Friday, February 11, 2011

Joanna Brooks: Mormon Leaders Also Using Religious Freedom Rhetoric to Attack Gay Rights

Since the new year began, I've been writing about a theme that Pope Benedict moved to the center of Catholic magisterial rhetoric in 2011 with his new year's statement for World Peace Day, which is now being echoed by Catholic pastoral officials around the world.  This is the claim that religious freedom is the fundamental human right, and that this fundamental right is now under attack.  Catholic leaders are arguing on this basis that faith communities have a "right" to discriminate against those who are gay and lesbian which trumps the alleged human rights of those who are gay and lesbian.

In a number of postings since the year began, I've been predicting that these claims will be be promoted more and more widely in 2011 by faith communities of the political and religious right, in response to growing social acceptance of those who are gay and lesbian.  I noted several days ago that we're already seeing attempts around the U.S. to enshrine discrimination in the laws of states and local communities, attempts that cite religious freedom as the basis for anti-gay discrimination.  And I wondered what Catholic pastoral leaders imagine they're doing colluding in a crusade against the human rights of a vulnerable minority, and promoting and defending discrimination.

Recently, Joanna Brooks wrote about how precisely the same rhetoric--religious freedom is under attack by gay rights--is being promoted by some top Mormon leaders.  It's as if the Mormon script is Benedict's script is the script of bigots in state legislatures in the U.S. pushing "religious freedom" bills that would legally permit discrimination against LGBT citizens.  Brooks is reporting on a speech that LDS Apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave recently to the law school of Chapman University.
As Brooks notes, those advancing the claim that religious freedom is under attack by supporters of gay rights never seem to cite any credible evidence that they are being discriminated against for their anti-gay beliefs.  All evidence runs in precisely the opposite direction: as she notes, in fact, the very day before Oaks delivered his speech, a gay-rights activist invited by students of Brigham Young University to visit that campus had his tires slashed in the parking lot of BYU’s law school.
There's abundant evidence of blatant, ugly discrimination around the U.S.  That evidence does not point, however, to discrimination against people of faith who attack gays and lesbians.  It points in the opposite direction: gays and lesbians are subject to discrimination throughout the U.S., where a significant percentage of our states have no legal protection at all for LGBT citizens against discrimination in housing, employment, etc.
As Brooks notes, where leaders of the religious right see moral relativism undermining religious freedom, she herself sees--as a Mormon who has a different perspective than that of Oaks--religious pluralism at work in a democratic society where no religious group has a right to impose its peculiar beliefs and practices on society at large:
In his address, Oaks clarified that the major threat to religious freedom was actually “moral relativism.” But where some see the decadence of “moral relativism,” I see the advancement of religious pluralism and the erosion of a conservative religious prerogative to define public life. For 50 years Mormons have “passed” as regular Americans and harnessed the power of popular social and religous conservatism to advance political agendas (such as the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment and the passage of Proposition 8 and other anti-marriage-equality laws) in the service of the most conservative version of LDS theology. On political-religious matters, we have partnered almost exclusively with “natural allies” like conservative evangelicals, Catholics, and conservative Jews. (Indeed, in his address, Oaks mobilized several rhetorical tropes that appealed exclusively to conservatives, including the idea of a “conspiracy” to scrub out references to God in US history and the ugly canard that President Obama attempted to undermine freedom of religion by using the phrase “freedom of worship.”)

And as Brooks also notes, it's exceptionally ironic that a religious group which has itself experienced persecution as a despised minority group would turn around--as the LDS church did with proposition 8 in California--and try to dictate its views to society at large, stripping rights from another stigmatized minority group.  I recommend Brooks' essay.  As with all of her commentary on the Mormon church today, it's thoughtful and challenging.

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