Understand the issues. Be prepared so that when opportunities arise, you have something helpful to say.
  • Join interfaith efforts. Work with others of goodwill.
  • Pursue excellence and enhance your credibility in your profession and community.
  •  Consider what religious freedom means to you and how you could succinctly describe that to others.
  • Legal cases will likely be instrumental in shaping the way forward. Cases will need to be chosen with wisdom and care.
  •  Not all solutions are legal. Culture has an important role to play, which you can shape through your own voice.
  •   Follow good reliable, religious freedom sources.
  •  Do not be intimidated into silence. Act with reason, civility and even love.

Center Director Cole Durham ended with an appeal that we not aspire to self-aggrandizement, but that we aspire to be “among the number of nameless holy men and women” who faithfully prepare ourselves that we may go about doing good with great power. If many of us will act in our realms of influence, collectively we will make a difference. For an example of how one can make a difference, see <a href"https:="" m.youtube.com="" watch?v="gy3CbB61u64&quot;">https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gy3CbB61u64.
Cole ended with encouragement to, “Fear not. Be of good cheer.” Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power. Get involved and do your part!
To learn more, watch for future updates, which will include highlights from others sessions of the Annual Review. Sessions from the Annual Review will soon be available online at www.iclrs.org.
By Jana Scott, ICLRS Annual Review attendee

Posted: August 28, 2015