Gary Johnson: a post-game analysis

Recently, in an impromptu interview, Gary Johnson expressed some deep reservations about the idea of “religious freedom.” He essentially argued that it could lead to a slippery slope, in which religious individuals justify all sorts of crimes using their religious conscience. He said:

I mean under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything. Back to Mormonism. Why shouldn’t somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead.”

Now, this comment was admittedly incomplete. We’re not getting the full picture, since he’s referring to something previously addressed in the conversation, but wasn’t included in the interview transcript. So some people reached out and asked for clarification. Johnson responded:

My point, made with an unfortunate example, is that religion has been used too many times to justify discrimination, persecution and, yes, violence. Acts of violence and aggression can not be excused by religion and all people must be held accountable for their own actions.

Here’s my issue. No one (credible) is advocating for an unfettered ability to justify any crime under the auspices of relgious conscience. In short, nobody who is concerned about the rights of wedding vendors, doctors, and religious schools is asking for the ability to murder people with impunity.

His example may have been unfortunate, but he has only doubled down on his strawman: he believes that if you enact accommodations for those of religious conscience, you risk a slippery slope where you must accommodate ANY crime undertaken in the name of religion. And this simply is not true. It is wholly, unequivacably false.

Johnson’s perspective ignores hundreds of years of actual jurisprudence surrounding religious freedom. Since the founding of our nation, it has been recognized by courts that religious freedom is bounded by laws that protect public health and safety, or any other “compelling state interest.” Never has the Supreme Court — even under the strongest and broadest readings of the First Amendment — permitted people to engage in criminal behavior with impunity merely because their motives were religious.

There is no slippery slope here. No law passed by a legislature in the modern U.S. to protect limited religious freedoms of wedding vendors, pharmacists, pro-life doctors, or church universities is going to give ANYONE legal pretext to murder, plunder, or steal in the name of religion, or anything like it. Nobody (credible) in the debate even wants such a pretext. To imply otherwise is not merely a straw man of the religious freedom movement, but a overtly hostile reading of their intentions and proposals. Continue reading

Fairness for All

Introduction

Latter-day Saints have been long-time defenders of religious liberty, and have faced the brunt of some of the most egregious religious liberty violations in U.S. history (the Missouri extermination order, the imprisoning of Church leaders over polygamy, etc.). Our scripture and our rich history of sermons and teachings supply us with ample reason to support a strong tradition of property rights, religious liberty, and constitutional restraint.

It is no wonder, I think, that some members of the Church, particularly those with libertarian leanings, have reacted incredulously to the Church’s “Fairness for All” campaign, which they interpret to be a capitulation on some of these core principles. After all, non-discrimination laws — of any variety — are argued to be a fundamental violation of basic property rights. Preventing large housing units from making conscience-based decisions, while allowing small landlords the same rights, seems like more than a compromise; it feels like giving up something important. Continue reading

Don’t Feed the Outrage Bears

 

I think it’s vitally important to consider the sources of our information about the world. Where we get our information can prime us to react in different ways. Here’s an example that floated across my Facebook feed. The headline was, “This law California just passed may signal the END of our Republic.” The person who posted it commented, “Did California really just pass a law turning high school into the ultimate participation trophy?” Here’s the link: http://www.allenbwest.com/2015/12/this-law-california-just-passed-may-signal-the-end-of-our-republic/

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The very first thing I did when I saw this article, is that I did two Google searches: (1) When did California implement its High School exit exam, and (2) How many states have High School exit exams? Turns out, California passed a law in 2004 requiring high school students to pass an exit exam before graduating. Further, many states don’t have exit exams for High School, including Utah and Idaho, and never have.

In 2015, after observing the effects of their exit exam for 10 years, the California legislature thinks that it may not have been the best idea, so they are repealing the requirement. Were they right in 2004, or are they right in 2015? *I don’t know.* It doesn’t matter for my comments here. My point is this: the exit exam didn’t exist in California before 2004, but suddenly, it’s the *end of our Republic* if it doesn’t exist after 2015. That is ridiculous. That is the rhetoric that is destroying civil discourse in our nation. That is the rhetoric that’s keeping us from examining issues from every angle, from have cool and collected minds as we respond to policy decisions made by our leaders. This is what is dividing our nation.

Should High Schools have exit exams? I don’t know. I would have reservations were they to implement one in my state. And I am a conservative/ (former)Republican /libertarian sort of guy. So it’s not crazy to oppose such a requirement for graduating High School — at least, I don’t think it is. Standardized testing has always been a controversial, contested issue, by people on all sides of our ideological divides. But yet, according to this article, it spells the end of our Republic that California is revisiting and questioning the requirement which was implemented only 10 years ago. But notice that the article doesn’t include that information. The author acts as if the requirement had always been in place until now, that California is undoing centuries of civil tradition.

The fact that the exam was only implemented 10 years ago, and that many states don’t even have such an exam, seems like extremely relevant information *regardless of where you stand on the issue.* So either the author was woefully ignorant and incompetent in his reporting (by neglecting to look up and report such a crucial piece of information), or willfully deceptive in his writing. In either scenario, why would you ever go back to this site for news again? If a source has been demonstrated to be either incompetent or deceptive in such a dramatic way, why would you trust them again? (Also, this particular site is a repeat offender many times over.)

Here’s my challenge to you:

  1. If you get your news from sources like this, STOP. Just stop. If you’ve been deceived in the past, that’s fine. But don’t go back again, otherwise, you weren’t just fooled, you are just being foolish. These sorts of polemic sources — whether liberal or conservative — do nothing good for you, except lead you to live in a state of perpetual outrage, and often at shadows (in this case). Don’t share such articles.
  2. When you read such an article, don’t reflexively go into outrage mode. Go and *look up* the issues being discussed. Find other, more credible sources. Ask the relevant questions (In this case, When was the law first passed that is being repealed? What does it actually say? What are the reasons given by those who support it? Do other states have similar requirements? etc., etc.)”

Counsel of Prophets and Hot Coals

A recent post on Wheat and Tares has got me thinking. The post is titled, “Blaming Parents vs. Mourning with Those Who Mourn.”

I know people whose children have left the Church, who did “everything right.” They had scripture study, gospel conversation, family home evening, bore regular testimony, and did all this with love — and despite that, their children left the Church. I also know parents who did not do all of these things — that is, I know for a fact that they did not have family home evening, regular scripture study, and gospel topics were rarely discussed in the home except perhaps over Sunday dinner. And some of their children have also left the Church.

If I were the teacher of the fifth Sunday lesson, here’s what I would want to say. I certainly would follow the Spirit with a prayer in my heart, and I’m sure that, in the moment and facing brothers and sisters who are clearly hurting, I would probably speak these things in gentler ways than I do here, where I am at a distance and in a blog post.
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The Council System in the Church

Rational Faiths has recently posted an article arguing that — by the LDS Church’s own definitions — the LDS Church has slipped into apostasy. The central argument (there are side arguments I won’t touch on here) is that in LDS rhetoric and literature, the primitive Christian Church fell into apostasy when it began to rely on councils and creeds rather than apostolic direction and prophetic revelation.

Today, the author argues, the LDS Church does the same — rather than being led by a prophet receiving direct revelation from God, the Church is led by the Council of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles, a council, he argues, that directs the Church by issuing creeds, activities very similar to those the LDS Church attributes to the great apostasy. Two comments: Continue reading