Freedom of Religion is WHAT?

There are things I very much like about living in Salt Lake City.  The political leanings and stifling religious atmosphere (although less than outside our little island of liberalism) are not among those things.  However, I generally expect that in Salt Lake City itself, I’m less likely to encounter super-conservative and religious weirdness.  So I was surprised and disappointed when I read an article about statements made by the president of the University of Utah, Michael Young claiming that religious freedoms are eroding and threatened in the United States.  It alternates between dead wrong and batshit craziness.

University of Utah President Michael K. Young has a strong message for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He says freedom of religion is eroding in America and he urges Mormons to join the American Civil Liberties Union.

While generally speaking, I think that the ACLU does a great job at protecting important freedoms for people who otherwise can’t afford it, I really disagree that there is any meaningful threat to religious freedom in the United States.  Unless of course, you’re talking about the freedom to be non-religious and still be accepted, because I see lots and lots of examples of discrimination against atheists and in many cases n0n-Christians. But he’s not arguing that people aren’t free to not believe in gods, but that it’s getting harder to make others hear about exactly which versions you believe in and push a personal agenda based on those beliefs.

While speaking at the annual conference of the LDS International Society on Monday at Brigham Young University, Young said religious freedom is about free will and agency.

No real argument here.  I may not agree with your religious belief, but I sure as hell will fight for your right to believe in whatever you want to and belong to the religious or group of your choice, including none.  Those protections are so old and codified in so many places, from the constitution itself, in individual laws and in all the bodies of settled law that they are untouchable.  But  Young apparently doesn’t agree on about that.

“We should be among the most passionate civil libertarians in the world,” Young said. He expanded this during the question and answer period following his presentation by saying that “we all ought to be members of the ACLU.”

Young is an expert on religious liberties and served as a member of the United State Commission on International Religious Freedom for seven years. He also is an adviser on religious freedom to the LDS Church.

Young described three broad arguments critics are using to limit religious freedom in America. Like the incremental erosion he fears, they increase in severity from the first to the third argument.


This line of argument is not saying that religion isn’t good, but it does say that religions do not have a monopoly on doing good. The argument then goes further to say that all organizations that do good should be treated equally. It sees no reason why religion should be treated differently than, say, Mothers Against Drunk Driving or the Humane Society.

“Religion is like everything else,” Young said as he described the argument, “It is like a hobby — an interest group with a particular faith, but somebody else may choose to want to make the highway safe for bicycles. And they are pretty much equivalent.”

Hey, he said something smart.  Why yes, religious people and organizations really don’t have a monopoly on doing good and beneficial things in society.  Neither do religious people or organizations have a monopoly on ethics or moral behavior; believe it or not, agnostics and atheists can be very good and noble people without gods telling them to do so.  Shocking.

Oh, wait, no, he’s saying that it’s a bad thing that we as a society don’t insist that you pass a religious litmus test before you can be allowed to do good things or be considered a good moral agent.  Uh oh, my reality denial sense is tingling.

This means that churches have to compete in every instance with other political and economic values. The incursion on religious rights may seem small, Young said, against some social value. “Thus time after time, religion loses. … But the gradual accumulation of these adverse decisions ultimately, profoundly and unalterably destroys the right to freedom of religion just as if we had repealed the First Amendment in the first place.”

This argument is in play in cases involving campus clubs choosing their membership, religious schools’ hiring by their own standards, doctors conscientiously refusing to perform abortions, psychologists deciding how to counsel people and even photographers decisions on whose weddings they want to photograph.

I didn’t know that you had to choose between doing non-religious volunteer work and religious affiliation.  Or is he just upset that some people might choose to put more weight on secular causes when balancing the time they spend over their religious actions?  Is is he also angry that people have families and have to work for a living?  That cuts down on contribution of time too.

As for the second paragraph, I get it, we’re talking about the horror of teh gay here.  Okay, let me try to break down where you went wrong, Mr. Young.  You believe that by not being allowed to push your religious values on someone, by not being allowed to otherwise punish, discriminate against or ostracize those who don’t live as you believe, your freedoms are being infringed upon.  Here’s the rub: it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Let’s look at this a different way: you belong to a religion that believes that pacific islanders are bad and immoral people and as such, you don’t want to allow them to eat in your restaurant.  Is it legal in a secular republic for you to discriminate against these individuals?  To restrict them to less choices, lesser legal recognition and second-class citizenship is obviously both illegal and immoral.  That’s exactly what you want legal dispensation to do here, though.

Moreover, there are mountains of laws that contain exemptions on religious grounds and for religious organizations.  Look at the recent advances in equality lately and you’ll see that they basically require religious protection language to even be considered.  Of course, the hysterics that religious people will be forced to betray their principles are used anyway.


Another rising argument Young sees is that religion should be entirely excluded from the public square.

Religion should never be an allowable argument for any public policy or laws. Young quoted one scholar who wrote (during the Proposition 8 campaign in California that defined marriage as between a woman and a man): “Religious participation in the political process can produce dangerous results. Fervent beliefs fueled by suppressed fear are easily transformed into movements of intolerance, repression, hate and persecution.”

This argument takes the idea that religions do not deserve special treatment and adds to it that they should be disadvantaged in the public square. Religion shouldn’t be afforded those same free speech protections that every other citizen is guaranteed.

Young said the district court judge looking at Proposition 8 said, in essence, that religious arguments in favor of Proposition 8 could not be used as a justification for that law.

Okay, now this whole section is so backward that it’s not even wrong.

First off, the whole religion doesn’t belong in the public square idea: it depends on what you mean.  If you mean that individuals’ religious beliefs shouldn’t be used to construct laws governing behavior for all, then ding, ding, ding, you are absolutely fucking right.  If you mean that you are unable to express your ideas or make individual decisions (such as voting, but also food choices, purchases, etc.) then you’re a god-damned liar.  You are always allowed to express yourself (with very, very limited exceptions, e.g. the harm principle).  You do not have a right to a private venue to express yourself (television/radio airtime, private internet services such as Facebook) nor are you owed equal time when debating someone with actual evidence on their side (false balance).  But you are allowed by right to say what the hell you think, even if you think that tiny pack-hippos transport nutrients to throughout your body instead of blood, golgi bodies, etc.  I imagine you’d be just fine if you wanted to claim that the sky was made out of carpet, too, just don’t expect to be taken seriously.

You’re allowed to believe that the planet we live on is only 6,000 years old, all evidence to the contrary.  You are not allowed to damage science literacy and rational thinking of children by forcing this viewpoint into school curriculum.  Although it certainly seems like Texas is determined to try.

As for rationales for laws during litigation, you’re damned right that a religious belief cannot be the basis why which the state (a necessarily secular body) crafts, defends or justifies legislation.  The state is secular, period. The ways in which laws are weighed and decided legislatively are carefully scripted and structured, and you can’t just throw a whole system built to protect individuals just because your sky-fairy says so.   Are you stupid or something?

Religions are not disadvantaged by not being allowed to dictate behavior to the country/state/county/city as a whole.  Because if they were allowed to do so, it would preclude freedom of religion itself, by legislating religious doctrine. I don’t even know what more can be said here.


Young said this argument likens religion to corporate entities. It holds that religions, like corporations, are usually motivated by money and power and are prone to socially harmful behavior and misconduct and need to be regulated heavily. Religions endanger social justice, harmony and diversity.

These three arguments may pose a threat to religious liberty, but Young cautioned against casting the arguments proponents as enemies. “I don’t think these people are, for the most part, ill intentioned. I don’t think they are out there saying, ‘Let’s see if we can suppress a religion today,'” Young said. “That is not what is going on.”

Young admitted that even though he sees the danger of these arguments, they are not even on the public’s radar.

Young said polling data shows that the majority of Americans believe religion is essential, but also think the amount of protection religion has is about the right amount. They are more worried about the government promoting and sustaining religion. “The perception is not that there is some problem arising in this gradual way,” Young said.

To you, sir, I say, what?  While I would say that some religious organizations operate more like businesses than others (for instance, I think that the LDS church and Scientology bear a distinct resemblance to business), they are treated totally differently.  I have no idea where this terrified panic comes from; if I didn’t know better, I would think he was a subscriber to Wing Nut World Net Daily.  I read a decent amount of liberal media and I have never once come across someone suggesting strict regulation of religion; funny thing about lots of liberals, we like free speech, even if we don’t agree with it.

Overall, I was super disappointed to read this.  I suppose I simply expected better of the head of a public university in Salt Lake.  I forgot, though, we don’t actually have that much diversity in political views: we have republicans and moderate republicans.

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